When the sun comes out and the evenings get lighter, there’s nothing better than getting outdoors with friends and family and enjoying tasty food cooked freshly with your own barbecue. But, with so many different types of barbie out there, how do you know which one’s for you? Here are our Top-8 tips to help you get the right gear to help you become the local BBQ Maestro...
Tip 1: Where will you be using your barbecue? Barbies vary in size from small portables to full-scale outdoor kitchens so your first consideration has to be: where do you intend to add barbecued food into your life? You’re most likely going to be firing-up your BBQ in the garden, on the patio or decking area – so where’s this new piece of ‘outdoor furniture’ going to go, how much space have you got, where’s best to keep it away from the kids and is it going to sit there all year round or get stored away? If the latter, how easy does it have to be to move? If you’re in a tight-space situation – say a balcony, small terrace or roof-top garden – add the early question of fuel-type, from the practical consideration of how easy it will be to store and replace heavy gas cylinders or bags of charcoal – maybe electric is the answer? For Camper-vanners, motor-homers or trekkers, the extra bulk and weight of Barbie equipment is a bigger issue, but there are cut-down variants that will fit the bill if you really can’t cope with sunset in the outdoors without barbied local produce at the end of a day of exploring. There’s something for everyone - from the basic disposable, to the simple gas portable, to the fun-style Mini-Kettle style, to the bigger, stand-up style, either charcoal or gas.
Tip 2: Capacity: How many mouths to feed? Even larger barbecues are really versatile in that you can use them full-on to get the best from outdoor family & friends living during the warmer months, but you can also use them economically, all year round, if someone’s prepared to brave the elements and the darkness (don’t worry, some even have lighting) to deliver the juiciness and wood-chip taste of a couple of flame-grilled steaks to go with kitchen-prepared accompaniments to your meals. So, how many might you be cooking for if you get the bug and want to invite the neighbourhood too? Going through this thought process will give you an idea of the size and type of Barbie that’s right for you, making it easier to live with, longer term.
Tip 3: Grilling, smoking, steaming, roasting or baking? We tend to think of the basic chicken-drumstick/burger/sausage/steak output of barbies, these being amongst the easiest to chuck in the shopping trolley or take out of the freezer at short notice, but the original nature of barbecuing is much more about very slow smoking with low, indirect heat than fast, dry-heat grilling at high temperatures. So, decide whether you intend to be a ‘when it’s brown, it’s done’ BBQ’er who’s in it for maximum tasty food output for lowest time input, or the foodie who wants to explore the boundaries of outdoor cuisine – maybe via an olde-worlde smoker, contemporary smoker, pizza oven, convection cooker, versatile ceramic BBQ or full-feature barbecue with a rotisserie and all the ‘bells & whistles’. Choose the type of kit that looks like being right for your intended level of interest, the time you have to invest and the value you’ll get back for what you’re paying – so that your future efforts are matched by the right equipment for the job. If you’re just happy be the one flipping the burgers whilst having a cold beer and a joke with the guys ‘testing’ that the sausages are cooked properly, then you maybe don’t need a sophisticated top-of-the-range offering?
Tip 4: Charcoal, gas, gas / briquette, wood or electrically-powered? Again, how special do you want your level of barbecuing to be and how much time are you prepared to put into it? Charcoal barbies give your food that traditional smokey flavour that many traditionalists can’t do without, but you’ll have to put in the extra preparation time (approx. 30-45 minutes) to ensure the charcoal is ready to cook over – that’s when it’s white-coloured and radiating maximum heat – or you may all be waiting around for your meal. Gas-powered is probably the most popular type of BBQ bought nowadays because it pretty-much gives instant heat. A large cylinder of Patio Gas will probably last the summer and you don’t have to master the art of pre-lighting and cooking on the charcoal before the sun goes down! Convenience though, has a price – the smokey flavour is missing, though some barbies let you add seasoned wood chips to give your food extra flavour. Then there’s Gas + Lava Rock which give you the speed and convenience of gas to heat up a tray of lava rocks that then radiate heat to help the cooking process and add flavour. Gas-to-Coal barbecues have a similar approach, using gas to heat up a tray of long-life charcoal briquettes to add flavour from the juices of previously-cooked food and radiate heat to assist with the cooking process. Not very common, but ideal for situations where you need the ultimate in convenience that only it can give, are Electric-powered barbecues with easy dual-zone cooking and no worries about running out of gas or charcoal. Go for the power option that best fits your lifestyle so you can enjoy being a barbecuer, not feel it’s just another job that has your name on it.
