Barbecue How-To and Top Tips
The first section of this guide (available here) focused mainly on your personal preferences and what you wanted from your barbecue. Now, we’re going to move on to more general information about the world of grilling. Some of the points we will cover in the remainder of our article include popular brands, how to care for your barbecue and how to use smoking chips for fantastic flavour.
Again, we’d love to hear from you if you have a personal favourite top tip we’ve missed.
While some of you may be perfectly happy with a budget gas or charcoal grill from the supermarket or DIY superstore, there are sure to be others who want to be sure they’re investing in the best model possible. Budget will, of course, dictate just how high-end you can go with your purchase, but it’s worth doing some research before you buy – you may be surprised by what you can get for your money.
As the final decision is a very personal one, depending on your personal preferences, we’re not going to make any specific recommendations. However, to get your search started, the Cadac Carri Chef and Safari Chef are both outstanding portable models, excellent for those who plan to barbecue on holidays. The Weber Go Anywhere is also very portable, and has the bonus of being available in both gas and charcoal models. The Smokey Joe by Weber is ideally suited to being packed up in a caravan or motorhome and taken on the road.
Caring for Your New Barbecue
- Once cooled, charcoal grills should be cleaned thoroughly with a wire brush, ensuring all traces of food and residue have been removed. Once scrubbed, wash with soap and hot water. From time to time, the rest of the barbecue should be cleaned using a standard oven cleaner. Did you know the ash is a great fertiliser for your garden?
- After each use of a gas barbecue, the lid, grill, burners and drip trays must all be cleaned thoroughly. Once the surfaces have cooled down, wash with soap and hot water. Never use oven cleaner on a gas barbecue, particularly on the burners.
- Whatever type of barbecue you use, wiping over the racks with an oiled paper towel or cloth will help to reduce sticking next time you use it. Make sure to use an oil with a high burning temperature.
- When leaving your barbecue outdoors for any period of time, make sure to clean it thoroughly and use a tightly-fitting cover to prevent damage. Place the barbecue in a spot where it is unlikely to get blown over, or have something else blown into it.
- At the start of a new barbecuing season, bear in mind that a grill which hasn’t been used for an extended period is likely to take longer to heat and use more charcoal – plan accordingly!
Smoking and Wood Chips
Barbecued food does have a great flavour anyway, but do you know how to use smoking and wood chips to make it even more delicious? Liquid smoke can be used in a push, but it’s far better to avoid synthetic flavours and go for a more authentic method instead, in our humble opinion anyway.
There are a variety of wood chips and chunks available, with different woods offering varying flavours. Some favourites include wood chips infused with Jack Daniels, Jim Beam or similar – we can vouch for the irresistibility of beef slow-cooked on a grill using these particular chips. Other popular chips include apple, pecan, maple and hickory. Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavours, you won’t regret it.
Aside from adding another level of deliciousness to barbecued food, wood chips are incredibly easy to use. All you need to do is add a handful of your chosen chips to the charcoal every 45 minutes or so, and let them smoulder away and release their goodness. There is a school of thought insisting that wood chips should be soaked in water before being added to a barbecue but, from what we can see, all this achieves is lowering the temperature and increasing cooking times.
Watch out for the smoke ring in your meat once it’s done – that fantastic pinky colour you only get in barbecued cuts. The slower you cook, the better this will be.
We have to admit to only recently learning about the advantages of arranging barbecue coals in a certain way. If you don’t know about direct and indirect heat for cooking on a grill, this next section is for you.
To cook evenly across the full surface of the grill, spread the charcoal across the entire base and you’re good to go. This will produce equal heat across the surface, ideal for searing meat and vegetables.
Ring of fire
This works in pretty much the same way as the three-zone split, but involves spreading the charcoal around the entire outside of the barbecue base, and leaving an indirectly heated zone in the middle. Again, the shape of your barbecue is likely to dictate which positioning you use.
Two-zone direct fire
To cook in two zones on your grill, where one needs a searing heat and the other a slightly lower temperature, separate your charcoal into two piles. One side of your grill should have a large proportion of the charcoal underneath it (for the searing heat), while a smaller pile produces a gentler temperature on the opposite side.
Two-zone indirect fire
Sometimes incredible heat isn’t what you need when grilling. Piling all of your charcoal under one side of the grill, and none at all on the other, will give you a hot zone for those items requiring quick cooking, and a cooler zone, perfect for cooking ribs, whole chickens or joints. Make sure to rotate the meat regularly to ensure even cooking throughout.
A three-zone split works in a similar way, with two hot zones on the outer edges, and an indirect heat in the middle of the grill. Your preferred option is likely to be affected by the model of barbecue you use.
This is what Jamie Oliver has to say on the subject –
Barbecuing at a caravan or motorhome
Barbecuing is very much suited to caravan and motorhome holidays, but the nature of pitches means that carbon monoxide is potentially a greater risk than when barbecuing at home. We’ve previously published an article advising how to protect you and your companions from carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be accessed via the following link:
Safety tips for barbecuing at a caravan
- Always use a barbecue on level ground and make sure it is sturdy and unable to topple
- Never leave a barbecue unattended – this is for safety, food quality and flame monitoring purposes
- Do not allow children or pets in the vicinity of the barbecue
- Keep barbecues away from awnings and never, ever use the grill under an awning or indoors. See our article about caravanning and carbon monoxide for an explanation as to why this is a terrible idea. Barbecues should never be left burning overnight, for the same reason.
- Never use any flammable liquids to boost your flames, other than those designed for use with barbecues
- If using gas, make sure any connector cables are securely fixed and out of the way
- For charcoal barbecues, move the coals to the side and cook food in the middle of the grill. You may prefer to move all of the coals to one side, so half of the grill gets direct heat and half is indirect (you will need both types of heat for cooking different foods).
- For gas barbecues, turn off the flames before cooking
- Always have an appropriate fire extinguisher to hand, just in case the flames get out of control
- If using marinades, apply to the food the day before for maximum flavour. Don’t forget to cover and refrigerate. Remove excess marinade before cooking, as the liquid is likely to burn quickly.
- Don’t open the lid of your barbecue too often, as this will allow heat to escape and affect the end results. Open the lid once only, to turn the food halfway through the cooking time.
- Space food out on the grill. Pieces of food touching one another won’t be able to cook evenly.
For some top tips from Jamie Oliver, watch the video below –