I love the idea of a barbecue, imagining balmy weather, floaty dresses and a summer tipple with al fresco food. But the reality in the UK is sometimes less balmy than breezy with shivering guests tolerating burnt bangers on greasy paper plates. Folks, it doesn't have to be this way.
There's not much we can do about the weather but there really is no excuse for settling for poor quality, badly cooked food or lowering your presentation standards. Here are my top tips for a successful outdoor dining experience. (AD)
Common BBQ Errors.
Too many people don't light the barbie early enough and try and cook over flames. You should wait until the coals are hot and white to avoid cremating your food.
High fat foods like cheap sausages and burgers drip oil onto the coals, igniting and causing flames and that blow-torched effect on your meat. This goes for gas barbecues too. Buy quality meat with a lower fat content to cut down on fat-related flare-ups.
Have a spray bottle of water on hand and ff you get flames spray gently to douse them. Bear in mind this will cool the coals so don't overdo it with the spraying. You could also move the meat away from the flames and close the lid.
Talking of closing the lid, this will add smoky flavour to your meat and heat will build up cooking meat more thoroughly so don't avoid using the lid.
Risky meats like chicken should be slightly pre-cooked and finished on the barbecue to avoid food poisoning and charcoal-blackened skin.
Defrost all food thoroughly to avoid the risk of food poisoning unless packaging says products should be cooked from frozen.
You can buy pre-flavoured or marinated meats but nothing tastes better than meat you have prepared yourself. It's often cheaper and you can avoid consuming added artificial ingredients too.
Create a simple marinade for chicken skewered kebabs mixing olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper over cubed chicken breast. Thread onto skewers (soak wooden ones in water for at least an hour beforehand to protect them from burning on the barbecue) alternating meat with slices of pepper, mushrooms, onion, cherry tomatoes and anything else you fancy.
Spice up meat with the Schwarz Pepper and Garlic Steak Seasoning with 100% natural ingredients and no added sugar. You don't have to just use this on steak. Mix it into good quality steak mince, add an egg yolk and make your own burgers.
We sprinkled it over strips of Chinese water deer and it was perfect adding flavour without smothering the delicate flavour of this meat.
Stylish Side Dishes
Tempting as it is to just add piles of bread to your shopping basket, it really makes a difference to put a little thought into what will go with your meat choices.
Today I will be barbecuing the aforementioned chicken skewers and I've cheated with a good quality store bought coleslaw and will mix a salad using rocket, spinach and watercress leaves with a light balsamic dressing.
I'll be adding some heat with homemade potato wedges seasoned with Schwarz Extra Spicy Cajun seasoning served alongside a cooling dairy-free vegan mint dip.
I made this by blending a plain yoghurt substitute with a handful of chopped fresh mint, a teaspoon of mint sauce, a tablespoon of sugar and two tablespoons of lemon juice.
Don't be deterred by the name - I made the wedges for a friend's barbecue and they weren't "burn your mouth off" spicy. I'm a korma girl through and through and enjoyed these, especially teamed with the dip.
Other easy sides include couscous (you can even buy it ready flavoured), pasta salads, roast vegetables and veggie skewers which you could coat with the Cajun seasoning to give them a taste of Louisiana.
Presentation is Everything
Droopy paper plates and plastic throwaway cups and cutlery were de rigour in the past but with style and the planet in mind why not abandon these in favour of bamboo or other more eco options?
I realised I wouldn't dream of serving a meal indoors on paper plates so why not use the indoors tableware outside? If you have a larger group coming round borrow extra tableware and real cutlery if you need it for your al fresco event.
I have a glass garden table but when we have friends round I like to add a tablecloth, fresh flowers or a nice lantern and eat in a civilised way like we would indoors.
Dot cute bowls with crisps, nuts, olives and other nibbles around for guests to dip into while the barbecue is being prepared. During Covid times I have been making individual hors d'oeuvres boards and bowls for groups from the same households to share to avoid any cross contamination.
Invest in a decent bluetooth speaker for some background music - we love a little Latin, Smooth Radio, Brat Pack crooners or my fave for outdoors, tunes from the Buena Vista Social Club.
Last but not least invest in some cosy blankets and a gazebo or sail or big brolly, or buy some individual brollies to hand out if the British weather does it's infamous "four seasons in one day" thing!