Tip 5: Cast-iron, porcelain-coated or stainless steel cooking grate? Smaller and less expensive barbeques will tend to have cast-iron cooking grates, which are fit-for-purpose but are harder to clean and can rust when not in use. Porcelain-coated grates are easier to live with, in that they tend to be slightly more non-stick and food residue can be cleaned off of them easier – a bit like the difference between using a normal saucepan and a Teflon-coated one. Stainless steel gets used on the top-end models because they’re clean-looking, matching most of the highly-engineered casings they’re incorporated within, and are also easier to clean – taking all you can give than with a wire brush / wool without doing them any harm. They all do the job, so what you end up with is mainly down to the price-point of the model you buy.
Tip 6: The humble Warming Rack – if you’re going to be cooking a variety of different types of food at the same time – and you probably will when your imagination kicks-in past the basic burger and sausage stage – timing becomes important, especially if you’re aiming for an al fresco sit-down meal to impress the guests. You’ll quickly learn that the coating and thickness of what’s going on the barbie dictates the length of time you leave it on the high-heat – unless your guests don’t mind ‘burnt offerings’ on their plates. The general rule is: the thicker the meat / fish etc, the longer it will take to cook through – particularly where meat-on-the-bone is concerned – whereas kebabs, chopped vegetables, Halloumi cheese, prawns and thin fillets will need just a fraction of the time. Having a useful-sized warming rack means that, whichever is ready first, you can keep it from going cold while the rest is ready to serve. (Timing Tip: barbecued food is always better when eaten hot, so give your guests the four-minute warning to get ready to eat. No point it all going cold while they all go to the loo, change the music, find the ketchup and start to lay the table!)
Tip 7: Say “Yes” to technology – even if you’re hell-bent on being a traditionalist, there are one or two gadgets and bits of kit that just make the task easier – so, never mind rubbing those sticks together, use the accessories that will have your barbecues remembered for the right reasons! If you’re using charcoal for instance, a Chimney Starter or a Quick Booster will let you light it much more efficiently. If you’re going top-end, you should think about adding a powered Rotisserie Kit to give you the scope to roast a chicken or joint evenly, and cooking thicker foods in particular will make a Digital Thermometer or Weber’s iGrill 3 app-linked Thermometer well worth the investment to ensure they’re properly cooked-through. At the very basic level, don’t try and turn food on the grill with a table fork – you need a decent set of long-handled BBQ Tools (a favourite birthday gift for dads worldwide?) and some good BBQ Gloves are recommended too as things are going to get pretty hot. Impromptu cooking into the evening is often a sign that summer’s really arrived – be prepared with a useful Head-Torch, or even a set of retro-fit BBQ lights, so that you’ll have both hands free for grilling without one holding a torch. And, if this is likely to be one of your favourite times of day to barbecue, maybe consider buying a model with lights and illuminated controls?
Tip 8: Look after your barbie! – we’ve all done it – had such a good time that the barbecue gets left in a right old state, forgotten until the next time we want to use, when it’s much harder to clean and you’re rushing to eat before the sun goes down? (Golden Rule: start earlier than you think it will take and get things sorted before you have a crowd around you, advising on their way of doing it all!) Get some Grate Cleaner and a decent Grill Brush , even if you don’t use them after every time you cook – they’ll save all the food residue and burnt sauce getting too ground in and aging your Barbie before its time. You can also get Stainless Steel Cleaner for cooking grates and the general bodywork. In between cleans, manufacturers tend to advise that BBQs with cast-iron grates can be left coated in the fat from grilling, then heated-up before the next use and just brushed with your wire Barbie brush, ready to start again. This prevents rusting, particularly if you don’t use the Barbie that often – and is something to consider at the outset as porcelain-coated and stainless steel grates are generally easier to clean and don’t rust either. Top Tip: if your BBQ is gas-powered, when you’ve finished using it turn the gas off at the bottle so that there’s no gas left in the hose – but remember to then turn off at the controls. This stops remnant gas forming a coating on the inside of the hose that would eventually lower the heat output. AND... get a Barbecue Cover – you might as well look after your investment, particularly if it’s going to be left out facing the elements until next spring.
Norwich Camping & Leisure Village, in Blofield, east of Norwich, Norfolk, has one of the UK’s largest outdoor displays of tents and awnings, plus indoor showroom displays of camping & caravanning equipment, outdoor clothing, garden furniture & buildings, barbecues and a fully-stocked garden centre. Barbecue brands in stock: Weber; Napoleon; Outback; Charbroil; Broil King and Cadac.
The Leisure Village also has a farm shop, coffee shop, in-season pick-your-own fruit fields and a professional-standard car, camper & caravan hand-wash station. With over 40 years of experience and practical, friendly advice – plus our Best Price / Price Match Policy and low-rate finance terms why not come along and see us!
www.norwichcamping.co.uk Tel: 01603 717600 [email protected] Follow us on Twitter!