So what barbecue equipment do you need?
Delia offers some hot tips on the best barbecues, fuel and cooking methods – and explains why you should always buy flat skewers…
The kind of barbecue you use is a matter of personal choice, but I do commend to you the self-lighting charcoal that comes in small bags which are placed on the tray complete. All you do is light the bag: the coals burn evenly, are ready for cooking in 20-30 minutes and there’s no fuss or mess.
If you’re planning to improvise your own barbecue – or at the other end of the scale have ambitions for a built-in garden barbecue – then you should refer to one of several specialised books on the subject. For those of us in the middle who are content with a ready-made barbecue, however, there is a wide range of equipment and accessories to suit every taste and occasion. Basically there are only two kinds of barbecue: the brazier-type with a shallow bowl, where the air flows over the burning charcoal, and the grill-type with built-in air vents, where the air flows up and through the charcoal. All manner of attachments can be bought – hoods, spits, windshields, warming ovens – but none of these affects the basic operation.
This is the commonest form of fuel, and comes either in pre-formed briquettes (which are more efficient) or as lumpwood (which is cheaper). Hardwood can be used for large barbecues, but is quite impractical for the normal commercial makes.
Laying the fire
On the brazier type of barbecue I think it’s a good idea to line the bowl first with a sheet of aluminium foil (shiny side upwards), which will help to reflect the heat. Then lay a fire-bed of medium-sized gravel all over the base, so the air can circulate round the charcoal and help it to ‘breathe’. Cover the fire-bed with a generous layer of charcoal, making sure it covers the whole area rather than just the centre and is not packed too tightly.
At home we use methylated spirit to get the charcoal alight – but it needs to be done with care. Sprinkle some all over the charcoal then wait for a few minutes for it to get absorbed. Fire-lighters (broken up into smaller pieces and scattered among the charcoal) can be used, but don’t start cooking until all the pieces are completely burned out, or the smoke will include some unpleasant fumes. In any case it is pointless to start cooking before the charcoal is properly and evenly alight, and that can take anything from 20 to 30 minutes. At night you can easily tell because the charcoal will glow pink: during the day the pieces will start to turn white.
Cooking on charcoal
Try to set your barbecue where it will get sufficient draught but is not directly in the wind. Most barbecues have a grill that can be adjusted to different heights above the fire, which will control the speed of cooking, but sooner or later fat from the food will drop on to the coals and make them flare up. So have a jug of water handy and sprinkle a little on to the fire with your hands – just enough to douse the flame, but not so much that you stop the coals burning.
For that extra smoky flavour you can add small chips of aromatic wood to the fire (such as hickory or apple-wood), but these chips should be well soaked in water before use, unless you buy specially prepared packets of ‘smoke chips’. Fresh herbs, such as rosemary, also add an interesting flavour to the smoke: these should be sprinkled on the fire towards the end of cooking.
Experience has taught me that implements with very long handles are what are called for in tending barbecue food! Long-handled tongs and fork (for turning the food) will keep your hands a safe distance from the heat and a pair of oven gloves will give added protection. For kebabs, thread the meat etc on to flat skewers rather than round ones (which tend to turn themselves without turning the meat).
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