In this amusing article, our talented Chef Tim Bilton shares his thoughts on the summer tradition of barbecuing.
You might not have all of your family and friends round at the moment as we all try to begin some sort of “new normal”. It has been a challenging time for most of us, mentally, professionally and with our family too.
We are all adjusting to a new way of living, shopping and even socializing (be it via Zoom with bingo and quizzes) to FaceTiming with friends and loved ones.
As a chef I have always found cooking to be a constant reassurance. The need to have food on the table is as strong as ever, and the planning, preparing, cooking and all our family sitting down and eating meals together provides a useful and comforting structure to each day.
I’m lucky enough to have a small garden so the idea of cooking outside when the sun is high in the sky and beating down is so inspiring.
The idea of a blanket and large cushions on the floor with bowls of fresh summer salads and the smell of the charcoal slowly burning and filling the air with that certain smell in the air.
Every time I smell the air these songs spring to mind:
The Monkeys, Pleasant Valley Sunday:
“Another pleasant valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere”
Or the Stereophonics, Local Boy in a Photograph:
“There’s no mistake, I smell that smell,
It's that time of year again,
I can taste the air”
I do love cooking outdoors upon the arrival of the long warm evenings, accompanied by a long glass with something refreshing and cold. I’m starting to digress and need to stop looking at my beer fridge.
The barbecue is a versatile cooking tool, it’s an oven and smoker as well as a fierce grill, and I don’t think we’ve been harnessing its true potential.
With a bit of planning and care, you can create something truly magical – and here’s how:
Start early. Light the coals or get the gas barbecue up to temperature, and tend it.
The trick with low and slow barbecuing is to keep the temperature even.
We tend to throw a whole bag of coal with a pack of firelighters and cook when it’s raging hot. It’s a bit of a macho thing (back to our hunter gather days).
Massive tongs and scrapers come out along with the BBQ apron and then up steps the man, you know “THE MAN” I do find it rather amusing when I’ve been to BBQ’s almost every man let’s call them the “Alpha” starts edging up to the BBQ. You can see them, beer in one hand, darting straight to the poor guy whose garden is having the BBQ and then suitably telling the host the best coals to buy and burn. “Always white, never flaming”, whilst taking the tongs and moving the chicken, burgers and sausages. Just like the MAMIL “middle aged men in lycra” riding their bikes whilst singing “king of the road”.
They are like a silver back gorilla in a nature programme (Just watch next time you are at a one).
As a chef I do find it very amusing and when asked what do I think, I’m polite and say, “how ever it comes you are doing a great job”.
But cooking and eating outside seems like a better prospect than social distancing in restaurants and bars, with some considering to fill their restaurants with Perspex dividers or have the person serving you in a HAZMAT suit. That’s not what I go to a restaurant for. You don’t want to be having dinner with your partner and somebody in a mask and gloves is pouring your wine. Even though the tables will have an increased space between them, its only window dressing. There are other areas of potential contamination such as the toilets, bar area, and not to mention some peoples suggestion of plastic disposable cutlery and salt and pepper. Personally, I’d rather wait and be safe thank you however I appreciate that this industry does need all the help it can get and others may have a different opinion.
How to cook meat and vegetables on a BBQ:
Start with a third of a bag, or find the right level on the gas and keep it there.
This is an exercise in restraint and patience. Relax - the BBQ will stay hot longer than you think. Embrace your inner “BBQ Zen”.
Don’t place any food on to the BBQ until the coals have turn white all you will do is burn your food and it will be under cooked.
Barbecuing does have a bittersweet taste in my mouth though. Cooking meat on open flames produces carcinogenic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. It’s a scientific fact, not a rumour. As a stage 4 terminal cancer fighter I’ve had time to study a hell of a lot about foods which can fight cancer and those that are not so good, but that’s for another day.
Aubergines, courgettes, red onions and fennel are brilliant vegetables to cook on your BBQ.
The meat is also important.
Shoulder of pork, lamb, whole chickens and beef brisket.
Most cuts of brisket in the UK have been trimmed of almost all fat. You need this fat when cooking low and slow. It will keep the meat beautifully moist.
Buy a meat thermometer.
There are some people who can tell how the inside of a piece of meat is cooking from 1,000 yards away, like chefs - but most can’t. A digital meat thermometer lets you know exactly how the meat is cooking and when it’s ready.
Over the coming weeks, I plan to share with you some of my favourite BBQ recipes ranging from Lamb Koftas to Jerk Chicken thighs but in the meantime, I will leave you to get the equipment together!