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Enjoying your BBQ with Tips from Clara

I adore this time of year, family and friends gathering in gardens and the smell of BBQs wafting through the air.

We know that we Irish are not the best of barbecuers but I think especially after last summer we definitely improved. When I was in Australia I learnt pretty quickly, it was almost sacrilegious if one did not know how to use a BBQ properly! I adore the smell of a BBQ, we only have a few months to enjoy them with our weather so let’s try to get it right!

 

Cooking over fire does take skills but once you master the BBQ you’ll be using it all the time. Like any type of cooking when you know how you go for it and thrive. I definitely know the men in my family love cooking and chatting around the BBQ! 

Let’s all become masters of the flame this Summer!

First and foremost, get the right barbecue. Now It may sound basic but there are two crucial things your burner needs if you want to make great barbecue food. 

The first thing is, if you want a true smoky BBQ flavour you need to get a charcoal one, the flavour will always be better than a gas one. There’s nothing wrong with gas barbecues, but you won’t get any extra smoky flavour. Gas gives a similar flavour to oven cooking but it looks good and does have easy clean advantages. 

The second thing you need is a lid. It locks in flavour, keeps the temperature constant and can be used as an extra technique. Without one you can’t do beer can chicken, or melt cheese on burgers, or smoke ribs or smoky fish etc

If you’re using charcoal then make sure you get the right fuel, I’m sure you will notice that already the supermarkets and petrol stations have loads to offer but try to get the right stuff. One of the best you can buy is lumpwood, it looks like a burnt tree and wow does it give flavour. It’s also unadulterated and natural

Woodchips are another great addition but remember not all woodchips give the same result. 

On the mild side are fruit woods, like apple, peach, cherry, and pear, and are subtle enough to use with lighter foods like poultry or fish, and sometimes pork. 

In the middle part of the spectrum are woods like hickory (this is the most commonly used one)  maple, pecan, and oak. They’re great with pork and strong enough to stand up to beef and game meats. 

Remember though do NOT overstock your meat or fish, in general, you should only smoke for approx 30 min or so. This will add a gorgeous flavour and will also add to the colour of the finished product. 

Too much smoking will ruin the food to the point of being inedible so watch your timing! 

Now once you start you want no distractions, ok to have a chat and a drink but it needs patience to get to the right temperature, which means the flames have gone completely down and the coals to be white-hot and glowing. The best advice I was given about charcoal is to start early that day, topping up the coal gradually to get to the perfect lasting temperature ready for cooking. 

Get your temperature set up correctly. Some foods can be quickly cooked but if you are also slow cooking meat such as brisket you also need to control the temperature across the grill. The easiest technique is the half and half – put most of the coals to one side, so you have a mega-hot side and one with no direct heat. 

You may have a Webber or gas which you can control easier on different sides.

Get the right BBQ tools, you can get these almost everywhere nowadays! A good BBQ tongs and a fish slice is very important for turning and moving your food. Also helps if anything drops down through the grill! Have a good serving dish ready too to put the cooked items in.

Get good quality burgers and sausages, you can definitely make your own burgers but loads of butchers will do that for you. We have a great choice in Cork at the Old English Market where you can pre-order your BBQ packs and are guaranteed they come from good quality meat and are made fresh for you that day! Tell your butcher they are for the BBQ so he can have ones with a little extra fat which is a definite for juicy burgers on the BBQ.

Remember to take your meat out a few hours beforehand and have it at room temperature before cooking, also it’s really important to marinade, preferably the night before! I’ve shared some marinated recipes just for my subscribers in Junes Newsletter. 

If you are cooking vegetables on the BBQ don’t marinate or oil them beforehand. Put them on thinly sliced or on skewers straight onto the bbq and once cooked and have that lovely BBQ flavour then add dressings or sauces to accompany them. 

Whole white fish are amazing on the BBQ, when properly cleaned, marinated and cooked the flavour you get from barbecuing a full fish is unreal and you’ll never do it any other way! 

I like to do salmon skewers also, marinated in a nice soy sauce for a few hours. 

Here’s a little story for you about the first fish I barbecued…

I lived in New Zealand for a few years and we were on a weekend away in a place called the Coromandel ( a must-visit if you are ever in New Zealand) we took a little boat out belonging to the owner of the house we were renting. He told us no one was catching anything that week but we were welcome to take the boat out. He said if we caught anything he would fillet them all for us. Little did he know we would have the catch of the year down there!! 

Off we went out and watched as the grey clouds were drawing closer, we saw other fishing boats heading back to shore telling us there was no bite and the rain was coming in. We persisted. The two of us were complete novices holding a fishing rod and a net and had a big empty bucket on board.

They were right the rain came in thick and hard and we sat there laughing at how idiotic it all was and then something started to happen, the rod was moving, then pulling hard, we pulled in a great big red snapper tossing around the boat catching with the net, and saw that a whole school of fish was surrounding our boat so we kept going. Shrieking and laughing at the joy of this experience and after 20 minutes we had caught the daily quota for any one boat. It was a very memorable experience for us both, we enjoyed every minute and couldn’t wait to share our treasure with our friends.

We got back to shore and cleaned the boat before putting the fish in the big cooler which the owner had said we could.

We cleaned up and took a few to our friends’ house on the other side of the island and barbecued them whole. 

That was the first time, I caught, cleaned, marinated and cooked a full fish and served it up in the middle of the table with pure joy! 

Another joy was the following morning to find that the owner kept to his word and had filleted all the remaining fish which of course we gave some to him and shared among friends. I think to this day he probably tells that story cause he was so shocked that these 2 Irish novice tourists broke the fishing record on the lake that summer! 

The final tip from me is not to forget about the sides!! A BBQ aint a BBQ without some great salads! 

I like to divvy out the salads to friends and family, Just tell them what you are looking for but if you’re doing it all yourself then my top 3 are a good green salad is a must, some homemade coleslaw (try and make your own mayonnaise, it’s far nicer!), and a nice lemon and mustard potato salad always go down a treat. 

So there you have it, a few tips to get you on your way. Now we just need the sun to stay out for us here in The Emerald isle so we can make the most of it!!

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