The sunsets are getting later, the days are getting warmer, and with that comes even more al fresco cooking. The months ahead will see my kitchen antics gradually moving outdoors more and more, as I try to make the most of the fair weather on the beach or in the garden with my nearest and dearest. I love being able to spend more time outside, but I can’t go a day without cooking.
This of course means one thing – Barbecues. And where there is smoke and fire there’s spice and flavour in abundance, which make me very happy indeed. For many, the memories of barbecues past conjure up images of blackened yet raw sausages and burgers drier than biscuits, but the more than welcome influence from the American, Australian and South African barbecue scenes has changed this all for the better. Local barbecue legends such as John Gower at Quiet Waters Farm and CountryWoodSmoke’s Marcus Bawdon share my passion, and are championing our local Devon produce across the UK.
Like any cooking, the produce we use is key, so sourcing the best meat, fish or vegetables for your dishes is of paramount importance. What makes the best ingredients? Well seasonality and locality are definitely at the top of the list, but alongside those is the way you plan on cooking it. A greater range of barbecuing methods have found their way into UK barbecue culture over the past 10 years or so, but they predominantly fall into 2 categories – Hot & fast, or slow & low.
As a bit of an aficionado of the slow & low method, part of the joy of a good barbecue for me is in the preparation. The day before a cook-off, I’ll be grinding herbs and spices to make aromatic rubs, whisking up seasonings and vinegars for marinades, before getting my hands dirty and working it into the fresh joints that I’ve chosen. The next step requires patience, letting the flavour seep into the meat overnight in the fridge.
The next day, I’ll introduce it to some gentle heat in a smoker (or a low heat oven if the inevitable rain calls off play!) where it will transform into a reward for my patience and dedication, becoming tender and succulent, and with every flavour intensified over time. Divine.
Of course, all too often the weather doesn’t allow us the luxury of being predictable, so during the summer months I keep a few little jars in the cupboard of herb & spice blends, ready to rub into some chicken or veggie kebabs for a quick barbie on the beach. Washed down with a Devon ale or two, there’s not much more a man could ask for!