Are Most British Barbecues a Bit of a Wash-Out?
We’re currently experiencing a bit of a heat wave here in the UK, and for once all the weather reporters on TV are saying it’s supposed to be with us for at least a while. They could end up being totally wrong of course, as anyone who’s old enough to remember Michael Fish’s on-air blooper will most likely agree with. In any case, as soon as the sun comes out during a British summer weekend there’s a tendency for us to all rush to get the barbecues out so we can get some good old fashioned grill cooked meat down our throats. A quick look at sales from places like BBQBarbecues.co.uk, B&Q or your local supermarket shows that British barbecues remain as popular as ever, but the question I put to you is this; are they usually a bit of a let-down?
We took advantage of a yellow ball of fire suddenly appearing in the sky (prompting many of us to shield our eyes and gasp in surprise, as it is something that we British don’t tend to see all that often) to partake in some barbecue fun and simply spend a lazy Sunday catching some rays and filling ourselves with hopefully cooked meat. I had discovered a brand new barbecue stored in the shed of our rented home a couple of months ago, so we dragged it down to my partner’s parents’ house and spent about an hour wondering where this screw and that piece had gone to put the thing together. It was only when we’d lit the coals that we realised we forgot to put the bottom shelf in (see picture to the right), which was a bit of a rookie mistake given that I write for a barbecue blog.
Anyway, it was while we were slapping on the sausages and burgers to cook (or rather, someone else was as I had vanished inside by this point to catch Andy Murray’s epic win in the Wimbledon finals) that I looked at what we were about to eat and started to wonder if all creativity vanishes when it comes to us British and our barbecues. I regularly post superb recipes that are some of the tastiest slices of meat I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting, but 90% of them I attend a barbecue I find a grill full of the sort of burgers and sausages that you find you’ll find as part of your local supermarkets summer offers. Why don’t we try something new? And why are we in such a rush to prepare what we have?
The USA has been doing barbecues right for decades. In places like Texas it could be said that they almost see the meat as sacred; something to be lovingly prepared, with the time taken to create flavours that have the mouth drooling more than a burst water main. We’ve posted about Internatonal barbecue cooking, creating tasty marinades and rubs or smoking meat – but in reality most people tend to stick with a half burnt sausage and a splodge of ketchup. I’ve had more dry pieces of chicken than I have pork that’s been moist and melted in the mouth.
When I talk about wash-outs I mean in it the ‘disappointing’ sense, rather than the heavens opening up and the rain literally putting a dampener on a planned day of barbecue frivolities. The weather probably plays a part in the way we British handle barbecues though. Maybe we don’t want to spend a lot of time standing over a barbecue and instead buy things that are quick to cook simply because we can’t trust the weather to stay fine and not end up suddenly causing a minor bout of flooding in our back gardens. I saw this at a Queen’s Jubilee barbecue I went to; one minute it was hot and sunny and the next the coats and jumpers had come out with the clouds having turned an ominous dark grey. We’ve simply come to expect the worst from our weather.
Similarly, we won’t buy the meat until the last minute because nobody wants loads of meat sitting in their freezer when you can’t really rely on ever getting a decent enough day to use it. So, we rush to the supermarket or butchers as soon as the sun looks like it’s coming out and usually end up picking up whatever is there in bulk and for a low price. Nobody seems to have the time to sit down and read prepare for cooking a quality barbecue recipe, made with quality meat. This needs to change, or we will forever be stuck with barbecues that disappoint with every year.
For the few days of sun we get every year we deserve to have barbecues that will be high up there in terms of the quality of food, and not just in terms of the amount of beer cans and burnt sausages that end up in the bin at the end of the day. You could make the argument that barbecues are more about the social side rather than the good; the opportunity to enjoy the company of family and friends, have a few drinks and generally just soak up the sun. However, there really is no reason why we can’t do both. Other countries manage to do it fine, and even if it’s only twice a year (at a push) surely we can make the food served at our barbecues a taste to savour and remember for years?