With the long nights here it’s time we started getting ready for outdoor socialising and, of course, for barbecues – the ultimate way to eat alfresco.
The current relaxation of lockdown restrictions allows for up to 30 people to gather outside, with all rules set to be scrapped from 19 July, meaning many of us will soon be getting together with our nearest and dearest, whether in parks or gardens.
National BBQ Week is taking place in the UK from 5 July to 18 July, and this year the event is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It will see the return of live sampling roadshows as well as major events such as Barbi for Britain, which will be raising money for Cure Leukaemia.
Whether you’re planning to wheel out the old family grill or are looking forward to your first foray, this is your guide to creating the ultimate cook-out experience.
From the best barbecues to the expert-recommended tools, recipe ideas and the drinks to go with it, we’ve got you covered. There’s no better time to fire up the grill and sip on your cocktails to mark National BBQ Week.
The best barbecues
The Weber genesis II EX-335 (£1,600, Riversidegardencentre.co.uk) earned a spot in our guide to the best gas barbecues and is perfect for cooking for a larger family. A gas barbecue is much quicker to get cooking than charcoal counterparts, and will mean you won’t have to get your hands dirty or deal with the plumes of smoke.
“This Weber aims to take a lot of the guesswork out of cooking outdoors,” our tester said. “It includes a ‘smart’ barbecue tag – which basically means that it comes with the Weber connect system integrated into the barbecue – giving you the option to use wired probes to tell you a range of information about what you’ve got cooking.”
Another bonus is the grease deflectors that did a good job of stopping any flare-ups during cooking Our writer also praised its functionality, too, with backlit knobs, a light handle, power that shuts off when you close the lid and a large enclosed cabinet for storage.
Genevieve Taylor, barbecue expert and author of vegetable barbecue cookbook, Charred (£12.33, Amazon.co.uk), told The Independent that her favourite barbecue is the Napoleon Pro22 charcoal kettle (£319.99, Thestovesite.co.uk), which will be back in stock in August. It has a stainless steel heat diffuser and dual stainless steel air vents and an ash catcher that unclips so you can dispose of it without leaving charred remains on your grass.
The best barbecue tools
“Good fuel is essential, charcoal is your number one ingredient and will make or break your cooking,” says Taylor, who recommends Whittle and Flame cornbury ash charcoal (£14 for 4kg, Whittleandflame.co.uk).
We were very impressed with the Apption labs Meater+ smart wireless meat thermometer (£99, Meater.com) in our barbecue accessories guide, which will ensure your meat is cooked to perfection, without having to cut it in half.
Simply stick the probe into the thickest section of the meat and then sync it to your smartphone. Tell the app what type of meat you’re cooking, how you’d like it cooked (from rare to very well done), and as long as you’re within 50m, it will tell you when it’s ready to eat without the need to keep lifting the barbecue lid.
An alarm will alert you if there’s an expected surge in temperature thanks to misbehaving flames and it will even advise the best resting time, too.
Of course, you can’t flip burgers without a good pair of tongs. This Big Green Egg stainless steel set (£71, Biggreenegg.co.uk) has everything you need for a complete kit – it comes with tongs, a grill spatula and a basting brush so you can serve up a well-cooked feast.
DJ BBQ’s favourite tools to use when he’s cooking up a feast are the Weber premium tongs (£25.19, Weber.com). “They act like an extension of my hand,” he says. They have a non-grip slip handle and are useful for turning hot dogs and rearranging sliced vegetables and even large joints.
Prevent any hot spitting meat from staining your clothes with this hardy Le Creuset chef’s apron (£45, Amazon.co.uk). Made from hardy canvas cotton, it’s heat-, stain- and steam-resistant, and can go straight in the washing machine if it gets too smoky.
And as the day turns to evening and the temperature drops a little, make sure you have an outdoor patio heater on the sidelines like this Kettler Kalos copper lantern heater (£189, Garden4less.co.uk) that featured in our round-up of the best.
Barbecue recipes, sauces and cookbooks
Once you’ve got your grill fired up, tools at the ready and apron tied, it’s time to get to the cooking part.
It contains six to eight 200-300g packets of beef liver; two 150-200g packets of beef kidney; organ fat up to 1kg; a whole beef heart or tongue; oxtail (cut into pieces) or beef cheeks; one onglet and 1kg marrow bones. “Cotswold Beef are out to prove a slow-growing native breed of cattle can be beneficial for the environment – and biodiversity – if farmed in the right way,” our tester said.
