New smartphone app connects to your barbecue for the perfect steak
A new smartphone app that connects to your barbecue promises you'll never have a 'black on the outside, pink in the inside' disaster again. But can technology really tame the flame? Our reporter puts it to the test
I am standing in front of a barbecue, phone in hand. For once, I'm not taking a million photo- graphs to put on Facebook but instead I'm using my phone to cook. Thanks to the marvels of technology - specifically the Weber iGrill 3 Bluetooth thermometer - I am going to know when my steaks are done, to the second, and cooked just how I like them.
Actually, I don't even have to stand here manning the barbecue because I can wander off inside and my phone will tell alert me should the temperature drop, and when it's time to plate up.
Technology has infiltrated all aspects of our lives, yet it seems anomalous to use it for barbecuing - such a primal, hands-on way of cooking. But it's also a method that's fraught with hazard, with the ever-present fear that your garden party will tuck into food dangerously under-cooked, or that zealous grilling will render your meat inedible.
On that basis, even barbecue purists can't object to a techy helping hand that makes the whole process more accurate and less stressful. Barbecuing has, after all, become the country's unofficial national pastime; even the sniff of some good weather has us ready with the tongs and enough meat to feed a county. And although we are prepared to spend money on it - you can pay anything from under €30 for a basic model to in excess of €4,000 for an all-singing, all-dancing top-of-the-range option - it appears that we're still not embracing the barbecue's full range of possibilities and still perceive it as a summer-only pursuit.
"It's still new to us," says Toly Hahhajev (pictured below left), a Weber expert at The Orchard, Celbridge, Co Kildare, home to Ireland's first Weber World, which offers products, advice and cooking demos from the American brand. "People associate a barbecue with a sunny day and a couple of beers. Once that sun is gone, the barbecue is gone, but that doesn't have to be the case.
"You really want to use it day in, day out, all year round. Times are changing and when you spend a certain amount on your barbecue, you want to get your money's worth."
Clearly, to do this, not having to hover nervously over the barbecue at all times would help and this is one of the iGrill 3 thermometer's advantages. It's like barbecuing for dummies - you download the app, stick the battery-operated food sensors in the meat, and you've become a connected chef with the iGrill 3, allowing you to stay in the loop regarding cooking times, how done your meat is and the temperature; it keeps an eye on the whole process while you only have to look at your phone.
There's also a social media community aspect, where you can swap tips and recipes and share triumphs, and the iGrill community is a fairly active one.
Despite its high-tech capacity, it's a breeze to use. Although it's not machine-washable, you just wipe it with an antibacterial cloth after use, and while it's designed specifically for the Weber Genesis II model, it can be used with any barbecue.
Price-wise, at €119, it's not inexpensive. But if, like me, you're an unconfident barbecuer, the security of knowing that you're not going to make anyone ill is worth the investment, while even the most tech-unsavvy of grillers can easily navigate their away around the app. And the freedom, of not having to stay with your food at all times really is quite glorious.
"If you're doing something overnight like pulled pork, which takes 12 hours to do, you don't want to be monitoring it all that time," says Hahhajev. "It's far easier to check the temperature on your phone at 3am, should you wake up, than it is to get dressed and go out to see if it's doing okay."
And if you're fussy about your steaks, it's invaluable. "The 'rare' setting is pre-set to 49 degrees but I like mine bloody at 47. So, you just pop it into the thickest part of your meat, close the lid, have your beers or your wine and you'll get an alarm if the temperature drops," he explains.
But it's always wise to remember that technology can't save your food if you make basic barbecue errors. According to Hahhajev, the biggest mistake that people make is not keeping the lid down.
"Scientifically, we know hot air rises. Leave the lid open and you're wasting your gas or your charcoal and you're not creating any constant heat," he says. He's also on a mission to encourage more people to cook even when it's raining.
"There's obviously a lot of moisture in the air and once you're cooking with the lid down, there are dampers on charcoal grills and air holes on the side of gas grills, and these suck up the moisture and keep the meat juicy - the last thing you need is a dry cut of meat."
This recipe uses a Weber burger press to shape the burgers, which can also be done by hand. If using a charcoal barbecue, use a chimney starter half-filled with briquettes to get it going before cooking.
800g minced beef
Oil, for brushing
Salt and pepper
8 green lettuces leaves
4 slices of cheese
4 burger buns
For the dressing: 1 tomato
50g pickled gherkins
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
In the kitchen, shape the meat into 4 burger patties, each weighing 200g, and press gently in a burger press. Brush the burgers with a little oil, and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
Wash the lettuce leaves and tomatoes. Peel the onion and slice this and the tomatoes.
