What is it about al fresco eating and the notion that we have to “have a barbecue”? There’s all this fuss that to fire up your barbecue the planets have to be aligned or it’s just not going to be right! I don’t know when we began subscribing to this utter nonsense that it has to be a hot sunny day, we have to prepare 10 times the quantity of food we would ever consider appropriate to prepare if we were cooking in the kitchen, and when we became so dependent on a little thermostat in our ovens that we lost the comprehension that we are in control of our barbecues instead of the other way around?
There’s an ever growing circus that surrounds the act of “having a barbecue” and maybe it’s just because we don’t cook as much as our parents did we’ve somehow lost the perspective of what it takes to cook for a group of people. Here are my 6 Top Tips for Maximising the Space on your Barbecue and enjoying the activity of cooking and sharing delicious food with family and friends!
Tip 1 – Don’t Cook More Food Than You Would Cook Indoors
If I was invited to someones house for Sunday dinner I would be quite happy with perhaps some nibbles on arrival, a protein with some vegetables for a main course and something sweet for pudding. Why then when we have people over for a barbecue do we have 3 types of burgers, 4 flavours of sausages, chicken pieces, chicken kebabs, steak kebabs, steaks and corn on the cob (but only as an afterthought)?
I saw this every hot sunny weekend when I worked behind the butchers counter growing up – the mercury started to rise and everyone went mad. When I would ask how many people were coming for dinner it often amazed me that is was “just the 2 of us”, or “just the neighbours”! When you cook this many different types of food it’s impossible to do them all the justice they deserve and quite often they are cooked less than great. Have one or two meats cooked on the barbecue and make the the best tasting you can!
Tip 2 – Balance The Workload
This may come as a shock but not everything needs to go on the Barbecue! One of the things I was taught at culinary school was how to build a menu so that not every dish needed to be cooked on the same appliance or piece of equipment. Build a menu that incorporates charcuterie and antipasto platters that just require the flair of knowing how to display food on platters or boards. These are great for those guests who always ask if they can help, are always appreciated by your guests as there’s food on arrival, and they take the pressure of you as the cook to make absolutely everything on 1 piece of equipment!
Some of the salads in my Ebook involve blanching things like peas, broad beans, asparagus, etc, and they can all be done quickly on the hob and if you’re prepared they can be done in advance by 1 or 2 days and kept in containers in the fridge until you’re almost ready to serve. Craft a menu that plays to your strengths and share the workload!
Tip 3 – Chose Foods That Cook At The Same Temperature
It staggers me when people think nothing of cooking chicken and steak on the grill but would never dream of cooking roast potatoes and the Sunday roast in the oven at the same time. Why? Because the Sunday roast and roast potatoes cook at 2 completely different temperatures! Trying to cook chicken and steak on the same grill at the same time is a recipe for disaster because either the chicken is going to be burnt on the outside or the steak won’t have those delicious cramelisation lines.
In this instance chicken requires a more moderate grilling temperature of 230c – 250c where depending how you like your steak cooked I usually grill my steak between 250c to 280c. Thinking about how something cooks is a really big key to cooking your barbecue foods to perfection, and it’s not difficult!
Tip 4 – Roast Then Grill
I get asked all the time what my top tip is when cooking for large groups. I like to enjoy my days off and yes there may be an element of showing off here too, but for me if I’m cooking for a crowd it has to involve a roast. Something that can quite happily cook away for an hour or so and allow me time to do other things is a great addition to the menu. Roasting something like a Rump Cap or a Leg of Lamb means I only have 1 thing to prepare for the grill and it will be the star of the dinner table!
With the roast cooked, when your guests arrive you get to take their praise and adulation then with a quick change of fuel setup from roasting to grilling you can quickly grill off something like king prawn skewers and serve them with a simple sweet chilli dipping sauce for a quick and easy appetiser. Think quick cook food for when your friends and family have arrived so you’re not constantly stood next to the barbecue. Free yourself to enjoy their company and share the delicious food that’s brought you together in the first place.
Tip 5 – Cook Larger Items First
If I was “having a barbecue” and had steak, chicken pieces, burgers and chunky sausages on the menu it wouldn’t make sense to cook the steaks and burgers first. The chicken is going to take the longest, followed by the sausages and the burgers and steaks will cook in the quickest time. These foods would also require slightly more heat as you progress from the chicken (230c) to the sausages (250c) and finishing up with the burgers and steaks (275c).
On a gas or wood pellet barbecue this is easy enough to do just by increasing the dial(s), and with a charcoal you can simply add more natural charcoal to the fuel bank throughout the cook. By cooking the items that take the longest first you will also help ensure that all food is piping hot when it reaches the dining table.
Tip 6 – Cook Outside More Often
I hear all too often that when people only use their barbecue a few times a year they somehow feel they have to cook everyone’s favourite items every time! Someone likes those lamb kebabs, the kids have to have sausages, it’s not a barbecue if we don’t have xxx[insert the blank]. If I’m invited to someone’s house for dinner I don’t show up expecting roast beef and then make a fuss if it’s roast chicken! You’ll expect it by now if you’re a regular to the blog, but if you cook outside more often you don’t have to cram every single flipping thing on the barbecue every time it’s lit. Spread the love out and cook al fresco at least once a week. You don’t have to eat outside, just have some time in the back yard or garden, enjoy the fresh air, take an umbrella with you if you need, and open your mind to what you consider to be BBQ Food!
I hope these BBQ Tips give you some perspective on how to plan for that next gathering of friends or family. By following some or all of these tips you will be freed of standing at the barbecue until everyone other than you has eaten. Think about how you’d entertain if you were cooking indoors and just apply it to the barbecue for dishes with far more flavour! 🙂