Meet the Fire starters!
Grill-seeking duo Shauna Guinn and Samantha Evans tell our reporter why BBQ is so smoking hot right now
For anyone who has ever longed to pack in their job and follow their dreams, Shauna Guinn and Samantha Evans are proof that pursuing your passion can have a happy ending. Guinn, a high-level policy adviser on child abuse, and Evans, a global head of creative, left their respective employment in London in 2012 to go on a six-month road trip of the Southern states of the US to learn all they could about American barbecuing.
Now the two First Ladies of 'Cue - who appear at this weekend's Big Grill Festival in Dublin's Herbert Park - run the Hang Fire Smokehouse in Barry, Wales: a restaurant so successful that when it first opened, it got 1,300 reservations in the first 24 hours. It is currently booked out until November.
To clarify, this is not barbecue as most Irish people know it, where you put a burger on a grill and cook. American barbecue takes a large, often cheap, cut of meat and uses a smoker to cook if for a very long time at a really low temperature - 'low 'n' slow' in BBQ speak. American barbecue also eschews marinades in favour of a dry rub - a blend of spices including salt, sugar, paprika and potentially cumin, cinnamon, chilli, fennel and coriander seeds.
Guinn, who is from Belfast, and Evans met 20 years ago in Cardiff. Keen backyard barbecuers, they were also great believers in food being a catalyst for bringing people together. "Part of our love for American barbecue is that you don't put a big piece of meat in a smoker and sit and eat it yourself - although we have done that. The history of American barbecue is community and bringing people together, and that was something that we'd always done in our day-to-day lives, whether it was doing a Sunday roast for 20 friends or a big barbecue," says Guinn.
Aligned to their love of American barbecue was their adoration of country music - Guinn plays guitar and Evans plays harmonica and banjo. On their trip, they met not only their BBQ idols, but also Dolly Parton - and even lived with Dolly's drummer for a period in Nashville.
When they returned to Wales after the road trip, there was no money left, so they opened what was the country's first ever pop-up restaurant in a backstreet pub. "Nine months later we were still in this little boozer and we were feeding hundreds of people who had heard about us because we'd built our little business via social media, Twitter in particular," Guinn explains. "We never had any money in the budget for marketing; we built it in almost a cult-like way." Being female in the male-dominated world of barbecue has not been without its challenges. Guinn recalls visiting a butcher in Wales and asking for brisket. She was looked directly in the eye by the butcher and told: "What you need, love, is silverside."
"That was our first introduction into how difficult it was going to be, with no real understanding of the meat or butchery industry, only what we learnt on the road trip," Guinn says. "It's been a journey of discovery and the suppliers we've worked with have been with us from the beginning. That's because we've tended to latch onto very open-minded, intelligent producers and farmers. A big part of our journey has been the very high-quality meat we use."
But their gender has had advantages too, she believes, by making American barbecue more accessible to people. "I think a lot of people were looking at us, thinking: 'If these two girls can do it, I can do it too.'" Winning Best Street Food at the 2015 BBC Food & Farming Awards - the Oscars of British food - led to a book deal, and The Hang Fire Cookbook was published last year. They also opened their first permanent restaurant in the seaside town of Barry. "The pressure was building from our customers, who basically said: 'Girls, we love you and we love your food but stop dragging us to a street food stall and making us stand in the rain.' That's when decided to open a restaurant," Guinn says. She and Evans are also currently working on a four-part cooking show for the BBC which will air in October and, which, Guinn says, "brings together the three things that Sam and I love most in life: bringing people together, cooking meat and drinking."
Today and tomorrow at The Big Grill they'll be cooking a whole hog with South Carolina chefs Hometeam. "Coming to Dublin is like a homecoming for this Belfast girl. To cook on home turf, using amazing Irish meat, doesn't get more exciting," says Guinn. "We're going to set up 8-10 mini barbecues, pull people out from the crowd and teach them how to barbecue, there and then in the moment. Then, we're all going to eat the food together and get really drunk!" she laughs.
Aloha Boyo Grilled Lamb Kebabs
This recipe combines the native flavours of Hawaiian barbecue, ginger and pineapple, with beautiful Welsh lamb and leeks. Ask your butcher to debone your lamb for you.
1kg boneless leg or shoulder lamb (deboned), cut into 5cm cubes
1 ripe pineapple
2 tbsp soft light brown sugar
50g unsalted butter
Vegetable oil, for brushing
For the lamb marinade: 3 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ small leek, roughly chopped
1 red chilli, roughly chopped (closer to a jalapeño than a finger chilli)
½ thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
250ml fresh pineapple juice
50ml dark soy sauce
3 tbsp sesame oil
Juice of ½ lime
A few grinds of fresh black pepper
For the dipping sauce:
Small bunch fresh coriander, chopped
Small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
Zest and juice of ½ lime
100ml olive oil
2 tbsp cider vinegar
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Place all the marinade ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Put all the marinade and the cubed lamb into a zip-lock bag or lidded plastic container. Massage the marinade into the lamb, making sure it is well covered. Leave in the fridge for 3-5 hours, or overnight for a stronger flavour.
Peel and core the pineapple, and cut the flesh into 5cm cubes.
Remove the lamb from the fridge; pour the marinade into a saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, reduce to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the brown sugar and butter and stir through till dissolved. This will be a gorgeous, glossy glaze. Remove from heat; set aside.
Take 6 bamboo or metal skewers. If using bamboo, pre-soak them for a few hours or overnight in water to stop them from burning on the grill. Thread the marinated lamb and pineapple onto the skewers, alternating meat and pineapple.
Set your grill up, whether gas or charcoal. Brush the kebabs in a little oil and make sure your coals are white. Depending on how you like your lamb, you can grill the skewers for 3 minutes on each side, brushing on your reduced marinade as you turn the kebab. We like our lamb medium rare, but if you like yours a more well done, add another minute grill time per side.
Combine the dipping sauce ingredients in a bowl. Arrange your skewers on a plate and drizzle the sauce on top.
The Hang Fire Cookbook (Quadrille, £20)