With spring in the air, holidays on the horizon and a hint of sunshine peeping out I detected the first whiff of barbecue’s wafting across my neighbourhood of late. There is something in our genetic makeup luring us to want to hover over grilling chunks of meat outside on open flames just like our caveman ancestors did. This might explain why the blokes seem to want to be in charge of this manly operation stoking the fire and turning the steaks. Only difference is our ancestors had also just returned from hunting, killing and cutting up said meat. These days we just open the packet.
In Australia I had the BBQ master classes from the super organized family and friends team efforts and private back garden Sunday cookouts I was invited to. Naturally with a sunny climate the Aussies have it nailed. The best professional one I saw there was a Sunday pub lunch with a whole side of beef strung up on a high spit sizzling away all morning and then everyone arriving at noon to eat and drink for the blue sky afternoon. Pigs on spits are all the rage here right now which can be a great spectacle, except for the animal lovers. I have also cooked the Hangi or whole lamb buried in the ground which can be very tasty.
It amazes me how everyone wants to build another kitchen in their garden when they have one just a few yards away inside the back door. Then you have the messy clean up, stinking smokey clothes and the rain is always just lurking behind those dark clouds never mind the hygiene risk from flies, dirt and undercooking burgers and chicken and the fire risk to dogs and kids. Some of the swanky BBQ’s are actually now as expensive as a real kitchen; I saw one for ten grand.
The best thing then is to be serious about it and build a permanent brick fire BBQ grill that just needs a sweep out when done with and can be covered up for winter and a gazebo thrown over when in use. A few bricks, a shovel of cement and a good iron grill bar and plate will do the job.
If you want to see all things Barbie in action then head for the Big Grill Festival held each August in Dublin which will really inspire you. However, good portable BBQ’s are useful and enjoyable when out camping and you absolutely need a cooking kit in this instance. The disposable ones should be banned though as they are just left lying around parks and beaches. Nothing beats an open pit fire though using wood to add real flavour but this is not always permitted and is a wild fire risk these days.
Now it really has to be wood though for outdoor cooking whether it’s BBQ’s or Pizza ovens. Forget coals and gas, these do nothing for the flavour of the food. Keep it simple too; you do not need half a dozen meats and multiple platters of salads and sauces. Have all your prep and chopping done in advance, bread cut, a decent sized chill box if on the road and just enough to feed everyone. Otherwise you have all the leftovers to haul back home again or to try and eat again later.
I like the Aussie way of everyone bringing the raw or ready to eat ingredients so the host just provides the venue, equipment, the BBQ kit and utensils so the labour and costs are shared and then the guests help clean the place up too, now that is how it should be. The hosts should be able to enjoy the day as well as the guests. So enjoy whatever way you are eating in the garden this summer. I will be cooking inside as usual but eating al fresco.