Dads and barbecues have gone together since Stone Age man first sparked up a fire. And with Father’s Day landing right in the throes of the British BBQ season on Sunday 16 June, it’s likely that many people up and down the country will be marking the occasion by dusting off the grill, firing up the coals and cooking up a storm (possibly literally, given the unpredictability of the weather).
The trouble with barbecue, of course, is that it’s easy to get wrong. The last thing you want is to end up with a platter piled with back sausages and burgers so overcooked you could snap them like digestives. So how can you be sure that your Father’s Day barbecue goes with a bang not a whimper? You ask the London Barbecue School, of course – the only cookery school dedicated to the art of cooking in the open-air.
Here, school founder Alastair Instone shares his five essential guidelines for mastering the art of cooking alfresco…
- Use high-quality ingredients. Just because you are cooking on a barbecue does not mean there is a benefit in cutting corners; your food will never be better than the ingredients you start with. Look for high-quality meats from traditionally raised animals; fresh fish from quality fishmongers; and ripe, seasonal, fresh vegetables and fruit. The same goes for your charcoal – cheap, poor-quality charcoal will make it harder to control the fire, and will lend an unpleasant flavour to the food.
- Learn to control the temperature of your barbecue. Too hot and the food will burn on the outside; too cold and it will take forever to cook. On most charcoal barbecues, temperature control is a question of more or less fuel, and/or more or less airflow to the fire. But barbecues and fuels vary significantly: educate yourself about how to control your own barbecue; learn about cooking ‘zones’, and don’t treat the lid as a rain cover – it is there to help control the oxygen to the fire; and get to grips with your chosen fuel and how much of it is required.
- Know how to identify when your food is ‘done’. Neither overcooked nor still raw and liable to make people ill. At London Barbecue School we use thermometers to check the internal temperature of our meats. Thermapen thermometers are our top choice – they react near-instantly, and they come with a helpful guide to what temperature you should aim for.
- Don’t try to do too much. Better to do a few dishes really well than a lot of dishes that are a bit ordinary, or a struggle to prepare and get cooked. And it will be more relaxed if you are cooking for a crowd.
- Branch out. Barbecue isn’t just for social gatherings – it is a great way to cook whatever the season or occasion. And barbecue is not just about meat; it is one of the best ways to cook fish, vegetables and fruit. Finally, barbecue goes beyond grilling (where you place food directly over the fire); most barbecues can be set up for indirect cooking and used like an oven for slow-roasting and smoking, which are fabulous ways of transforming tough cuts into unctuous, tender dishes.
Need help with any of the above, or know someone who does? London Barbecue School offer a range of relaxed, friendly, instructive, hands-on barbecue classes in South East London, suitable for the novice right up to the pit master. And they accept NCSG gift cards – which, incidentally, make an excellent Father’s Day gift…