The sun is out, the drinks are chilling and the chicken is marinating. Good work, right?
No, you’re doing it all wrong (well, the chicken bit anyhow).
According to barbecue experts, dry rubs are the new marinades. They work faster, penetrate deeper, and most importantly, don’t contain the oil or sugars that cause flare-ups, those hissy fits that that result in accidentally “blackened” food.
"The problem with marinades is that they never work quickly, and with oil in them, they tend to induce more flare-ups and charring. A rub can be applied to meat just before cooking, and the ingredients can normally be easily sourced from your spice rack," says Tim Greenwood, co-owner of Cooks Academy cooking school, where he is director of the school's Grill Academy, where you can take classes in barbecuing.
Tim Greenwood’s rub for Moroccan spiced lamb
2 tsps hot chilli powder
1 tsp salt
Half tsp freshly ground black pepper
Half tsp ground coriander
Half tsp ground cumin
Half tsp caraway seeds
Quarter tsp garlic powder
1.This recipe is suitable for gigot or loin chops, and the rub will also work for a lamb roast. If you can get thicker chops from the butcher, it will work better as the rub will have a longer cooking time to intensify and flavour the meat.
2. Coat the chops with the rub and grill on a pre-heated grill for around five minutes each side. Serve with a couscous salad, a fresh green salad and maybe some roasted red peppers (cooked indirect on the barbecue, of course).
Chicken, no burnt bits
"The question I am asked most often is how to safely cook chicken on the barbecue," says Andy Noonan, originator of The Big Grill barbecue festival and co-owner of Fowl Play wood fired chicken rotisserie in Hogan Place, Dublin 2.
“The main problem people encounter cooking chicken on a grill is flare-ups from the fat dripping on the hot coals, resulting in burnt skin and undercooked meat on the inside.”
To avoid this, Noonan also recommends using a rub rather than a marinade, as well as setting up three “heat zones” on your barbecue, so you have a variety of temperatures available to you, rather than a single fierce heat source.
“You can do this on a charcoal barbecue by arranging your coals in a large pile on one side of the grill (high heat, searing zone), a small layer in the middle (medium heat zone) and no coals on the other side (retreat heat zone).
“On a gas grill, figure out where your hot/medium/safe zones are by turning on all the burners at full blast and holding your hand over each when it’s fully heated.”
According to Noonan, a whole chicken can be cooked slowly for 45-70 minutes on the low heat zone. “If you have a thermometer on your barbecue grill it should read 140-170 degrees Celsius.”
Whether you’re cooking a whole chicken or portions, use a meat thermometer to check that it is fully cooked – it should reach 75 degrees Celsius. “I highly recommend a digital thermometer,” Noonan says.
Andy Noonan’s all-rounder barbecue rub
4 tbsp smoked paprika (buy the best quality you can afford)
1 tbsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp garlic granules or powder
1 tsp onion powder (optional but recommended)
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp ground cumin
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients.
2. This forms a great base rub for anything and everything grilled or smoked. Make a larger batch and store it in an airtight jar for up to six months . The beauty of this rub is that you can modify it depending on what you're cooking. Don't be afraid to taste the rub and adjust it to taste.
Chicken – add some chilli flakes (chipotle works great)
Pork – add a small amount of demerara sugar; toasted and lightly crushed fennel seeds work well too
Lamb – add an extra tablespoon of cumin, and some toasted crushed and ground coriander seeds
Fish – if your fish is nice and fresh just use some salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Beef – goes great with grilled or smoked beef, but my personal preference is just good quality sea salt flakes and pepper, let the quality of the meat do the talking.
For most of us, a barbecue just isn't a barbecue unless there are burgers. That doesn't mean they have to be boring plain beef patties though. Barbecue experts Samantha Evans and Shauna Guinn of Hang Fire, a UK festival circuit favourite, make mouths water with their Cajun-spiced Pork and Haloumi Burgers, best served with their Classic Asian Slaw.
If you fancy a bit of theatre with your barbecue, try Donal Skehan's recipe for Beer Can Chicken with Nam Jim Sauce. Cooking a whole bird over a can of beer really works, the steamy beer keeping the bird moist throughout. You'll have to allow 90 minutes for this one to cook on a barbecue though. Time to get through the remaining cans.
Dirty barbecue? How to clean it
Perhaps you have dug the barbecue out of its winter hibernation, and it’s not looking its best? Here are Tim Greenwood’s instructions for bringing it back to its best (and hopefully not poisoning your guests by cooking on a dirty grill).
“Before turning the barbecue on, take the grates off and scrape all of last year’s grease and carbon away from the hull with a plastic scraper, so as not to damage the steel. If it is a gas one, make sure all the jets are clean. Inspect the gas pipe from the cylinder to the barbecue. For safety this should really be changed every two to three years as it can perish, especially if left out during hard winters.
“Always ignite the barbecue with the lid open in case there is a build up of gas inside. Scrape the grill with a wire brush to clean it, but light the barbecue first and let in burn for 10-15 minutes so that fat or food carbonises and all the burners get up to working temperature. It’s much easier to clean then and the wire brush stays clean also.”