Summer is already here! A time every one associates with the outdoors. A great time for a barbecue. A chance to get together with friends. One doesn’t have to be a TV chef to get the food right. Here are some basic rules and techniques that are often forgotten in our attempts to impress.
Choosing a barbecue
Choosing the right barbecue depends on what you’re going to be cooking. If you’re only doing burgers and pieces of chicken you’ll be fine with an open grill; if you want to cook whole chickens or joints of meat you’ll need something with a lid, which reflects heat off back onto the food.
Barbecues with lids tend to be more expensive than open grills. A decent thickness of steel and good-quality enameling is important – the lid should feel solid and weighty. If you’re using a kettle barbecue keep the lid on as much as possible and don’t overdo it with the fuel or the grill will become too hot.
The choice of solid fuels is between charcoal, or briquettes, which are charcoal dust bound together with a cornstarch glue. Whichever you prefer, avoid quick-lighting agents, as you run the risk of tainting your food if you need to add more fuel while cooking.
Gas fired barbecues, with or without lava rocks, are more convenient and can yield good results. There are endless debates on which fuel is better. Choose your weapon and focus on developing your technique to perfection.
It is very important to achieve an even temperature across the grill. If you use solid fuels, then it’s highly recommended that you buy a chimney starter.
It’s basically an open metal cylinder with a grille at the bottom which allows you to measure out the right amount of charcoal and get it burning evenly in half the time. You’ll be ready to cook in about 20 minutes with no hassle. Gas barbecues are ready in 10 minutes.
Do yourself a favor and invest in a good pair of stainless steel tongs and spatula. Give forks a miss as they only let the tasty juices escape.
After your grill is preheated, use a brass-wire brush to scrape the gunk off of the grate. Once your grill is clean, oil the grate by grabbing an oiled paper towel with some long tongs, and wiping it over the bars. Now that your grill is hot and the grate is clean, your food won’t stick to it as much, and you’re likely to get those classic grill lines!
Many people like to smoke their meat as it is cooked. Again, a barbecue with a lid is ideal for smoking the meat while it is cooked, but you can also try it on an open grill. In the USA fruit woods like apple and cherry are popular as well as oak and maple. In Cyprus one can buy hickory chips in a bag or you can go back to traditional roots by using carob branches, just like they use in making “ofton tis teratsias”.
On gas or in the oven you can roll your water soaked wood chip ingredients in a aluminum foil rolled like a huge Cuban cigar with both ends open to impart smokiness. You could even try soaking in beer!
Marinades and Rubs
For many people a marinade is essential to barbecuing, and with good reason – marinating tenderises and adds depth of flavor, particularly important for normal grade meats. Remember to brush your meat with the marinade every 10 minutes as it cooks. That way it will add moisture, trap the smoke flavour and caramelise gently as it goes.
However, this not necessary for premium grade meats that only require simple rubs of salt and pepper just before cooking to bring out the fullness of their flavour.
Cooking it up
Anything that takes less than 30 minutes to cook can usually be done directly over the coals, and anything that requires longer should be cooked in a barbecue with the lid on using indirect heat. That means with the coals on one side underneath and the food on the grill on the other, with a drip tray underneath to catch the fat and prevent it burning. Using a chimney starter you can also top up with more burning coals if you need to.
Remember, to avoid losing juices during turning, always flip your meat or vegetables using tongs or a spatula, rather than a fork.
Try to limit the flips. Ideally, you should flip each item once during the grilling process.
Whatever you do, don’t press down on burgers or chicken (or anything) with a spatula while they’re grilling! This squeezes out the juices and once they’re gone … they’re gone!
You’re now ready! Don’t forget the cold beer and wine , oh and the most important ingredient … good company.