Why you should barbecue in winter

The cosy scene of everyone huddling around the barbecue in December wrapped in winter woollies and laughing to jokes while clutching a glass of warm mulled wine is an experience that’s remembered by participants long into the spring.

Such is the fun of social gatherings like this that winter barbecues are growing in popularity – helped by the fact that our winter’s appear to be a lot milder these days than in years gone by. There’s also an increased availability of inexpensive and effective patio heaters on the market.

Meanwhile there’s been a real surge in winter barbecue cooking from organic and delicate vegetarian fayre to an assortment of meat burgers such as kangaroo and crocodile. The weather is appears, is no hurdle to cooking and eating outdoors.

Incidentally if you’re going to be using the BBQ in the winter and, especially, the snow, then the best type of appliance to have is a vertical one ( i.e. not one of the long horizontal types) as these retain the heat better and use less charcoal and fewer wood pellets.

A big craze that’s hitting the States right now – and proving especially popular in the winter months – is a recipe which involves cooking a chicken sitting upright on a half-filled can of beer (the chicken that is, not the chef!).

Seems an awful waste of beer I hear you say. But no, it’s not seeing as, having smoked for at least three hours, the taste of the beer eventually permeates through the chicken giving it a delicious flavour.

You should be able to make this simple recipe using a 4lb chicken with giblets removed. It should be washed and dried then its skin rubbed with olive oil and your preferred spices.

Then, sit the chicken on the half-filled beer can and place on the barbecue for an hour. Baste the chicken in its juices and cook for a further three hours. To be on the safe side, baste in between times too to make sure the flesh doesn’t dry out.

Vegetarians could look forward to mushroom stuffed with a colourful variety of peppers and root vegetables such as onions, garlic and sweet potato. The vegetables should be stirred fry with olive oil for five minutes then placed on the centre of a large mushroom. The mixture plus mushroom placed on tin foil is then cooked on the barbecue for around seven minutes or so.

A favourite barbecue dish for those with a sweet tooth is black bananas. This is a simple yet highly effective sugar rush. All it involves is getting a banana and slitting it down the middle. Then, add four or five squares of chocolate and cover the flesh back up. Put the whole ensemble on the gas barbecue for five minutes (or until the banana skin goes black) and then simply eat from the skin. Deeeelicious.

Meanwhile, talking about flavours, it’s not just spices and sauces that can flavour your meat or other BBQ fayre. The wood you are cooking with can add its own special element.

For instance, cherry wood has a slightly sweet and fruity flavour, as does apple wood. Hickory (which is the most common wood used) tastes a bit like bacon (pecan is a weaker version) while food cooked with oak has, as you’d expect, a rather strong ‘earthy’ taste to it. And don’t cook with walnut on its own or you will end up with a rather bitter flavour to your food.

Most people end up with a favourite wood and stick to it but it is fun to experiment with different types. Hickory is a good starter. Do let us know how you get on…