Despite the popularity of the humble barbecue, not everyone is familiar with the variety of different barbecuing techniques that have been developed over the years. Barbecuing is not just a case of tearing open a packet of sausages and grilling them until they’re black – barbecues can be used to grill, bake, smoke and rotisserie cook, and these techniques will help you get the best out of lots of different foods if used effectively.
Grilling is the most common way to cook food on a barbecue, and an excellent way of capturing the full flavour of a piece of meat. Because the direct heat quickly browns the surface, sealing in the juices, grilling is a good choice for white meat, fish, vegetables and tender red meat, but not so good for tough or thick meats, which won’t tenderise during cooking.
Grilling requires a good deal of concentration and one of the things that novice barbecuers don’t get right is the art of cooking food right the way through without burning it. This is particularly important with meats like chicken, pork and sausages, less so with things like steak. The best thing to do is to try and create different heating zones on your barbecue, either by changing the position of the coals, or setting different sections of a gas barbecue to heat at different intensities. Areas of high heat should be used to sear the food when you start cooking, and then by moving the food to areas of lower heat later in the process, you can make sure it cooks through without burning. If you want to go for extra flavour, you can also try marinating your food before you grill it.
While grilling might appear to be the obvious way to barbecue food, with the addition of some tin foil, you can also give baking a try. Baking is particularly useful for cooking potatoes on a barbecue, which =er, but it also prevents the fish oil from flavouring everything else. When baking on a barbecue, simply wrap the food in tin foil, making sure that it’s completely enveloped. Before sealing, cover the food in a bit of oil to keep it moist, and add some seasoning for flavour. Once prepared, put it on one of the cooler areas of the barbecue, which will cook it at a lower heat for a longer period of time. Cook your baked food together with any meat that you are slow grilling, and it should all be ready at the same time.
With the addition of a smoke box and some aromatic wood chips, your barbecue can also be used to smoke certain foods, which gives them a unique flavour that you can’t get any other way. The box sits on the bottom grate, and is filled with wood chips which smoke the food cooked above. There are two different methods of smoking, which apply best to different types of food. If you are grilling steaks, fish or anything else that will cook quickly, only use dry chips in the box. These will produce smoke more quickly and intensely than wet chips, which is perfect for food that will only be grilled for a short period of time.
For foods like ribs and chicken, that are best cooked when slowly grilled for twenty minutes or more, use an equal mixture of wet and dry chips. Wet chips can be soaked in either water or wine, depending on the flavour you want to give your food. The dry chips will hit the ground running, while the wet chips will begin to give off a moist smoke later in the cooking process, which also helps prevent your food from drying out. If you are smoking for long periods, you can also help keep temperatures low and food moist by placing a pan of water directly on to the grill.
While rotisserie cooking is probably a bridge too far for a basic barbecue, many high-quality models come fitted with a rotisserie burner, which gives you even further cooking options. Otherwise known as spit-roasting, rotisserie cooking is an excellent way to cook meat evenly, and is particularly good for whole birds, joints, fish and ribs. The constant rotation of the rotisserie means that the food bastes itself in its own juice, giving you an end product that is not only exceptionally tasty, but also extremely tender and moist.
Although rotisserie cooking is fairly easy, with very little manual intervention required, it still pays to plan well ahead. Rotisseries often take a little time to set up, and the barbecue should be set to cook indirectly, meaning that the flame is not positioned directly under the food. You’ll also need to take out the cooking grill and move the lava rock directly beneath the food, so that you can put a drip pan underneath. Fill this with liquid – water, marinades, beer or wine – and it will steam up into the food as it cooks, which gives it extra flavour as well as keeping it moist. When putting the meat onto the spit rod, make sure that it’s properly balanced, so that it won’t overwork the rotisserie motor. Bind up the legs if you’re cooking a bird, and then check that the rotisserie rotates easily before leaving it to do the work for you. When you think it’s ready, always check with a meat thermometer before you serve, just to make sure.
With all these different cooking techniques available, it’s possible to cook almost anything on your barbecue. It’s almost like having a mini kitchen in your garden – only without the Formica work surfaces!