As a sunshine-loving outdoor cook, I find the slide into autumn a little tough on both body and soul. Over the years I have learnt that the best way for me to cope with the change in seasons is to resist any temptation to curl up and hibernate and instead to fully embrace it, staying outside as much as possible. Naturally, that means firing up my barbecue and fire pit and making as many meals as possible in the garden.
It’s not just about prolonging my summer; there is also a heady whiff of nostalgia in there. If any season has an aroma, it’s autumn – of damp leaves mixed with woodsmoke, and the burnt-sugar whiff of toasting marshmallows and sizzling sausages and onions at childhood bonfire parties. Cooking outside in autumn still gives me that little buzz of excitement.
The trick to successful autumn barbecuing is to keep the food simple and fuss-free. It’s not about complex salads or big show-off joints of meat, but rather steaming bowlfuls of comfort and a little warming spice.
Two of the recipes I’m sharing below are designed to be made in a pan over a fire; a Dutch oven is ideal, or any fireproof heavy pan will be fine as long as it has no plastic or wooden handles. You simply rest the pan on the grill bars over the fire of your barbecue, or use a fire pit, either with a fixed grill or a grill hanging from a tripod.
You can control the heat either by moving the coals to one side and moving the pan closer or further from them, or simply by raising or lowering the grill surface. If the weather is awful, you could of course make them on the hob inside, but cooking outside will give you a way bigger sense of achievement and adventure!
Just as with a real fire in your home, a fire pit in the garden has a wonderful way of drawing you and your family in, encouraging both lively chatter and moments of quiet reflection. This year, perhaps more than ever, cooking in the garden may help bring a sense of freedom that is most welcome.
Tips for autumn barbecue success
- Get all your food prep done ahead of time in the kitchen so once you are outside you stay outside, minimising opening and shutting the kitchen door and allowing you space to be “in the moment” with your cooking.
- Conversely, just because you cook outside doesn’t mean you need to eat outside. One of my favourite chilly-night things to do is light two fires at the same time, one in the garden and one in the front room. Then when I’ve finished cooking, ideally some sort of stew I can eat in a bowl with a fork, I take it inside to the cosy sofa to eat.
- If you want to eat outside, having some extra firewood to stoke up the fire pit, plus a few blankets to snuggle under, will keep everyone glowing and contented.
- A large garden umbrella on hand to cover both barbecue and cook is a good idea should the weather suddenly turn inclement.
- Always seek out sustainable British charcoal where you can (it’s easy to find online). You can cook on it quicker (there’s no need to wait for it to be white and ashed over, as there are no nasty chemicals to burn away to make it safe for cooking), and it has myriad benefits for the environment.