I’d meant to write this post about a month ago but got a little distracted by running and building my pizza oven (more of that to come later this week) so I thought it was about time I shared my experience of the Weber grill academy. As you know I attended the grill academy with Cancer Research UK to help launch they’re Burger off Cancer campaign. But what I wanted to share here was a few thoughts on the grill academy itself (it was awesome) and more importantly all the barbecuing tips that I picked up.
If I’m honest the grill academy would have had to have been pretty bad for me not to enjoy it, after all it’s an afternoon involving food (already a great afternoon) AND cooking on fire. What more can you want? The 2 chefs helping us were great, both clearly passionate about the way of cooking and thankfully wanted us to spend as much time hands on which is after all the way that you learn isn’t it?
We spent a couple of hours preparing and cooking a 3 course meal using various techniques on both gas and charcoal barbecues. I’d tried to keep track of all the tips while also paying attention to the cooking, not an easy task but despite this I did manage to capture some great words of advice. So here’s my top 9 tips (who needs round numbers?) for awesome barbecue cooking:
The quality of the charcoal is important; cheap charcoal is cheap because it’s been bulked out with sand amongst other things. This means it doesn’t burn for as long and therefore you use more. It also means that the period where it’s at the right temperature to cook on is smaller. I’m sure there is some balance here between cost and cooking time but maybe think twice about that bag of charcoal from Poundland?
Choose the right type of charcoal for the cooking you’re doing; now that I know this it’s pretty obvious but I’ve never specifically chosen briquettes over lump wood charcoal because of the type of cooking I was going to do. But lump wood burns hotter but for a much shorter period, so great for cooking steaks or for hot smoking some salmon but not so great for a big family BBQ. Briquettes on the other hand doing get quite as hot but do burn for much longer. Perfect for cooking chicken or when you’re hosting a big BBQ and need to cook lots of food.
Use a chimney starter to get the charcoal going; these chimney starters aren’t just a fancy gadget they do actually help with lighting the BBQ. To light place a couple of lit firelighters on the bottom of your BBQ and sit the chimney on top. This gets the charcoal lit evenly and can then be tipped out into your BBQ once the coals start to glow.
Direct vs. Indirect cooking; again fairly obvious but something to think about depending on what you are cooking. Direct cooking means simply directly above the coals while indirect is next to the coals. Direct is really grilling and is a faster, hotter way to cook. While indirect can be used for slower cooking and for larger pieces of meat. Weber barbecues have baskets in the bottom that allow you to keep the coals to one side so you can cook right next to them or on the grill but not directly over heat. We cooked some small roast potatoes this way which were amazing, all smokey and crunchy.
Use metal trays to make cooking fish etc easier; you can buy metal trays with holes in the bottom that make cooking fish on the BBQ much easier. Simply play on the grill while cooking and then take off using an oven glove. Avoids sticking the fish to the grill while not losing any of the flavour etc of cooking on a BBQ.
Hot smoking is delicious!; we hot smoked some salmon on the day and it was amazing. The coals are kept to the side using the baskets mentioned above, we then placed a bowl of water between them and some soaked wood chips on the coals themselves. Then the fish (on a metal tray) goes on the grill and you put the lid on. It gives such a soft, smokey flavour cooked this way and something very different to simply grilling. You can also buy a box that sits on the burners of a gas BBQ to achieve something similar when cooking on gas rather than charcoal.
Use a thermometer; this is one I’m definitely going to start doing, use an instant read thermometer to check if food is cooked or not. Particularly useful for joints or fish and saves you taking things off that aren’t cooked.
Put the lid on when cooking; we’ve all got a family member who when barbecuing looks like they may need to call the fire brigade to put the flames out. It doesn’t lead to food that is cooked well and means ever burnt to a crisp or under done. But if you close the lid when cooking it slows the feed of oxygen so stops the flames building and cooks your food all the way through due to the increased temperature all the way around it
Cook asparagus in a fish basket; if you like grilled asparagus (and who doesn’t?) put it in a fish basket to save you having to turn every single stalk individually.
There you have it, my top tips for awesome barbecuing. If you have any of your own to share feel free to leave a comment. Now I’m off to bankrupt myself buying Weber BBQ products.