Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Get back to basics with eco-friendly barbecues

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Now I know I should be writing about forestry and the wonderful exhibits at last month's Tullamore show but on the evening of the show I was cooking with some nice dry logs from my own woodland so I thought I would write about barbecues instead.

Forestry thinnings provide perfect fuel for cooking, and many common species such as alder make great charcoal. My son swears by a brand of charcoal imported from some obscure African country and there is no denying it is excellent and long-lasting stuff, but there is always the argument that by purchasing it, or other similar products from across the world, we are then hastening the destruction of rain forests or whatever.

There is a counter argument that, without our custom, people from Third World countries would be even worse off than they are already so I really don't know the correct answer.

I cannot get the image out of my mind of a chain of African men and women, earning the equivalent of about a cent a day, walking in single file across the desert with baskets of ironwood or some other tropical species balanced on their heads so that here in Europe we can enjoy the luxury of long-lasting charcoal.

This of course brings me immediately to the issue of forest certification. At least if the product is certified as having been produced sustainably then we can use it with a clear conscience. After more than a decade of wrangling and arguing, it appears that an Irish standard for forest certification will soon be available.

This has to be good news for woodland owners given the way world markets are developing and the increasing demands of the consumer for environmentally sound timber products. I read recently that a watchdog group were questioning the credentials of some wood products and accusing manufacturers of toilet paper in Indonesia that their paper contained minute traces of tropical hardwood.

The mind boggles at the thought of teams of scientists analysing rolls of loo paper from around the world to see if they comply with environmental regulations.

What ever happened to the sheets of newspaper that used to be recycled by hanging them from a nail on the wall of the outdoor WC? Would this meet approval?

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Anyway, as long as I can lay my hands on some dry, home grown logs I am happy, for using them must be the ultimate in good forestry management and, by burning my own, I can lecture friends on the benefits of shopping local.

Wood fuel is more economical and I cannot understand why people spend small fortunes on large, shiny, outdoor gas cookers instead of a simple, homemade barbecue. According to my dictionary, the word barbecue means cooking on charcoal so if you cook on a gas flame it's just not a barbecue and that's that.

Have you noticed that when eating outdoors, men usually do the cooking, despite the fact that all the food preparation tends to be done by women? Turning pieces of meat, suspended over glowing embers doesn't demand great skills, but somehow it's a man thing and if you are using your own wood, so much the better. Just let the flames die down and then slap on the steaks, chops and sausages.

You need to be able to adjust the height to get the perfect burn and always be constantly vigilant, for if you become distracted for a minute, those delicious fatty chops will turn in to balls of fire. While cooking outside during the autumn some additional source of heat around the seating area is essential, especially if you are to prevent your shivering guests and family from migrating into the cosy surrounds of the kitchen.

Gas-fuelled patio heaters were popular a few years ago but they are said to affect climate change and there has been some campaigning to have them banned. They can also be unsightly and are expensive to buy and run.

On the other hand, chimineas were used centuries ago by Mexican tribesmen, who developed them as a means of providing heat for their family as well as a vessel for cooking and baking.

The original chiminea was designed to keep the rain off the fire and the family warm, using just a couple of branches. They are relatively inexpensive, work brilliantly at heating up the barbecue area and perform best using small logs and sticks. If you plant trees you will never be short of fuel.

Indo Farming