Warm days and balmy evening signal it’s time to be firing up the Barbecue for a spot of outdoor entertaining. Cooking in your own back garden is so much more relaxed than a dinner party and provides a perfect opportunity to gather friends, neighbours and family together.
If you want to branch out from the mainstay of burgers and bangers and ensure it is a laid-back affair, a bit of planning and preparation are essential beforehand. I’ve put together a few handy tips for barbecue success and my recipe for old school American Ribs. It is probably one of my family’s all-time favourites. Spectacularly delicious and easy too, you and your guests despite having sauce all over your face will be happy campers indeed!
The first thing is the type of barbecue itself, purists believe that it has to be charcoal all the way. Certainly, nothing else replicates that authentic smoky flavour. The downside is you have little controllability with the temperature, you have to wait for the charcoal to be just right to cook on and when the heat has gone, that’s it. That’s where gas comes in, these are so sophisticated now that really you can do everything on them that you can do in a normal domestic oven. That could be seen as defeating the object of getting a bit closer to nature and the whole outdoor cooking experience. There is no right or wrong way, there are pros and cons to both. Whatever your personal preference, the one common denominator has to be that you start with the best ingredients possible. Before we get on to the food, it’s worthwhile having some useful bits of barbecue kit in your armoury.
If you want to protect yourself from the heat I advise in investing in some silicone individual oven gloves, a long apron, silicone basting brush and long handled utensils.
A good supply of kitchen roll or paper napkins is really useful (essential if you’re making my ribs)! A bag of supermarket ice set up in a cool box is cheap and convenient - nobody wants warm beer at a “Barbie”.
The clearing and washing up can be minimised by using disposable plates, party ware and foil trays. There are some really pretty ones on the market these days and they make life so much easier. Having a recycling bin and normal waste bin, clean and lined for people to use if they so wish is very handy too.
It’s a good idea to have a system in place for food safety purposes as you need to keep your raw meat and fish, chopping boards, trays and utensils away from your cooked food. Hand washing after handling raw food is essential to avoid cross contamination. When I’m doing a barbecue, I use the simple rule of all raw items and equipment are on a table to the left of me and all cooked food goes off to the right with the other dishes.
It’s not necessary to wash meat and poultry before you cook it, all this does is create an invisible spray of bacteria all over your sink area. If you are serving chicken I would advise that you cook it in the oven first and then finish it off on the barbecue to give it the flavour. The only way that you can check that your food is cooked for definite all the way through is to use a food thermometer. With barbecues cooking at such a searing heat the food can be charred on the outside, making it look deceptively cooked, but still be raw in the middle. For some more great food safety advice see www.food.gov.uk/science/microbiology/how-to-barbecue-safely
Now on to the all-important question - what to eat? A balance of different fish, meat and vegetable dishes offering a range of tastes, colours and textures, served with some top sides and salads. Following are some ideas to choose from. I think the extra dishes are what sets a good barbecue apart from the herd. I can guarantee you a feast, but don’t hold me responsible for our fickle weather.
Onions Fried in butter and oil with a generous sprinkle of sugar and seasoning to caramelise.
Tinned Easy Onions are a great time saver, you need to drain them well before reheating.
Cheese Slices or bags of grated cheddar and mozzarella.
Bowl of nachos with a selection of dips such as Guacamole, Soured Cream and Chive and Salsa
Burger Rolls, Hot Dog Rolls and Sliced French Baguettes. The Lincolnshire Coop stock Gadsbys Rolls. Good value at 6 for a £1 and they are the perfect size for burgers. Brioche buns work really well too and I love the sweet and savoury combination. Generally, you want soft white squidgy bread to soak up the barbecue juices.
Barbecued Corn on the Cob
Barbecued Vegetable Kebabs, soak the wooden skewers in water first to prevent burning. Peppers, Mushrooms, courgettes, baby tomatoes, onions, precooked new potatoes all work well.
Barbecued bacon rashers to go on top of burgers.
Coleslaw, easy to make your own with shredded white cabbage, onion, carrots, mixed together with mayonnaise and seasoned. Variation with red cabbage, red onion and beetroot.