No barbecue is complete without a tasty burger and DJ BBQ is the master of big, over-the-top burgers that taste as impressive as they look.
“The DJ BBQ crew cook a lot of burgers. I reckon each summer we grill around 8,000 burgers over live fire. As many people won’t have access to a butcher, it’s best to just go for a decent fatty beef mince (ground beef). The more fat, the better. Minimum 20 per cent fat,” he says.
For a step-by-step guide to perfecting his burger yourself, find the full recipe here.
If you’re cooking without meat and don’t want to compromise on the fun, or want some more interesting side dishes than just mozzarella salad, there’s a whole world of vegetarian and vegan barbecue cooking inspiration from chefs and their cookbooks.
Taylor says: “My favourite dishes to cook are big sharing platters of grilled vegetables, layered up with lots of spices, herbs, dressings; they look impressive and are bursting with flavour. For grilling, I love all the Mediterranean vegetables such as peppers, aubergines and courgettes, as sunshine vegetables have a real affinity with fire.”
Her barbecued carrot, ricotta and toasted pecans dish is a sure-fire crowdpleaser to have as a main or side.
Find our other favourite recipes perfect for vegetarian barbecue cooking, from Georgian-style aubergine rolls to sweet potato and quinoa rosti in Taylor’s cookbook, Charred.
For a vegan diet, Thea Brook, owner and executive chef of The Brook in Hackney, London, suggests Seitan “ribs”. Seitan is great for those who want a meat replacement every now and then. It has a good bite to it, is very versatile and can be flavoured and cooked in different ways to create a range of dishes. Find the full recipe for them here.
Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, the duo behind the Bosh! vegan cookbooks, have their own version of creamy mac and greens, which makes the perfect hot side dish to grilled meats and veggies. The vegan version uses roasted mushrooms to add a salty flavour, and a dairy-free bechamel. Find the full recipe here.
To spice up meat and veggie dishes, add a hearty glaze of chipotle and pasilla chilli BBQ sauce (£8.26, Amazon.co.uk) or marinate overnight for a flavoursome smoky sauce. Or try this Dr Will’s BBQ sauce (£3.49, Mighty-Small.com) which was featured in our IndyBest review of condiments to spice up home cooking.
It has smoky notes from the paprika and a sweetness from real tomatoes and dates. Our reviewer liked using it to dip chips in, but it’s also great as a tasty base for making pizza, and it totally transforms a can of jackfruit, too.
If you need some more inspiration on what to cook, or how to best use your grill, we’ve rounded up the best barbecue cookbooks. The selection is inspired by barbecue cooking from around the world, with bold, exciting flavours from as near and far as the Middle East, the American midwest, Korea and a whole host of other regions along the way.
Our review said: “Cooking over fire is equal parts science and art, and getting it right requires technique. The cookbooks here help you understand how the process works, so you’ll nail it every time.”
DJ BBQ’s book, Fire Food: The Ultimate BBQ Cookbook (£11.21, Amazon.co.uk), came out on top in our guide with our reviewer praising the recipes as “diverse, fun and generally bonkers as you might hope”.
“Along with some solid classics, expect French toast grilled cheese; barbecue spag bol; mac and cheese pancakes; oyster tacos,” our tester said, adding, “this is about more than individual dishes, it’s about barbecue as a lifestyle”.
Pour yourself a drink
If it’s the weekend, treat yourself to a cocktail while you finish cooking your meat and veggies to perfection. Why not try one of our tested cocktail cans that are fuss-free and inexpensive.
Coming out on top, Porter’s Pocket negroni (£5, Shopcuvee.com) was described as a “neat, single-serve worth savouring”.
Once dinner is served, pair an orange wine such as the Calcarius orange Puglia 2020, 11% (£23, Juicedwines.co.uk), which boasts a blend of citrus and stone fruit flavours mixed with a hint of honey and caramel.
Or stock up on IPA beers with 12 cans of Adnams New England IPA, 6 per cent (£19.99, Adnams.co.uk). “This hazy, golden beauty dances between tropical fruits, bitter pine, smoky sweetness and an almost marine tang,” our tester said, adding that “it pours on the frothy side, with fine, smooth bubbles that never veer towards gassy, and manages to balance a complex and unusual array of flavours”.
Once you’ve eaten yourself full, finished off the beers and seen the sunset, use this Weber grill brush (£8.36, Amazon.co.uk) before you head to bed so you’ll have nothing to do the morning after.
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