The dummies' guide to perfect barbecuing
Tired of botching every burger on her barbie, Vicki Notaro took a class to improve her grill skills - with impressive results. Here's her guide to perfecting your outdoor cooking
With the run of sunny weather of late, you might have noticed there's been a distinctive smell in the air pretty much everywhere you go - that of charcoal blazing and meat braising on open coals.
Yes, it's barbecue season, and every man and their dog is taking to cooking al fresco, worried that any stretch of sunshine we get is all we'll get of a summer in 2016 - a truly Irish concern.
And barbecues aren't just a chance to make pigs of ourselves while consuming pig products, but a sociable occasion and an opportunity to get out of the darned kitchen.
Yet while I adore eating barbecued food, I'm an absolute novice when it comes to cooking on an outdoor grill. On more than one occasion, I've bought one of those disposable aluminium foil "grills" and been left fuming when I failed to even light the damn thing, let alone cook food on it. I've also sat there, starving, while my other half tries to fire up the barbie our landlord kindly left out the back to no avail, only for it to ignite just as our takeaway arrives.
I definitely prefer to be the guest in a barbecue scenario, and have food handed to me.
That's why I was delighted to be sent on an unusual assignment, to a barbecue master class with a world-renowned expert on charcoal-cooked cuisine. The well-known barbecue brand Weber has landed in The Orchard in Celbridge, an interiors, food and garden store that claims the title of an official Weber World Store.
And to celebrate and promote that fact, they drafted in Weber chef Jamie Foy to teach us Irish people a thing or two about grilling before he heads off to the Far East for a year to spread the gospel of barbecuing in Asia.
So with my apron on and tongs in hand, I learned everything there is to know about cooking with fire from the pros.
Choose your equipment wisely
First of all, work out what kind of griller you are. Those serious about their meat might be more willing to fork out for a high-end machine, and some people might find gas more efficient. It all depends on your budget, and how happy you are to play with fire.
We used several different barbecues on the day, but my favourite was the standard circular model that uses charcoal, and to which you can add soaked wood chips to increase the flavour.
Never dismiss the lid
You might think there's only a lid on your barbie to protect the inner workings from the Irish weather, but it's actually an invaluable cooking tool.
Most good barbecues will have a lid with an air vent, because it controls the temperature of the coals.
Jamie lit the charcoal in a special fast-firing chimney.
Once he could see flames licking out the top, he tipped the coals in to the base and they were ready to go - you don't necessarily need to wait for them all to turn grey.
Throwing the lid on means you can intensify the heat even further, until the barbecue is hot enough to roast a duck, as we did on the day.
Take advantage of every cooking surface
There are two ways to cook on a barbecue - using both direct and indirect heat. Direct cooking means you cook directly on top of the hot coals, and it's how most of us barbecue. But you can also cook around the coals - if they're in the middle of your grill, don't be afraid to use the outer area to finish off meat, or cook some veggies.
Buy good quality fuel and firelighters
One of the biggest reasons a barbie won't light is that the coal or briquettes just don't ignite. This could be down to poor firelighters or poor quality fuel, and is a problem with many of the cheap disposables on sale - I know from experience.
Spending money on good fuel pays off, because you know it won't let you down.
And don't be afraid to use a few firelighters, spread across the surface you want to light. They're far safer than any other method of ignition and will ensure all your coals light evenly, meaning more less stress with your grill.
Test the temperature
It's really important when cooking outdoors with fire that the food is cooked through and not just charred on the outside. Jamie encouraged purchasing a little thermometer that you simply pierce the food with to see if it's ready, and it's a good thing too - my Scotch eggs weren't cooked when I went to take them off the grill, and raw pork can be dangerous to consume. It's also essential when cooking a roast on the barbie, because it can be difficult to gauge when a joint is cooked.
I find that we Irish aren't very adventurous with what we cook outdoors. Perhaps it's something to do with making hay while the sun shines, but we seem to stick to the old tried and tested favourites of charred sausages and bun burgers, uncomplicated fare it's hard to get wrong.
But if I learned one thing on the day, it's that you can cook pretty much anything on a barbecue - from the aforementioned Scotch eggs to a Singapore stir fry and even a flourless Blondie cake...
Add some accessories
…however, it's far to say that most of these things will require the purchase of some barbecue-proof accessories. The cake was a doozy, cooked in a foil cake tin on a pizza stone you can use in an oven, but the stir-fry required a hard-wearing wok and the Scotch eggs a "grill basket".
Still, it's good to know that if you feel like it, you can cook waffles on your barbie, right?
You don't have to buy an expensive brand, just ask in the hardware store if you're okay to use your cookware with a barbecue, and go forth and grill.
10-Minute Singapore Noodles
250g dried vermicelli noodles
150g cooked prawns
1 medium onion
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
150g bamboo shoots
150g bean sprouts
3 spring onions
500ml chicken stock
3 eggs beaten
1 tbsp vegetable oil
For the paste
50ml soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
2 tbsp curry power
2tbsp fish sauce
1tbsp oyster sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp grated ginger… or just buy your own paste
In the kitchen
1. Thinly slice all the raw veggies, set the spring onions aside as garnish
2. Mix all the paste ingredients together in a bowl
3. Warm the chicken stock
At the barbecue
1. Prepare the barbecue for direct heat of approx 220C
2. Preheat the wok in the gtill for 10 minutes
3. Add the oil and sautee the veg until softened
4. Add the paste and 50ml of chicken stock, stirring for 30 seconds
5. Add the egg and stir for another 30 seconds
6. Add the remaining stock, noodles, bean sprouts and bamboo shoots
7. Cook until the stock has evaporated and noodles are hot. Stir in the cooked prawns, sprinkle with spring onions, and serve.
Smoked Scotch eggs
500g sausage meat
50g bread crumbs
1 tsp smoked paprika
200g plain flour
1 packet Panko bread crumbs
In the kitchen
1. Very carefully place 6 eggs in a pan of simmering water and cook for 3-4 minutes. Once cooked, take the eggs out and plunge into a large bowl of cold water. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then peel them
2. In a bowl, mix the sausage meat with the normal bread crumbs, paprika, salt and pepper. Combine well.
3. Take an A4 size sheet of cling film and make a thin square patty from the mixture, measuring 12x12 cm. Place a peeled egg in the centre of the patty and gather up the cling film, bringing all corners of the patty together and enveloping the egg. Discard the cling film and even out the sausage meat gently by hand making sure there are no holes or gaps. Repeat with the other 5 eggs.
4. Put the flour in a bowl, 2 eggs in another bowl and the Panko bread crumbs in a third bowl. Beat the eggs. Gently coat the meat-wrapped eggs in flour, one at a time. Transfer to the beaten egg and immerse. Finally, coat the entire surface in bread crumbs.
At the barbecue
1.. Prepare the barbecue for indirect heat – approx. 200 ºC. Place the scotch eggs in a grill basket and put it on the grate.
2. Add a large handful of wood chips on the grate directly over the heat.
3. Close the lid and let it smoke for 15-20 minutes – or until the sausage meat has reached and sustained a temperature of 75 ºC and the eggs are golden brown.
*There are Weber cooking demos on in The Orchard every Saturday from 12-2pm in the summer. See theorchard.ie for more