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Chefs’ secrets for cooking up the best BBQ food

Whether it's meat, poultry or fish, or you're keen to try out vegan barbecuing or tasty BBQ desserts, our tips will add the wow factor to your barbecue

Chefs’ secrets for cooking up the best BBQ food

With lockdown restrictions loosening and the weather hotting up, barbecue season is well and truly here. 

We’ve asked top chefs for their tips on rustling up the best BBQ fare to help you prep like a pro at home, whether you’re cooking with a gas BBQ or ‘live fire cooking’ with coals and wood.


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Meat

Caramelise your meat

‘Put unsweetened apple juice into a hand sprayer and spray onto the meat every few minutes.

‘Do this as it’s cooking to keep meat moist and to give it a lovely caramelisation,’ says chef Ben Bartlett, president of the British BBQ Association.

During the final few minutes of cooking, brush on some warmed BBQ sauce.

Let it rest after cooking

Ben recommends bringing meat to room temperature before cooking to help it to cook through quicker and drain fat better.

Then, after cooking, allow a short pause before serving your cooked meat.

‘Steaks and chops will benefit from being allowed to rest for a couple of minutes before serving,’ according to Ben.

Oil lean meat before barbecuing

Mike Robinson, Champion of Champions in the latest Eat Game Awards, says: ‘For lean meat like wild venison I use a dry rub of black pepper, sea salt, paprika and a little garlic powder.

‘Followed by a light brush of oil, then grill over charcoal for a good two minutes before turning.’ 

After two minutes on each side, spray or brush with a mix of sherry vinegar and sugar to get an amazing finish. Then rest it for five minutes before carving across the grain.


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Poultry

Use a sandwich bag for fast marinading

Ben says: ‘If you marinade any meat in a zip-lock ba, it will marinade in half the time.’

Marinate for a few hours or overnight for extra richness, but remember to baste the meat during the last 5-10 minutes of grilling.

Make sure it’s cooked properly

‘Before cooking, wrap chicken breasts in cling film and flatten them slightly to help them grill evenly,’ says Ben Bartlett.

The Food Standards Agency suggests that you consider cooking all chicken in the oven first then giving it a final barbecue finish, to ensure it’s thoroughly cooked through (the same goes for pork).

Soak wooden or bamboo skewers

Saiphin Moore, founder of Rosa’s Thai Cafe, says: ‘Place wooden skewers in water and leave to soak for about 10 minutes before cooking.’ 

This will make it easier to thread your chicken, meat or veggie/vegan ingredients on without them splintering, and may also prevent the sticks themselves from burning or even bursting into flames.


Fish

Work with the rule of three

It’s all in the planning, so make a list of items you can prepare in advance.

Ben says: ‘My rule of thumb is three items on the BBQ, such as a burger, sea bass fillet and chicken thigh per person, then add some salads and breads.’

Oil your cooking grate

Fish is delicate, so the last thing you want is for it to stick to your barbecue and fall apart.

Ben says: ‘The biggest trick to grilling fish right is to make sure you oil your cooking grate before you start. Season the grill with olive oil and rosemary before you even pop the fish on to cook.’


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Vegetables

Treat veg differently to meat

Riverford chef Bob Andrew says: ‘Your veg won’t sear in quite the same way as meat, and it won’t drip or render fat either.’

A few of the same principles do apply, though: the thinner the cut and larger the surface area, the faster the cook. A larger, denser item will need a longer cook over a lower heat.

Pre-cook corn on the cob

Half-cook corn on the cob before barbecuing, by cutting the whole cob into three, and boiling in a saucepan for 20 minutes. You can then keep it – drained and cooled – in the fridge if prepared the day before. 

Ben says: ‘Sprinkle some paprika over the corn and place on the grill, turning the corn cobs frequently before glazing with warmed BBQ sauce.’

BBQ baked potatoes

‘You want a potato that’s high starch, such as Russet, which has an incredibly soft texture when cooked,’ says Ben.

You can also try barbecuing smaller potatoes by threading them onto skewers.

