How to BBQ for the best al fresco experience

How to BBQ for the best al fresco experience

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Considering the weather in the UK isn't best suited to outdoor cooking, us Brits really love to embrace barbecue season and al fresco dining. We pretend that the midges and smoke aren't bothering us, and enjoy all the social joys that a fire brings.

Check out our list of top BBQ tips to ensure you enjoy cooking outside and eating al fresco!

Be prepared

This is the key to a relaxed day and covers a few important areas:

  • Timings - work out when you want to eat and then work back from there, to get a rough plan for set-up, prep and cooking kick-off time
  • Cleaning the BBQ - you totally cleaned, oiled and covered it the last time, didn't you? If that's unlikely (as it is for most) then make sure it's all set to go, rather than having to madly scrub it on the day
  • Cooking temperature - remember that the BBQ takes time to get up to the right temperature, so set that fire earlier rather than later

Set up

BBQ in an area where you have room to work, with some space for raw food, cooked food and utensils. 

For utensils and BBQ items, you'll want a few things handy such as tongs, spatula, kitchen towel and a roll of foil.

Use a combination of charcoal and wood to get the fire going, and have two different areas for the BBQ based on temperature - a high, hot, charring area, and a medium, slow-cook area. 

The menu

Plan your menu to take advantage of all the different stages of the BBQ heat and areas, from high (thin skewers), medium (thicker cuts steaks and whole spatchcocked* chicken), and low (double foil wrapped root vegetables directly on the residual coals).

Start the BBQ in sufficient time to get to the temperature you need – broadly plan to cook things that need a higher heat (such as kebabs/skewers/seafood) or searing (thick cuts of meat) first, while the BBQ is at it's hottest. Once the thick cut items are seared over the high heat, they can then be moved to the lower heat to slowly continue to cook. 

Kitchen prep

Here are some easy hacks for prepping your BBQ food that will make things both easier and tastier:

  • Bring any food (meat, cheese and vegetables) out of the fridge at least an hour before cooking, to take the chill off them
  • Try to reduce the thickness of any food by slicing thinner cuts or opening them up to allow heat to penetrate. For example, chunks of red peppers, thick slices of courgettes and spatchcocked* chickens.
  • Season food (salt or marinades) far enough ahead for the seasoning to penetrate the food
  • Oil the ingredients, not the cooking rack or hot plate surface

Let's fire up that BBQ and start cooking!

In general most items can do with an initial blast of high heat over an open rack or hot area of the griddle plate, before being moved to the lower, slower "medium" area.

Exceptions are things like prawn skewers/seafood that benefit from just a high heat blast and then being eaten straight away when "just" cooked.

Remember safety too! Don't let your fire get out of control or both your hands & food will suffer. And it's important to have separate plates and cooking utensils for raw meat in particular, with the "raw" items being placed in the kitchen sink as soon as they're done with.

Most importantly - test and rest meat! The easiest way to check if meat is done is to take a thicker piece and make a small cut to ensure it's cooked through. And meat of any thickness will benefit from a rest in a warm location (i.e. lower than the medium area, with a double layer of foil), so be relaxed and work in batches, so you can pay attention and then let it rest, grab yourself a drink and eat with everyone else.

These may seem like a lot of steps, but following them loosely will mean a more relaxed day which should be the absolutely priority for a day spent cooking outside.

* What on earth is "spatchcocked" chicken?

Here's a great how-to video from BBC Good Food showing how to spatchcock a chicken:

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