Now make the burger dressing. Wash and cut the tomato into quarters and remove the seeds. Chop the pickled gherkins finely. Combine the tomato, mayonnaise, pickled gherkins and Dijon mustard with a hand-held blender.
Peel and finely chop the onion and mix with the dressing. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Cayenne pepper.
Prepare the barbecue for direct heat (the meat over the coals) - approximately 240-250°C. Brush the grate with a neutral oil and cook the burgers for around 3-4 minutes on each side.
Re-arrange the barbecue to indirect heat, move the burgers to indirect and place a slice of cheese on each. Continue cooking until the burgers reach a core temperature of 70°C.
Split the buns. Toast on both sides until they have barbecue marks.
Assemble the burger. Spread both halves of the bun with dressing, then place the lettuce leaf, burger patty and cheese, sliced tomato and onion rings on the bottom half before putting the top on.
BBQ TOFFEE CAKE
This recipe uses a Weber pizza stone to cook the cake on. If using a charcoal barbecue, use a chimney starter half-filled with briquettes to get it going before cooking.
For the toffee pieces: 30g butter
1 tbsp water
For the toffee cake:
150g brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
1 tsp baking powder
350g creamy peanut butter
100g unsalted pecans
50g icing sugar, to garnish
Make the toffee pieces in the kitchen by placing all of the ingredients in a pan and bringing to boil over medium heat. Allow the sugar mixture to boil for 6 minutes, stirring all the time, until golden brown.
Pour the liquid sugar mixture into an oven tray lined with baking paper and leave to cool. When cooled down, chop the toffee into pieces.
To make the cake, combine the brown sugar, eggs, vanilla sugar, baking powder and peanut butter well. Chop the pecans and fold into the mixture together with the toffee pieces. Pour the mixture into a barbecue-proof oven tray lined with baking paper.
Prepare the barbecue for indirect heat (the coals to one side and the cake over the other) - approximately 240-250°C. Place a baking stone in the centre of the barbecue and put the cake on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow the cake to cool. Cut into batons, measuring about 2x3cm. Sprinkle the toffee batons with icing sugar.
FILLET STEAK WITH WARM COURGETTE AND FENNEL SALAD
For this recipe, you can use a cast iron griddle pan placed onto the barbecue to cook the steaks, or place them directly onto the bars. If using a charcoal barbecue, three-quarters fill the chimney starter with briquettes to get it going.
2 fillet steaks, each weighing 300g
Salt and pepper
For the warm salad: 1 fennel bulb
1 corn cob
1 red onion
100ml fresh herbs
Salt and pepper
In the kitchen, wash the fennel and courgette and cut in half lengthways. Remove the leaves from the corn cob and wash it. Peel the onion and finely chop, along with the herbs. Season the steaks.
Prepare the barbecue for direct heat (meat over coals) - 260-270°C. Brush the cooking grate with a neutral oil and cook the corn for about 10 minutes. Add the fennel and courgette and cook for 2-3 minutes until there are marks on both sides.
Brush the grate with a neutral oil and cook the steaks for approximately 3-4 minutes on each side, or if using a meat thermometer, until the core temperature is 58°C. Allow the steaks to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Slice the barbecued fennel and courgette and cut the corn off the cob. Mix the barbecued vegetables with finely chopped onion, herbs and a little oil, and season the salad with salt and pepper.
Serve the salad with the steaks.
BBQ BERRY WAFFLES
This recipe uses a cast iron waffle pan.
200g wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp vanilla sugar
90g brown sugar
100g blackcurrants or berries of choice, fresh or frozen
In the kitchen, melt the butter over a low heat. Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, vanilla sugar and brown sugar in a bowl, and beat gently with a hand mixer. Stir the eggs in one at a time, then add the milk and cream, followed by the melted butter. Stir the batter until smooth.
Wash the berries. Fold the berries carefully into the batter.
Prepare the barbecue for direct heat (coals under the waffle iron) - approximately 185°C. Brush the waffle iron with butter and then place onto the barbecue and preheat for 5-8 minutes.
Divide the batter between the four sections, covering the entire surface. Close the iron and bake for 6-8 minutes. Flip the iron and bake on the opposite side for another 6-8 minutes, or until the waffle is golden on both sides. Serve with a few fresh berries mixed with sugar.
Win a weber igrill3
The Orchard in Celbridge, Co Kildare, is the home of Ireland's first Weber World BBQ store. The Weber Grill Squad will be giving live BBQ demonstrations at the store today, June 3, and The Orchard is giving away a Weber iGrill3, worth €119, to one lucky Weekend reader. To be in with a chance to win, simply answer the following question:
Where is Ireland's first Weber World BBQ Store? a) Cork or b) Celbridge
To enter, email your answer, along with your name and contact details, to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'Weber' by midnight on Friday June 9.