How to barbecue like a pro

A spread of barbecue foods with meat and salads
Smokin': there's more to barbecue food than burgers and buns

There is so much more you can do with your barbecue than just flip burgers. Lucy Handley dons her apron.

You can go far beyond the ubiquitous burgers, buns and sausages to get the sizzle factor into your cooking, impress your guests and make it a foodie feast to remember.

Prepare the meat the day before  

Tom Aikens, founder of Tom’s Kitchen restaurants, suggests preparing meat in advance. Chicken breasts can be cut into strips and marinated in Greek yogurt, lemon juice, a little garlic, cumin powder, black pepper and salt.

He soaks wooden skewers in cold water for a few hours, before spearing the chicken and putting into plastic bags until he’s ready to cook.

Hot tip: prepare meat the day before to save time and boost flavour Credit: Rowan Fee

Aikens also recommends marinating minute steaks in olive oil, crushed garlic, black pepper, thyme and rosemary overnight.

Meat at room temperature

If you are going for steak, Fernando Larroude, master griller at Argentinian restaurant chain Gaucho, suggests trying lesser-known cuts such as flank or skirt, which, with their marbling, will be succulent and juicy on a barbecue.

Perfect pair: Mahou pale lager goes well with chicken

His key tips? Get it out of the fridge an hour before you want to cook it – and it only needs turning once.

“As a general rule, I slowly grill bigger pieces of beef, and rely on the juices being released to know when it is ready. When the juices first start coming to the surface of the meat, it will be between rare and medium rare. The more the meat is cooked, the darker those juices become.”

If you want a joint, he suggests a spatchcock chicken grilled skin down. It will cook in half the time of a whole bird.

Try a fish clamp

As fish is less dense than meat it can break up more easily, so the pros suggest cooking it in foil, rather than directly on the grill.

Simon Davis, founder of The London Restaurant Festival, says meatier fish works better on barbecues, and suggests salmon with a samphire and pistachio butter.

If you do want to cook fish directly to get those lovely grill lines, then try fish clamps, a kind of metal net with handles, which make turning much easier and avoids sticking.

Something fishy: seafood is a great alternative barbecue choice

Ben Tish, chef director at Ember Yard and author of Grill Smoke BBQ (Quadrille) says that flat fish such as brill or turbot works well cooked this way. For an extra smoky flavour, sprinkle wood chips on the barbecue beforehand.

“Mackerel and sardines are also perfect for barbecues because the skin crisps beautifully,” Tish adds.

Be adventurous with veg

Atul Kochhar, chef patron of Michelin-starred Benares in Mayfair, suggests simple salads and chutneys as an accompaniment.

“For an easy mango and green papaya salad, use fresh mango to make a dressing with ginger and chilli, grate in some raw green papaya and mix the ingredients together before you serve. This simple salad goes wonderfully with grilled meats and fish.”

Tish suggests wrapping root vegetables in herbs and butter and slow-cooking them in the embers. This also works with courgettes and aubergines.

Cooking 'low and slow'

“Low and slow” is a Memphis-style way of barbecuing on indirect heat, similar to roasting or braising, and you don’t need a specialist smoker to do it.

Texan “pit master” Will Fleischman uses a traditional Weber barbecue with a lid. His new book Smoking Meat (DK) explains how charcoal, once glowing, should be banked up on one side of a barbecue with opened vents.

Put the grill on top, and place a perforated foil packet of wood chips above the coals, then add an aluminium pan of water to the middle of the grill, and your chosen meat (whole chicken works well) on the other side, with the fatter side of it towards the coals so it doesn’t dry out.

Easy does it: slow-cooking will keep your meat succulent

Put the lid on, still with the vents open. A chicken will take around five hours. Mississippi-born Brad McDonald, whose Shotgun restaurant will pop up at The Gardening Society on the roof of John Lewis Oxford Street this summer, says smoking is ideal for tougher cuts of meat.

“Ask your butcher for advice: they will recommend cuts such as ribs, short ribs, brisket and joints.” Let the meat relax before you serve. It helps keep it moist.

Harry Edmeade's five-course barbecue

  1. 􀂝Aubergine: Barbecue whole until black, slice in half, gut and mix with soy sauce, chopped coriander and sesame. Serve with grilled crusty bread. 
    Beer match: Hoegaarden wheat beer.
  2. 􀂝Chicken thighs: Rub with chilli powder and smoked paprika, serve with coriander yogurt as a dip.
    Beer match: Pale lager such as Mahou.
  3. 􀂝Grilled asparagus: One of my favourite side dishes with a squeeze of lime, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.
    Beer match: Affligem Tripel Belgian beer.
  4. 􀂝Chimchurri octopus: Simmer on hob for an hour before grilling whole. Top with chimchurri and serve with causa. Beer match: Staropramen Czech pilsner
  5. 􀂝Watermelon and pineapple: Grill one-inch thick steaks for two minutes, rub on chopped ginger, red chilli and lime juice and serve with mango sorbet.
    Beer match: Belle-Vue Kriek lambic beer

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