What barbecue should you buy? Chef Rozanne Stevens on the perennial question
With the summer here, here's our guide to the ideal al fresco feast
It only takes a few days of sunshine in a row to have us firing up the barbecue, finding our inner Mediterranean and turning a fetching shade of lobster.
Outdoor cooking isn't something we get the opportunity to do often, and it's easy to get bamboozled about what to do.
There's so much more to barbecuing than boring old sausages and burgers, and there's a dazzling array of equipment to get you going, so in the hope of a long, lingering summer, this week I thought I'd consult barbecue expert and chef Rozanne Stevens to find out how we can add a lift to al fresco dining.
Her book 'Relish BBQ' (from www.rozannestevens.com, €22.50 including postage) has tons of tempting recipes to help.
There's plenty of options to get you started, from portables to garden-size, along with some serious kit if money isn't a problem.
Gas or charcoal?
A perennial question is whether you're cheating by using gas. Surely it can't deliver the flavour of hot coals, but it's so much handier, and cleaner.
Rozanne says: "A combination of coal and wood does give a superior flavour, and there is the ambiance of standing around a fire that can't be beaten.
"But for convenience and speed I do love my gas barbecue. In unpredictable weather it gives you a little more time. Coal needs to burn down before you can start barbecuing. My tip is to get a coal 'chimney' - a tall cylindrical vessel punctured with holes that allows your coals to burn down perfectly before you transfer them to the base of the barbecue." Woodies DIY has one from Weber at €29.99.
Burgers or sausages?
Despite cooking a huge variety of meals in the kitchen, we can get stumped in the garden.
"One of my favourite things on the barbecue are Irish lamb loin chops, marinaded in light olive oil, garlic, rosemary and Worcestershire sauce," says Rozanne.
"Thick cut tuna steaks are excellent as they are sturdy and robust and should be served slightly pink. Lightly oil with grapeseed oil and get a good sear of grill marks. Serve with a squeeze of lime juice and a Mexican style mango salsa.
"Vegetables on the BBQ are delicious, but can easily fall through the grate. A 'sandwich' barbecue grill rack (Bushchbeck.ie has one for €25, while they start from just €2.49 in Homestore and More), can be filled with asparagus, portobello mushrooms, aubergine slices and red and yellow peppers. Lightly oil the veggies before grilling."
Pre-cook or raw?
When cooking for larger numbers, par-cooking in the oven cuts time. For meat on the bone, this also makes sure it's cooked through completely and it can be finished on the barbecue.
Brushing oil on food first stops it sticking to the grill. Too much, though, and you'll create charring flames. Rozanne recommends grapeseed oil as it has a higher smoke point and is flavourless. Alternatively, use a marinade, but 'wipe' it off on kitchen paper before placing on the grill or it will cause flares.
Never use the same marinade raw meat has been in for basting - make up a fresh batch. Use tongs, not a fork to turn meat as the piercing will cause the juices to run out on to the coals.
We rarely consider the barbecue for desserts, but Rozanne's a fan of pineapple rings and peach halves, which can easily be grilled.
"Serve with ice cream or mascarpone, crushed amaretti biscuits and a drizzle of Amaretto.
"I am a big cheese lover so I often grill halloumi, a firm cheese from Cyprus, or small rounds of Camembert or Brie."