Be your BBQ humble or humungous, it’s how you master it that counts!
A BBQ for every occasion
Barbecues – we’ve come a long way, baby. We’ve gone from two to five to ten burners. Charcoal has made way for volcanic bricks and electronic ignition. It’s even safe to go to a mate’s place to christen their barbecue kettle, because these days the new models fire up in ten minutes rather than two hours. And we are roasting or barbecuing much larger chunks of meat since we got into the hooded barbecue scene in this country. With a hood, it’s no longer about standing around the barbecue poking at the meat all afternoon. This is lid down, sit down cooking.
Up the lush end of the barbecue spectrum, the hottest thing is the infrared burner. The attraction here is even distribution of radiant heat, perfect for searing in juices and, according to the guys that fire up the demo models in-store on a Saturday morning, these will produce the best roast you’ve ever tasted.
The outdoor kitchen
Next in line has to be the outdoor kitchen – multiple burners, storage cupboards and the built in beer fridge, granite top table and sink. Best selling brands in this league include Beefeater and Barbecues Galore models. They will set you back around $6000, and you will need the room to set them up.
Barbecuing on the balcony
At the other end of the scale, apartment dwellers with Lilliputian balconies are opting for compact pedestal options with fold down sides. Since some apartment landlords don’t allow open flames and none of us like lugging gas cylinders up the stairs, gas models that can be plumbed into the household natural gas supply are ideal.
We Aussies apparently prefer the solid plate to the grill (indeed, Weber makes a solid barbecue plate only for their Australian market) and our biggest concern is flare ups, but that’s as much about cleaning as anything else. Those guys cooking the demo roast agree the secret to cleaning is using barbecue specific cleaning products because normal kitchen cleaners aren’t strong enough. They also recommend making the most of the new gizmos and gadgets now available to help you achieve a perfect result. Of these, one of the niftiest is the re-usable silicone sheet for cooking sticky marinated foods. Roll out, cook on, in the sink to wash and no gunk on the grill plate.
Barbecues are hardy animals with minimum maintenance requirements. Gas connections and jets need regular checking (spiders like making homes in the jets). If the barbecue gets more use than the oven in your house, consider investing in stainless steel plates. Around $240 will set you up for life and they are much easier to clean.
But really, it’s not all about the price or the sophistication of the machinery. The bottom line for any successful barbecue is to really understand how to use the heat source. Once you have the beast tamed, anything is possible.
When to add salt
Salt is the most debated seasoning for barbecuing – or rather, when to add it. Maggie Beer, co-host of The Cook and The Chef, says salting meat too early draws out the juices and makes the meat tough. She adds salt to the side of the meat about to hit the heat just before she puts it on the grill and repeats this for the top side just before turning. Alternatively, you can simply add the salt just before cooking is completed. Experts also warn that meat shouldn’t be left too long in marinades containing acidic ingredients (eg lemon juice) because the acid will start to ‘cook’ the meat and make the flesh mushy. Keep marinating time down to between half an hour and an hour for these mixes.