So the sun has finally come out and everyone’s looking to you to properly honour it in the traditional fashion through the burning of meat on an open flame. Before you begin, there are a few basic things you need to know in order to successfully host your first BBQ party.

1 – Select your barbecue

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There are a few different types of barbecue producing different results and benefiting different foods and cooking styles, but for now we’ll focus simply on gas vs charcoal.
Hotly debated in back gardens up and down the country, there are benefits and drawbacks to each of these styles. Charcoal is the more traditional option, producing a smokier flavour and a more intense heat level. They’re also usually much cheaper and easier to refuel. Plus there’s actual fire involved which does little to benefit the food, but adds a satisfying element of danger and fun. However they can be far more effort to get started and you do have to wait 30-45 minutes after lighting it to be able to cook.

Gas barbecues, however, are much easier, more consistent and more convenient. Though they do tend to be more expensive, there are plenty of low cost ones available. Though you’re less likely to find gas canisters in the supermarket than you are bags of charcoal, they do last for multiple cooks. And you can get the barbecue started in seconds – no messing about trying to get it lit with firelighters and matches while the wind does it’s best to blow it back out.

Ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference, so just consider the pros and cons before making a decision.

2 – Get the barbecue hot enough

Whether you’ve chosen gas or charcoal, it’s vital to ensure that the barbecue is left to heat up after lighting it before any food is put on to cook. Though there may be flames, it will take some time for the barbecue to reach the optimum temperature. For a gas barbecue this should only take around 10 minutes or so – wave your hand around 6 inches from the grill to gauge the heat coming off it.

For a charcoal barbecue this takes much longer. Firstly you should ensure the coals are evenly spread around the barbecue before lighting. After that it can take up to 45 minutes – or sometimes even longer. Keep an eye on it and wait for the flames to die down and the charcoal to turn grey-ish white. Only then will it be hot enough to cook on.

3 – Ensure everything is cooked through

When dealing with barbecues it can be easy to look at a piece of food and think it’s cooked, only to be unpleasantly surprised by a cold, raw centre when bitten in to. Often the intense heat from the grill can cook the outside of a piece of food too quickly, without penetrating all the way through. It’s not just unappetising, it can be extremely dangerous – especially with foods like chicken or pork. Undercooked meat can cause food poisoning or parasites so it’s essential to ensure that everything is properly finished all the way to the centre.

Before serving meat from the barbecue, cut in to it and examine the centre. With chicken you want to ensure that the meat is white and firm and that any juices running from it are clear. Everyone has heard horror stories about friends getting food poisoning from a poorly done barbecue. Don’t let yours be the one they’re talking about.

4 – Preparation is key

Barbecuing isn’t all about making sure the food is properly cooked – you also want it to taste good! The most effective way to get the most flavour out of your meat is by marinating it beforehand. There are plenty of delicious marinade recipes available online, whether you’re looking to add a smoky barbecue sauce flavour to your chicken or create a thai spiced beef kebab. But if you’re looking for a really easy option then there are many pre-made marinades available in supermarkets that will be just as effective. Marinating meat does more than just coat it in a flavoured sauce, it soaks in to it to make it more tender and juicy when cooked – ideal for barbecuing. Mix the marinade in with your meat and leave it for at least an hour before cooking, or overnight in the fridge to really get the best results.

In addition to marinating, you want to ensure that all your food is fully prepared before you start to barbecue. No-one wants to be dashing inside to chop an onion or squeeze mince in to burger shapes while the sausages are already crisping up on the grill.

5 – Enjoy it!

Getting a barbecue right does require attention and planning, but it’s also a very relaxed way of cooking. Everything goes in one place, it’s all one temperature and once the food is on the grill it simply needs turning every so often to ensure it cooks evenly on every side. There’s a reason that this is usually done with a spatula in one hand and a beer in the other. Stay relaxed, enjoy the combination of flames and summer air, and cook something delicious for your friends and family.

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