Our columnist’s tongue-in-cheek guide to grilling outdoors and summer entertaining – it's everything you need to know about hosting a summer barbecue.
What would the British summer be without barbecues? Better, arguably. As a nation, we have an expensive grill habit (the average Brit spends £210 on a new barbecue, according to a 2016 Idealo survey), but that does not mean we’re good at it.
Too many British barbecues are chaotic, last-minute affairs where toasted hosts serve cremated chicken to sunburned guests. And, sorry, but could you eat that burger in a hot dog bun? It’s all we’ve got left. Surely we can do better?
Here are 10 ways to improve barbecue season.
1. Ban men
There are dense academic texts which, sociologically, seek to explain how masculinity intersects with incinerated pork products. Suffice to say, those least capable of producing good food (men who otherwise never cook), can regularly be found jockeying for position at the grill, criticising each other’s ignition techniques or choice of charcoal and, generally, butting heads while the chops burn. See also: gadget-obsessed nerds with £2,000 smokers whose pulled pork tastes like a poorly seasoned mop-head.
2. Be realistic
Only invite as many people as you can reasonably feed in a timely fashion. That means six people if using a 25cm-diameter, £10 bucket BBQ, not 20. Aim for quality not quantity, and streamline your menu. You can’t cook confidently on a crammed grill, and timing various different cuts and meats is difficult. Choose a few items, say skirt steak and jerk chicken, and nail them.
3. Elbow grease
Vibrant barbecue, as opposed to a pile of uniformly smoky meat, is all about getting busy the evening before to create robust marinades and rubs of mustard, honey, garlic, coriander seeds, olive oil, smoked paprika, chillies and herbs. That terrible cliché ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, should be inscribed on every BBQ.
4. Start early
Keep guests waiting hours for food and that mob will get hangry. Light the BBQ early so it dies down to a white heat in good time, thus avoiding any drunken barracking from the cheap seats.
5. Bun fight
Barbecues = an element of roughing it. But setting up a ‘burger station’, a table where people can gussy up their patty with cheese, pickle, lettuce, sauces etc., is a simple way to elevate the experience. Position salads, plates, cutlery and kitchen roll there too, so people can serve themselves without pestering the host. It helps everyone relax.
The days of palming vegetarians off with skewers of raw, burnt courgette are over. Get busy with the grilled halloumi, aubergines or avocadoes, and lay on some jazzy grain or charred veg salads and breads. It’s 2019. Meat-eaters love them, too.
7. Cold logic
Warm booze will ruin a barbecue as surely as rain. Fridge space being limited, troughs of iced water in which people can chill bottles are essential. Cool boxes, buckets, (cleaned out) wheelbarrows… any receptacle will do.
8. Guest list
Should be limited to tried ‘n’ trusted combinations of your friends or family. No curveballs. No colleagues. No neighbours. Your mates do not want to make awkward small-talk with Derek from number nine because you borrow his power-hose occasionally.
9. Double trouble
We see you, sneaking seconds before everyone else has eaten. Hosts: confront this menace and publicly shame sausage-hogging scoundrels. Police your grill!
10. Fallback position
This is Britain. Blazing sunshine can turn to hail in the flip of a burger. Be prepared to open your home to guests. There is nothing worse than hosts who, teeth-gritted, make everyone tough it out under greying skies.
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Have any top barbecue tips? Leave a comment below...
Tony Naylor writes for Restaurant magazine and The Guardian.