Take 500g baby new potatoes, boiled in their skins until just soft, and thread them onto metal skewers with fresh bay leaves. Using a pastry brush, coat them in a marinade of wholegrain mustard (1 tbsp), honey (1 tbsp), olive oil (3 tbsp) and sea salt and ground black pepper.

Then cook on the coolest part of the barbecue until caramelised and crispy. Don’t forget that smaller potatoes take less time to cook through.

Use seasonal veg

Chantelle Nicholson, chef patron at Tredwells in London’s Seven Dials, says: ‘Seasonal vegetables are so delicious when barbecued.

‘We’re bang in the middle of the British asparagus season – perfect for the BBQ. You can brush with a little miso paste mixed with water or oil, and grill until smoky.’

Other vegetables that she says work brilliantly on the barbecue include:

  • aubergine
  • mushrooms
  • runner beans
  • baby gem lettuce halves and cabbage wedges
  • leeks and spring onions.

Make a ‘good all-rounder’ vegetable dressing

You can make a simple harissa dressing with rose harissa paste and sour cream or tahini.

Mix half a teaspoon of paste initially and add more to get the flavour you desire.

Chantelle says: ‘Drizzle over the top of pretty much any barbecued vegetable and it will taste amazing. It really is a good all-rounder.’


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Vegan options and protein substitutes

Barbecue jackfruit

Jackfruit makes a perfect vegan barbecue pulled-meat substitute, served in a bun with vegan slaw.

Ben Bartlett says: ‘Take the unripe, mashed-up fruit or tinned jackfruit (in water or brine, not syrup), mix it with onions and barbecue spices, then cook it on a grill plate or skillet on your BBQ until it’s nicely browned.’

Make the most of spices

Just because you’re vegan doesn’t mean you have to forfeit interesting flavours when you’re cooking with plant proteins such as tofu. 

Maryanne Hall, of the Viva! vegan charity’s Vegan Recipe Club,says: ‘Use sumac (or somaq) – a dark red, tangy but mellow Middle Eastern spice – to give it a rich flavour. It’s great for flavouring tofu satay skewers to put on the barbecue. 

Other traditional flavours include pimento and galangal (related to ginger but with a citrusy taste).


Desserts

Don’t forget the BBQ when planning desserts

While you’ve got the barbie going, why not use it for your sweet course, too? ‘Bananas, peaches and pineapple are fabulous on the barbecue,’ says Ben.

Wrap a banana in foil and place on the grill. When it’s soft to the touch, slice it open and pour in a generous measure of Irish cream for a simple but delicious pudding. 

Add extra zing to BBQ fruit

Riverford chef Ben Andrew says: ‘Sweet fruit with chilli and salt is definitely an acquired taste, but in places like India, south-east Asia and Mexico they’re common partners with both pineapple and mango.’ 

Make BBQ pineapple sticks with sugar, chilli, lime and salt. Quarter a pineapple and sprinkle with light brown sugar then place over a medium BBQ heat and grill for 10-12 minutes until caramelised, and place two limes, halved, on the grill to do the same. 

Squeeze some hot lime juice over the pineapple then sprinkle with a mixture of light brown sugar (1 tbsp), salt (1 tbsp), chilli (1 tbsp) and lime zest before serving.

Add maple syrup

Maple syrup can be used as the basis for a rub for recipes like BBQ pork belly, but don’t forget about it when you’re barbecuing fruit, too. 

Samantha Evans and Shauna Guinn, co-founders of Hang Fire Southern Kitchen in Wales, say: ‘Grilling on the barbecue with maple syrup heightens the flavour of stoned fruits like peaches or nectarines.’ 

Cut peaches in two then barbecue them with indirect heat before placing in a cast iron pan over hot coals and pouring on bourbon (35ml) followed by Canadian amber maple syrup (100ml).

With the pan now on the indirect side of the BBQ, close the lid and cook for 20 minutes along with raspberries (150g), halved black cherry (300g) and crushed hazelnuts (70g) until the fruits soften, before serving with ricotta and the syrupy juices.


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