How to make sure you have tasty well cooked food when you barbecue.
It looks like we are going to have a warm sunny weekend – ideal for getting the barbecue out. Now the thing about barbecue cooking is that done well the food can be delicious. However done badly it can either give you food poisoning or be burnt to a cinder – and that can be with the same sausage.
Barbecue cooking on gas
Cooking on gas is easier and more convenient – in some ways. It takes just a few minutes to turn the barbecue on and get it up to temperature.
Most gas barbecues have temperature gauge which takes a fair amount of the guesswork out of the temperature and when you can start to cook.
The advantages and disadvantages of gas barbecues
One of the disadvantages of many gas barbecues is that you is you can’t really tell how long your gas bottle is going to last.
This could lead to a quick termination of your barbecue event if you should run out of gas before the food is cooked. To avoid this is happening and you barbecue on a regular basis it may well be worth investing in a spare gas bottle. Then if the worst happens all is not lost apart from a few minutes while you change the gas bottle.
One advantage of a gas barbecue is that you have more space to cook. This means that if you do have a flare up with careful planning, you should be able to move your food away from flames.
However many people feel that a gas barbecue is cheating and is not the real thing. You also don’t have the option of adding different flavours to the food with different wood chippings you can use.
The major disadvantage of a gas barbecue is they are more costly to buy. Potentially there is more that can go wrong with them and they are more difficult to move around.
Barbecue cooking on charcoal
If cooking on a charcoal barbecue, the rule is be patient. You need to allow about 45 minutes before you start cooking. Yes it is a long time!
Start by spreading charcoal briquettes about two layers thick across the base of the grill, piled into a neat heap in the centre. If you are using firelighters make sure they are designed for barbecue use.
After about ten minutes or so when the coals are glowing red spread them back across the base into an even layer. You might also want to leave one side of the barbecue ash free, this is a good way to cook meat slowly from the inside out and great to move foods to, if they are starting to burn.
Leave the coals for another 25 to 30 minutes, waiting until the charcoal is ash grey before starting to cool. This is the biggest mistake most people make when barbecuing. They start cooking too soon. The charcoal is too hot. This will result in everything being cooked (or burnt), on the outside – which tricks you into thinking it is cooked, while on the inside it is still raw.
It is better to start with barbecuing smaller amounts of food, or cater for small numbers of people to build up your confidence.
A good well rounded 5 star rated charcoal is Weber Master Touch Gourmet BBQ. Although a little more expensive than many, it is solid, well made and has a lid. A lid to the barbecue means it is much easier to cook long and slow – ensuring the meat is well cooked.
How do you know your Barbecue is the right temperature
A good way to judge the heat of your charcoal barbecue once it is ready to cook on, is to do the hand test. (e.g. The ash is charcoal grey and there are no flames).
Hold your palm side down over the coals. If you can hold your hand steadily over the heat for no more than two seconds your barbecue is hot; medium hot equals three seconds, medium four seconds, medium low five seconds and low six or more seconds.
- If you want to prolong the barbecue cooking time for your food add fresh coals around the already hot coals.
- Keep a bottle of water handy to splash on the coals if your food starts to burn or flames start flaring up.
Barbecue cooking tips
You need to think about what you want to cook, as well as when do you want to eat way before you start cooking on the barbecue.
Take all meat out of the fridge half an hour before you plan to cook it so it is not being cooked chilled, straight from the fridge.
Steaks require brief cooking over a hot heat. Once cooked cooked remove the steak from the barbecue, wrap it in foil and then leave to rest, for at least ten minutes or until the rest of the barbecue is ready. This ensures the meat will be more tender and succulent.
Sausages take much longer to cook and need to be positioned over a less hot area of the barbecue to avoid them becoming burnt and black. Remember just because they are cooked on the outside does not mean they are cooked on the inside. They also will need to be turned regularly.
Burgers are probably the easiest barbecue food to cook. The trick with these to try and stop them falling apart. This tends to happen if you turn them over repeatedly. Try cooking burgers on a medium heat and turning them over once or invest in a burger press.
Cooking chicken is easier if the fillets or pieces of chicken are not to large and not too thick. Again with chicken a low to medium heat for a longer time is more effective as it will allow the chicken to cook right through and is less likely to become dry and chewy.
If you are not confident about cooking chicken then pre-cook it first. And just barbecue it for a couple of minutes on each side on a medium heat.
Always check that the chicken is cooked by piercing the centre of it and ensuring the juices run clear.
A good set of Utensils
A good set of utensils that you just keep for the barbecue is a handy addition and a meat thermometer – even if you have a gas barbecue.
Marinades are great with all types of meat. They add flavour, make meat succulent and tender. Marinade the meat overnight if possible or for a minimum of an hour to get the best flavour.
For example a tub of yogurt and a couple of teaspoons of curry powder or curry paste along with a spoonful of mango chutney is a simple way to add flavour and succulence to chicken and prevent it from becoming dry and rubbery.
Always pay attention
Barbecue cooking is not difficult to master. To be successful, it is a matter of paying attention to what you are doing, keep a close eye on the food and be patient. And as a barbecue is an open fire hazard it should not be left unattended anyway.
Don’t isolate the person who is cooking
This leads onto the final point for a successful barbecue – in this country anyway. Make sure your barbecue is sited safely away from the house but not so far that the cook is isolated from the rest of the party. Always suggest for evening barbecues that guests bring jackets and provide blankets. Sitting out on a cool night under the stars is a really nice thing to do – the key is to make sure everyone is warm.
Have fun and enjoy your barbecue.