Potato Salad, Cooked and scratted new Potatoes, cooled and mixed with chopped Spring Onion and chives, mixed together with mayonnaise and seasoned. Variation with a tin or two of drained tuna added.
Hash Browns or Potato Wedges
You could make your own dry rub, marinade or sauce, or choose from the huge variety on offer to buy. They are a great way to add flavour to your food and to protect it from the high heat. Flavour injectors that enable you to inject flavour and moisture directly into the meat is another option. These methods all introduce sugar and this works as a tenderiser and gives you that desirable texture and caramelised crust that is so tasty. Balance is key, you don’t want to be overwhelming the natural flavours that that barbecuing brings, especially with expensive cuts of meat like steak. This is where using a skilled, knowledgeable butcher comes in handy. A good butcher should have a range of barbecue dishes already prepared with a choice of rubs and marinades, so all you have to do is cook them. If you want to make your own, they can advise you on the best cut of meat to give you the best results.
Lincolnshire Sausage, Chipolatas or other good quality butchers’ pork sausages
A tip for cooking sausages, please don’t prick them! This goes for barbecuing or your normal method or indoor cooking. Pricking them let’s all of the flavour and moisture out, just keep turning the sausages every couple of minutes and make sure they are cooked through thoroughly before serving.
Pork Chops and Pork Loin Steaks.
Pork tenderloin, equivalent to fillet steak. Not much fat, so you need to add flavour and be careful not to dry it out and over cook.
Pork and Apple, Pork and Sweet Chilli Sauce, Pork and Leek Burgers.
Gammon steaks, delicious served with barbecued pineapple rings.
Bacon, either to make butties or to put on top of burgers
Rack of Ribs, slow cook in the oven and finish off on the barbecue
Steak – Sirloin, Rump, Rib Eye, T. Bone and Fillet. If you are using a really expensive steak cut, you need to be careful to not overcook it and not mask the naturally delicious flavour of the meat.
Kebabs made from steak, made up with peppers, onions and mushrooms.
Beef and Tomato Sausages, other good quality butchers beef sausages.
Rack of Ribs, slow cooked and finished off on the barbecue.
Lamb and Mint Burgers
Lamb and Mint Kebabs or Lamb Fillet Kebabs
Lamb chops and Lamb steaks
Shoulder of lamb
Meaty fish steaks such as Tuna and Sword Fish
Whole fish, such as Sea Bass, Trout and Salmon
Rack of ten pork ribs, with plenty of meat left on the bone
2 litre bottle of Doctor Pepper
200ml Doctor Pepper (taken from the 2 litre bottle)
8 level tablespoons of soft brown sugar
6 level tablespoons of tomato ketchup
2 level tablespoons of French’s Yellow Mustard
3 level tablespoons of dark soy sauce
2 level tablespoons of Worcester sauce
1 level teaspoon of ground Allspice
Preheat oven to 160c/140c fan/ Gas mark 3
Line a roasting tin big enough for your rack with baking parchment.
Lay in the ribs with the flesh facing downward, pour over half the bottle of Dr Pepper (1 litre), cover and seal tightly with foil. Put in the oven for 2 ½ hours.
Place all of the sauce ingredients together in a pan and bring up to the boil and then simmer gently for about 20 minute until its reduced to a sticky syrupy sauce. The easiest way to amalgamate all the ingredients together is with a wire balloon whisk and then just stir with a wooden sauce. Keep a close eye on it as it can easily burn or boil over with the sugar content being so high.
After the pork ribs have cooked for 2 ½ hours, remove from the oven, turning the ribs over so the fleshy side is at the top and place ribs on a large plate.
At this point if you are cooking inside, turn your oven up to 200c/180c fan/Gas mark 6 or have your barbecue ready.
Drain off the liquid in the tin, leaving the baking parchment, but get rid of the foil.
Baste ribs generously with the sauce
Then either return the ribs to the roasting tin and back in the oven or put the rack or ribs on to the barbecue.
Cook for a further 30 - 40 minutes, basting with the sauce every ten minutes.
Remove from the oven or barbecue and allow to cool and rest for a few minutes before slicing into individual ribs. Give a final coat of the sauce just before serving. There is no polite way to eat them, have a beer to hand, pile of kitchen roll at the ready and get stuck in!