We always look at our gardens as a place to relax and entertain, but when it comes to cooking we always limit ourselves to burgers, sausages and meat on a stick. The barbeque and firepit are essentially an entire kitchen in one place if you use them right so, why not truly bring you life outside with these top tips on cooking great food outdoors no matter the size of your space.
Note: If you have a small balcony or window ledge you can use a disposable barbeque for most of these tips, but please make sure you follow any instructions that come with it carefully and make sure it is properly secured.
Get Prepared for Cooking Outdoors
Organisation is the key to successful cooking, and even more so when you are using a Barbeque. So, every time you cook outdoors make sure you follow these steps.
- Remove any old ash
- Clean grill racks or grates
- Oil and preheat your grill grates
- Light your charcoal and wait for them to go white
Once you’re prepared then it’s time to get cooking
Cook with more than Charcoal
Cooking outdoors is remarkably versatile, one way to make your food taste better is to cook over different woods. Not only does this add flavour, but you can cook directly on some woods for a really intense boost. Try grilling halloumi over applewood or a steak over oak and see what results you get. There are plenty of different woods to use, and experimenting with flavour combinations is always fun, and there are some classics you can’t ignore. Make sure you always use wood you have bought online as it is food safe, and won’t contain any nasty surprises.
Get the right temperature
Just like with your oven, you need to control the heat coming off of your BBQ. The heat you cook over is the defining factor on how a lot of food turns out – too high and your food will become dry or won’t cook through before the outside burns, too low and it might never cook and you won’t get that classic Barbeque char. Hold your hand about 12cm (5inches) above the grill and see how long you can hold it there comfortably
6 seconds = low heat – perfect for low and slow cooking, or keeping things warm.
4 seconds = medium heat – the ideal temperature for most foods.
2 seconds = High heat – too hot to cook on
You also need to control the temperature across the grill, this is really easy on a gas barbeque as you just need to turn the temperature down, but a charcoal grill is a bit more difficult, but you have a few options
The half and half method – here, you put all the coals to one side of your grill, so you have a hot side and one with no direct heat. Then all you have to do is put food closer to or further away from the coals to control the temperature.
Move your grill racks – simply moving your grill closer to or further away from the coals is a simple way of controlling heat if your barbeque allows you to.
Adjust your airflow – most barbeques come with air vents that allow you to control the airflow over your coals. This will allow you to adjust the heat of your flames. As a general rule of thumb: More air = higher heat.
The barbeque is a surprisingly versatile piece of kit once you know how to use it, and slow cooking is one of the best cooking methods if you want tender, flavourful food that is hassle-free. When you slow cook on the barbeque, it doesn’t interrupt your outdoor time and you still get some delicious food. Lots of people slow cook in their daily lives so they don’t have to cook after a long day at work, so why not apply the same to your time in the garden, just place an oven friendly dish into your barbeque away from direct heat and just leave it for a few hours until you’re hungry. You can slow cook anything you usually would or you can just close the lid and make some amazing ribs.
The barbeque is just for meat right? You wouldn’t be saying that if you’ve ever tried halloumi and watermelon skewers. The smoky flavours and quick cooking you get from cooking over a barbeque are great companions for a host of vegetables. Here are some top meat-free recipes to try cooking outdoors.
- Wrap sweet potato in foil and bake it with the hood closed or down in the coals on a medium heat
- Char peppers, mushroom, courgette, onion, tomato and Aubergine over the heat, and create a wonderful smoky grilled veg salad
- Haloumi skewers
- Tandori spiced cauliflower
- Vegan kebabs
- Grilled Mushrooms
- And for the adventurous – sourdough
Make the most of Marinades
Cooking is all about enhancing the flavours what already exists, and this is done by seasoning your food well. When it comes to the barbeque this is mostly done with a good marinade (a flavoured liquid you soak your food in). The longer you can prepare the marinade and have the food resting in it before you cook the better. Here are a few basic ones for your toolbox.
Barbeque sauce – Heat: 5 tablespoons tomato ketchup | 2 tablespoons clear honey | 3 tablespoons soy sauce | 3 tablespoons wine vinegar | 1 1/2 teaspoons tomato purée |1 teaspoon salt | 300ml beef stock over medium heat until thickened. Cool and use to marinate your meat
Honey mustard – whisk together 4 Tbsp honey | 4 Tbsp mayonnaise | 4 Tbsp dijon/ wholegrain mustard | 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar | 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and use for chicken and pork
Chinese style – grate one piece of fresh ginger and combine with | 4 Tbsp dark soy sauce | 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar | 1 Tbsp rice wine | 1 pinch superfine sugar | 4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped | 2 Tbsp honey | 1 tsp five-spice powder
Resting food after you’ve cooked it makes a big difference, especially in meat. It allows flavours to settle and makes the food more tender. When you are cooking on the BBQ you should rest all the meat and veg for at least a minute so any hot spots cool down and to improve the taste. You will quickly find that even your burgers are tasting better.
People know to cook burgers or kebabs over the grill, but why go back inside when it’s time for pudding. There are plenty of desserts you can cook outdoors on the Barbeque, and the sweet/smokey flavour combination is one that is often overlooked. Here are a few of the best
Roasted Pineapple – Put some sliced pineapple in a tray with 50g butter | 100g brown sugar and cover with tin foil. Put the tray into a medium-hot part of the barbeque for 30 minutes and serve with a cream made of 2 tbsp white rum | 160g coconut cream
Chocolate baked Bananas – cut a slit down one side of the Banana. Put chocolate buttons and marshmallows into the slit and wrap securely in tin foil. Put the package on the embers of the fire for 20 mins.
Barbecued peaches – halve and remove the stones of 4 peaches. Brush with a small amount of vegetable oil and place face down on the grill and cook for 5 minutes or until the surface has char marks. Fill with soft cheese and drizzle with honey and return to the grill until the mixture has warmed through
These tips are just scratching the surface of the things you can do when cooking outdoors you can do in your garden, but once you get started it’s difficult to keep the cooking indoors. Once you have the basics done you can start looking into more specialised equipment or even inventing your own recipes – the sky is limitless. For more advice see outpost on cooking on a firepit
Gary works in the Primrose product loading team, writing product descriptions and other copy. With seven years as a professional chef under his belt, he can usually be found experimenting in the kitchen or sat reading a book.