Sizzling summer ahead as lockdowns fuel surge in interest in barbecuing
Some 70% of us believe we are better at barbecuing than we were before the pandemic
Simon Rimmer cooking chicken on a gas barbecue.
Successive lockdowns have fuelled a surge in interest in barbecuing, with limited dining out options sending ever more of us to the back garden, terrace or park with a pair of tongs in hand. Whether flipping burgers at the flick of a switch on a gas-fired machine, or practising the art of low and slow over wood or charcoal, barbecue is hot this summer.
Almost 70 per cent of us believe we are better at barbecuing than we were before the pandemic, and half of us aim to hone those grill skills even more this summer, according to a recent poll of 1,000 Irish barbecue owners undertaken by the Weber brand. And it’s not just an occasional sunny day flirt with the flames either, 57 per cent of those polled said they barbecued weekly, and one in 10 said they did so even during the winter months.
TV personality, chef and restaurateur Simon Rimmer, has worked with Weber for the past five years, and is firmly in the camp that believes any day can be a barbecue day. “ I cooked my turkey on the barbecue two Christmases ago,” says Rimmer, who presents Sunday Brunch on Channel 4 television.
Rimmer’s top tip for successful barbecue cooking is to learn the difference between direct and indirect heat, and the 15 minute rule
Technological advances are doing their bit to make cooking on a barbecue easier and more reliable, making us more likely to do it on a regular basis. New generation smart barbecues can be linked to a mobile phone and will send precise cooking instructions for whatever it is you are grilling. Even with older models, a probe can connect your steaks to your phone via an App, which will ask you how you like your meat cooked, then send you messages telling you how long it will take, remind you when to turn it and when it’s ready.
“It’s a really, really big advance that takes out a load of the risk,” Rimmer says. “It also stops that thing that we all tend to do, of lifting the lid, so you lose some of the heat, then the cooking process isn’t as good.”
Rimmer’s top tip for successful barbecue cooking is to learn the difference between direct and indirect heat, and the 15 minute rule. “Anything that takes up to about 15 minutes to cook, say a small chicken breast, is direct cooking. So you put it directly onto the heat source, and it cooks and that’s it.
“Indirect cooking is for anything that’s bigger, or takes longer than that to cook. And that means you don’t have any direct heat underneath what you’re cooking. Your coals are to the side; if it’s gas, the jets on the side are on and you sit the meat or fish or vegetables in the middle. Those two principles are massively important and making sure that you understand those is fundamental.
When it comes to burgers, probably the most popular thing to cook on a barbecue, Rimmer likes to keep it simple. “I think all you need in a burger is just a good fat content in your grind, and salt and pepper.” His favoured mixture is 80 per cent minced beef and 15 per cent pork fat. “Just because the pork fat tends to be a little bit more hardy and a bit more juicy. Or you could use bone marrow, it’s a good thing to put in a burger.”
'Brines are brilliant, they are are a great thing to do on big pieces of meat, because it just it gives you a head start'
Rimmer is a fan of the smash burger. “I’ve become a fan of doing thin little four ounce burgers, and just searing them quite quickly, with the lid down so that you can keep them moist. I think I’ve got a bit fed up with the big fat eight ounce burgers that are raw in the middle.”
Cooking fish on a barbecue is a stumbling block for many, so does Rimmer have any tips on how to barbecue fish without it sticking to the grill and breaking apart?
“Just put it on a piece of [parchment] paper on a tray, or get a fish basket. And oil it. But I’m never too worried about the sticking thing, sometimes it’s the nature of it. I think if you worry about it, then it will happen.
For a low maintenance barbecue, Rimmer favours large cuts of meat, brined, then cooked low and slow. “Brines are brilliant, they are are a great thing to do on big pieces of meat, because it just it gives you a head start.” For brisket, he uses a brine made with salt, sugar, water, molasses, honey and cloves.
There’s a long sigh when I ask Rimmer why barbecue is sometimes perceived as being predominantly a male preserve. “I get asked this a lot. I think it’s a thing that is done by a lot of blokes who don’t cook any other time. That’s all that they’ll do, and there is some kind of level of obsession with it. But I am making very sweeping generalisations here about the sexes.”
It’s a generalisation that the recent poll results are at odds with. Almost three-quarters of respondents said they believe that barbecuing is no longer “a man thing”, and almost four in 10 women said they are barbecuing more often than ever before.
With a relaxing of restrictions on the horizon, it seems like we have a sizzling summer ahead.