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Top Tips! FIRE UP THE BARBY

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DB’s ‘cue culture is booming now that summer’s here and we can again gather in groups. Samantha Wong provides an entry point for would-be grillers

PHOTOS COURTESY OF Pexels

his summer, we’re looking to use our outdoor spaces as somewhere to get together with family and friends – as many friends as we can pack in. We want our balconies, terraces and rooftops to be fully functional living spaces in which to eat, drink and have a good time. So, what’s the key ingredient? A barbecue.

As we all know, no one turns down an invitation to a barbecue party, however high the humidity. And now that most families can claim a resident chef, it’s not only hamburgers and hot dogs that are being thrown on the grill. Experienced cooks are experimenting with seafood, stocking up on gamey meats, and trying out exotic marinades, sauces and salads.

But first things first. There are plenty of ways to barbecue – with gas, with charcoal, with wood chips, with split logs – so which do you choose? Here in DB, where smoking out the neighbours is frowned upon, charcoal and gas are your only real options. So, let’s take that as our starting point.

TOOLS AND ACCESSORIES

Once you’ve decided on your prefer red grilling method, consider whether you want your barbeque in-built or freestanding and/ or portable. This will largely depend on where you will be hosting your barbecue parties.

Similarly, when working out what size model you want, think about the size of your outdoor space, and factor in how many people you will be regularly entertaining.

Your best bet is to go for as big a barbecue as you can afford, not least because meat needs to have space around it as it grills. You don’t want your hamburgers and kebabs crammed up against each other, or against the sides of the grill while they are cooking.

If barbecues now come in all shapes and sizes, they also vary widely in style, so you can plump for a modest no-frills model that does the job, or something high-tech with all mod cons.

Maybe your grilling experience would be transformed if you had a barbecue with stainless steel side shelves, integrated utensil holders and a cart
to push it around on. Illuminated control knobs that allow you to grill after dark could well be a godsend, as could a charcoal tray add-on to your gas grill.

One thing your barbeque really needs is a lid. It locks in flavour, keeps the temperature constant and opens up a world of culinary possibilities. Without one you can’t do beer can chicken, or melt cheese on burgers, or smoke ribs…

Barbecuing is all about getting the temperature bang on, so you may want to splash out on a fancy Bluetooth thermometer (or choose a grill with one built in).

Alternatively, you can always test the heat – caveman style – by holding your hand around 12 centimetres above the grill. If you can hold it there for just two seconds, the grill is white-hot, four seconds, it’s medium
heat and six seconds, it’s low heat. Speaking of tools, the one bit of kit you simply must have, in addition to a heavy-duty oven glove, is a decent pair of tongs. Professional barbecuing tongs give you the most control, and reduce your chances of dropping a succulent slice of wagyu between the grills.

CHARCOAL OR GAS?

Purists will tell you to avoid gas grills, that the smoke is an ingredient in itself, and without it, you’re missing out on the nuanced flavour. Gas devotees, on the other hand, point to the way heat distributing materials in gas barbecues work to vaporise drippings and create an aromatic smoke. What’s important is whether you can taste the difference. Do you prefer the strangely delicious overdone beef that only charcoal can provide, or are you
good with gas?

One thing’s for sure, it ’s easier and quicker to barbecue with gas. A gas barbecue requires no real warm-up time – the griddle gets nice and hot in just five minutes. With charcoal, you need to wait around 40 minutes for the initial flames to die down before you have the whitened cinders essential for your first hamburger. Generally speaking too, you can fire up gas barbecues with ease, whereas charcoal is a lot more problematic to get going or restart.

Gas provides convenience and spontaneity and it gives you more control. Not only can you “fire up” a gas barbecue quickly, adjusting temperatures is as easy as turning a knob, so you are less likely to overcook things.

What’s more, gas grills are inexpensive to operate, easy to clean (the residue will burn off during preheating) and you can bring them out whatever the weather.

On the other hand, if you are looking at barbecuing as a pastime – if you really want to make a meal of it – then gas is simply no fun. What you’re after is a fiery, challenging experience that can’t be compared to cooking at a stove; you’re satisfying a basic human need to make fire, and you enjoy the hands-on experience of lighting charcoal. Waiting for the charcoal to reach cooking temperature is half the fun (picture yourself huddled around the grill with a group of friends disagreeing over whether the coals are hot
enough). And you even like the challenge of charcoal grilling in wet or windy weather.

If grilling with charcoal is the way you want to go, the proper technique can be summed up in three words: low and slow. Be patient. Flame-grilled is a very misleading term. You need to wait for the flames to die down before you begin. (You want the coals grey and glowing for the hottest, most even heat.)

There’s also a knack to controlling the temperature across a charcoal grill. The easiest technique is the “half and half”– put all the coals to one side, so one side is super-hot and the other a lot cooler, with no direct heat beneath it.

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TRICKS OF THE TRADE

Be sure to marinate. The phrase “leave for a few hours, ideally overnight” applies doubly to barbecuing and you should continue to brush your meat or fish with the marinade as it cooks. It will add moisture, trap the smoky flavour and make the meat caramelise gently.

Don’t ruin the vegetables. What you want is that lovely charring along the bars, so slice your vegetables thin, then grill straight away – no oil, no seasoning. Once cooked, you can add flavour with some quality olive oil and a few herbs.

Get the sides right. If you’re trying to serve a balanced meal, the sides will make up two-thirds of what you eat. So, prepare a couple of simple salads, steam some couscous, warm up a few flatbreads and get some corn cobs on the grill.

Rest the meat. After removing your meat from the grill, let it sit for a few minutes to seal in the juices, and don’t cut it until you are ready to serve. Another juice-saving tip, don’t poke holes in your meat while it’s
cooking – turn it using tongs or spatulas.

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