But if you haven't got your burger-flipping skills down pat and the family are growing ever-more weary of burnt sausages and worryingly pink chicken, here are some top tips to take your outdoor entertaining to a whole new level.
1. Better kit will give you better results
Getting a new barbie for the summer? Give some serious thought to what you need before you take the plunge.
Whether you usually barbecue or grill food makes a big difference when it comes to equipment.
So, which of the following best describes your outdoor cooking?
- Barbecuing - the process of cooking food slowly via indirect heat and smoke.
- Grilling - placing the food directly over the heat source.
If you genuinely barbecue, charcoal is the only option, but if you’re just into cooking outdoors then the convenience of a grill is the way to go.
The number of people you’ll be feeding is also important – this will dictate what size barbecue you need and how best to set it up.
If the barbecue is going to take up half the garden, you might want to get one you can wheel away once the cooking’s done.
Gas grills are easier to cook on and to clean, but they’re usually more expensive. A bigger cooking area also usually means a bigger price tag – prices can vary from around £5 for a disposable barbecue, to £15 for a small charcoal barbecue or as much as £3,000 for one with all the bells, whistles and heat settings.
If you occasionally like to do some outdoor cooking for the family, you can probably get away with spending around £50-£60 on a barbecue.
2. Coals need to be at optimum temperature
If you’re using a charcoal barbecue, build up a layer of charcoal into a shallow pyramid towards the centre, interspersing it with a few firelighters and some balled up newspapers before setting light to them.
Leave the coals to burn until they’re white hot and then, if possible, create a split-level by moving a single layer of coals to one side, and a stacked level of coals to another. This means the two parts of the grill are slightly different heats – ideal for cooking different types of food.
Try to avoid using lighter fluid where possible as it can leave food tasting like it’s been left to marinate in your petrol tank overnight. If you have to though, make sure it’s left to burn for at least 45 minutes before cooking.
3. Plan your menu well in advance
When choosing what to cook on your barbecue, plan your menu in advance, use good quality ingredients and try to keep it simple – marinating your meat will make it flavoursome and tenderise it, but overdoing it will mask the flavour.
And if your marinade contains salt or citrus juices, never marinade for more than a couple of hours as these ingredients can toughen the flesh.
Also try to avoid cooking meat straight from the fridge – the hardest part of barbecuing meat is getting the middle cooked without burning the surface to a crisp, so try to get the meat at least to room temperature before throwing it to the coals.
If you’re cooking sausages, chicken or other food that needs to be fully cooked through before eating, give it a quick blast in the microwave to cook through from the middle before putting it on the grill.
The thinner the meat, the easier it is to cook through, so use your hands to push out any steaks to increase the surface area and make them thinner – this will also help to tenderise the meat.
And avoid continually flipping your food - once or twice will do - otherwise you won’t get the meat properly seared on the outside, and never squish it down as this just forces out the juices and dries it up.
4. You can never ‘over-do’ safety
Most of us enjoy a beer or a glass of wine while tending to the grill, but don’t overdo it – being drunk while in charge of an open fire is dangerous at the best of times. Add some excited children into the equation and it can quickly turn into a trip to A&E.
And try not to take glasses outside, instead serve drinks in shatterproof plastic tumblers.
Other safety tips include:
- Set up barbecues on level ground and away from overhanging trees, fences and sheds
- Always make sure there is plenty of room for smoke to escape
- Never pour on petrol or other highly flammable accelerants
- Use tools with long, non-metallic handles
- Watch out for hot steam when opening foil parcels
- Make sure the barbecue is fully extinguished before you leave it and never move it until it’s cool
- Never leave children unsupervised.
5. Check your cover contents cover
Even taking every precaution in the book doesn’t guarantee disaster won’t strike, so make sure your home insurance covers you for fire to any outbuildings or garden equipment as well as injuries to any guests or damage to their belongings.
And remember, you’re responsible for everyone’s safety – so if it’s found you were drunk while in charge of the barbecue, your insurer may refuse to pay out on the grounds that you failed to take reasonable care.
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