Smoke is rising over Herbert Park in Dublin 4 as The Big Grill, billed as Europe’s largest barbecue festival, gets underway. Gates opened at noon on Thursday and the grilling, smoking, butchery and bushcraft action continues on Friday and Saturday (noon-10pm) and Sunday (noon-9pm). Tickets for Saturday are almost completely sold out, with just 50 remaining for sale on Thursday morning.
The Big Grill was named Festival of the Year by Sally and John McKenna in their guide, Ireland The Best, and more than 20,000 visitors are expected through the gates over the four days. More than 20 restaurants are taking part, with the only rule being they must cook with live fire using natural charcoal and wood only – no gas or electricity is allowed.
Pitmasters and chefs from Ireland, the UK, the US, Argentina and Brazil will be on site, cooking, doing demos and taking part in talks and discussions. The timetable of events and a map of the venue is now live here, but is subject to change.
Chef Ramael Scully, who was a key member of the Ottolenghi London group and head chef at NOPI before opening Scully St James earlier this year, leads the London posse for the festival. He will be joined by Argentinian chef Martin Anderson from Temper Soho; David Carter from Smokestak, the former street food outfit turned Shoreditch restaurant, and Jack May of Yosma, who used to work for Jamie Oliver's parents at their pub, The Cricketers in Essex.
Bill Durney from Brooklyn's Hometown BBQ brings a US flavour to the live fire cooking area, and the US contingent also includes Nick Solares, broadcaster, writer and self-described "professional carnivore". Solares will be in discussion at Baste Camp with Irish chef Grainne O'Keefe of Bujo and Tom Gleeson of Bunsen on "The State of the Irish Hamburger" (Saturday, 2.30pm).
Irish chefs and pitmasters taking part include London-based Robin Gill, Jess Murphy of Kai in Galway, whose focus will be on vegetables, Bryan McCarthy from Greenes in Cork, Grainne O'Keefe of Clanbrassil House and Paul Flynn of the Tannery. Fire expert John Relihan has developed a new pop-up concept for the festival, Smokasa, which is Mexican inspired. Cooks Academy tutor Jack O'Keefe's Sunday afternoon Baste Camp demo will see him serve up duck cured in coffee and grilled over embers, with a salad of smoked hazelnuts, radish and fennel.
Offside is a new addition to the festival line-up this year and this 20-seat private dining space will be occupied by Parilla, an Argentinian asado manned by Rama Basilio and Big Grill co-founder Andy Noonan. Described as "a five-course nose-to-tail feast with paired wines from Mendoza by Bodega Argento", this runs at 5pm each day of the festival. It costs €30, and can be booked here.
Offside will also be home to a Wild Game Feast, hosted by Nick Weston and Lucas Wooten of Hunter Gather Cook, using an array of locally foraged ingredients and wild game paired with wild cocktails and natural wines. This takes place on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm and costs €30.
Bushcraft is where to head to for a series of talks, masterclasses and hands-on sessions on bushcraft skills, such as how to fillet a whole fish and cook it over a camp fire using sticks to hold it in the heat and smoke it over the fire.
Nick Solares, a former Eater New York restaurant editor, has been casting an expert eye over the menu for the festival and his food picks for the weekend are these:
Jack May is serving up a red pepper lamb “tomahawk”, a rib chop with the short rib left attached, served with a beetroot tzatziki, pickled cabbage, and fresh herbs to counter the richness of the lamb. (Thursday and Friday).
David Carter is cooking up Texas style brisket in a taco shell with baby cucumber and spiked with the bird’s eye chillies. (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).
Pitmaster Bill Durney is serving a perfect rendition of the Texas style beef short rib but using local Irish beef. Rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked for long hours over oak, the result is a smoky punch and a supremely beefy flavour. Don’t you dare ask for sauce! (Saturday).
Pitmaster Mario Portella of Churrascada, Brazil is cooking beef ribs asado style over a ground fire. The low and slow meat is served in classic Brazilian style with farofa, a toasted cassava flour mixture. (Thursday, Friday).
For more, see biggrillfestival.com.