As the days get longer, it’s finally time for summer terraces, extra layers of sunscreen, alfresco brunches and food that sizzles and serves. That’s right, call your friends, call your dad: It’s barbecue season. 

But whether you’re a seasoned professional or a nervous beginner, it’s always handy to do some research. After all, do you know how to get your meat and vegetables smokey but not burnt? Do you know how to barbecue fish without it sticking?Are you a hundred percent sure you won’t give your guests food poisoning? Don’t fret, we have the answers below, with tips and tricks from some of London’s best chefs, who take their BBQ very, very seriously. 

Choose your charcoal carefully

For author and live fire cook Genevieve Taylor, when barbecuing, your first consideration should be the charcoal you use. In her book Seared, she writes, “Open a bag of charcoal, pull out a piece and give it a big generous sniff. It should smell of nothing, nothing at all. Carbon is completely inert. If it smells of more than zero I would urge you to leave well alone.”

Taylor recommends spending some time researching your sources of coal before making an impulse buy and she suggests choosing sustainably made charcoal from local British producers like Whittle and Flame.

Don’t rush the marination

There’s no such thing as too long when it comes to marination. Vivek Singh, Executive Chef and CEO of Cinnamon Collection says, “To make the most of your meat on the BBQ and enhance its flavours, the key is to marinade for as long as possible.” However, here’s a tip if you’re living life on the edge and barbecuing spontaneously: “For those without time, the second-best tip is catching the juices and using them to baste the meat. Using leftover marinade can create more flavour and really elevates your barbecued meats.’’

The key is to marinade for as long as possible.

Separate, sanitise and serve

The last thing you want is to send your guests away with food poisoning. To ensure that doesn’t happen,  Gopi Chandran, Executive Chef at Sopwell House suggests always making sure you have a clean, sanitised cooking surface that’s large enough to prepare your food so you can keep cooked and raw meat separate. Also, don’t be afraid to prod, poke and probe that meat to make sure it’s fully cooked before serving. “Always probe the meat to check it has cooked to avoid food poisoning by under-cooking and cross contamination,” he says. 

Always probe the meat to check it has cooked

Keep the seasoning simple 

When it comes to seasoning, less is more here. Marination is more important than seasoning in authentic barbecue dishes and over-seasoning can often take away from all the sauciness in your marinates and the natural meat or vegetable flavour. Robert Manea, Executive Chef at Bōkan, likes to steer clear from adding herbs and spices when seasoning meat. “A generous pinch of salt and pepper is all you need,” says the chef, who believes that a minimalist approach enhances the natural flavours of the meat for an authentic barbecue experience. 

Smokey, not burnt

How do you add a smoky flavour to your barbecued meats and veggies without burning them? That itself, is an art. For Sofian Msetfi, Executive Chef at Michelin-starred Ormer Mayfair by Sofian, the perfect smoked flavour is achieved by adding wood to the barbecue, but being careful not to overdo it so as to avoid developing an acrid taste. “Try adding wood slowly to let the flavour build gradually,” he says.

Jack Stein, Chef Director at Rick Stein Restaurants, also recommends fish on a BBQ. “Marinade and cook in tin foil to stop the skin sticking to the grill and to retain delicious flavour,” he suggests. 

Try adding wood slowly to let the flavour build gradually,”

Don’t barbecue if you can’t handle the heat

A great barbecue is all about playing around with heat and smoke. There’s no room for impatience. You also must not be starving when you start cooking because this is not a quick meal, rather it’s a very patient, slow burn. For Eran Tibi, Executive Chef at Bala Baya & Kapara, whether it’s a traditional charcoal grill, gas grill, or even a smoker you’re using, it’s important to learn how to control the heat and smoke for optimal flavour. “Remember, low and slow cooking when barbecuing allows flavours to develop and meat to become tender, so learning how to handle the heat is a key skill.”

It’s important to learn how to control the heat and smoke for optimal flavour

Don’t forget your veggies

Although perhaps traditionally paradise for meat lovers, barbecues work phenomenally well with veggies. Stein says, “Veggies like lettuce and hispi cabbage taste great grilled on a BBQ to bring out smokey, charred flavours.” Theo Randall, Chef Patron at Theo Randall at the Intercontinental also recommends smokey vegetables on the plate. “Get the vegetable skin charred, peel this off and marinade the smokey vegetable that remains for a delicious BBQ addition.” The chef recommends using aubergines, red and yellow peppers and leeks dressed simply in olive oil, lemon juice, honey, chopped basil and mint. 

Go wild with the sides 

Side dishes to add some colour to your plate is a sure-fire way  to get your guests to validate your barbecue prowess on the ‘gram. Kerth Gumbs, Head Chef at Fenchurch Restaurant, recommends a colourful grilled corn salad. “Grill the corn on the BBQ until blistered, remove it and cover with foil to cool down. Once cool, use a knife to remove the kernels and place them in a bowl with a mix of freshly chopped herbs like mint, coriander, parsley, chopped breakfast radish and pomegranate seeds.” Another side dish comes from Chris Knights, Director of Food at Young’s Pubs: “BBQ quarters of little gem lettuce and spring onion and add to chicken thighs with a Caesar dressing and shavings of parmesan.” 

Take care of the tools

Turns out, the post-BBQ cleanup routine is just as important as the set-up. However, we can guarantee that there are less steps involved compared to the average beauty influencer’s skincare routine, so you should be fine. Dumping your equipment in the dishwasher won’t help much if you want to keep your tools shiny and new. But Benjamin Ferra Y Castell, Head Chef at Michelin-starred Pavyllon London, has a great (and very creative) anecdote for greasy tongs and forks. “To keep your tools in top condition once you’re done grilling, soak them for 15 minutes in Coca-Cola and then another fifteen minutes in ketchup – after a quick rinse they will be shiny as new!” 

Soak them for 15 minutes in Coca-Cola and then another fifteen minutes in ketchup.

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