Sean O'Rourke and other men on their smoking-hot barbecue food

Sean O'Rourke and other men on their smoking-hot barbecue food
Seán O'Rourke. Photograph Moya Nolan

It’s summer, so time for men venture out of their caves and remember their primal roots by throwing a slab of raw meat on the fire. Donal O’Keeffe speaks with five males who know their way around a blazing barbecue.

LONG LOVE AFFAIR

Sean O’Rourke is usually more associated with grilling politicians than with grilling steaks, but the veteran RTÉ broadcaster loves to barbecue for his family.

“The first time I did any barbecuing was in my future wife Caroline’s then house before we’d actually started going out. It was a very simple barbecue, cheap and cheerful, using real charcoal, the kind you’d buy now for about €15.

“I probably fell in love with Caroline and fell in love with barbecuing around about the same time.

“My family is always happy enough to let me do the barbecuing and to eat what I cook. It’s very basic stuff, chicken, bit of steak, sometimes I might do fish. If there are a few bananas heading toward being over-ripe, I might put them in tin-foil with a bit of brown sugar. Peppers, red onions, if there are some boiled potatoes left over, you can put them in tin-foil with a bit of butter.

“Usually, I barbecue just for family, and we tend to do it all year round.

I have a traditional charcoal barbecue, but 90% or more of the barbecuing I do would be using a gas barbecue. Sometimes, if you get a dry, crisp day in winter, it’s dead easy to just whip off the cover and do a barbecue.

"I might do that once a month in winter, but we might do that a couple of times a week in summer. The great thing with gas is you’re not totally dependent on the weather.

“I like cooking outdoors, and I like eating outdoors. It’s like picking blackberries — you have to concentrate on what you’re doing, and you don’t have time to think about other things. There’s an element of juggling to it.

“The healthiest thing I tend to cook on the barbecue is probably chicken, and I use a pretty straight-forward marinade of olive oil, teriyaki sauce, mixed herbs, and pepper. I would always tend to be quite careful about cooking chicken, and sometimes I will overcook it, or at least I will cut through it to make sure it’s done.

“My top barbecuing tip would be: If at first you don’t succeed…”

FERAL EXPERIENCE

Paul Howard is the creator of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. The new Ross book, Schmidt Happens launches in September. Paul’s musical, Copper Face Jacks: The Musical, plays at the Olympia Theatre from July 10 to August 10.

“There’s something very feral about the experience of barbecuing. Like poking a fire, or power-washing, it’s one of those stupid experiences that make you feel wholly male.

“To be honest, I don’t even bother with salads. For me, barbecue is a purely meat experience.

“I have to be part of the barbecue. I don’t like anyone else flipping the burgers, or the sausages, or telling me the chicken is done. It’s my barbecue. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it.

 Author Paul Howard with his Barbecue, Avoca, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Garry O'Neill
Author Paul Howard with his Barbecue, Avoca, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Garry O'Neill

“Like 90% of Irish people, we started barbecuing during the Celtic Tiger. We had three or four summers where we had barbecues every weekend. And then, during the years of the recession, from about 2007 to maybe 2016, it was non-stop rain. My barbecue, along with all of my patio furniture and my decking, slowly melted away in the rain.

“I thought we should have incorporated the rusting barbecue, on its side, into the Irish flag. It was such a symbol of the Celtic Tiger, and of us trying to be something we weren’t. We actually convinced ourselves that we were Continentals. But it was a short-lived dream.

“I suppose the time I realised that era was really over was when I stepped on the decking one day and went through it, feet first.”

USE REAL CHARCOAL

Cullen Allen, grandson to the late Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House fame, is the co-founder of the award-winning food company Cully and Sully.

“I’ve barbecued all my life. If you use real charcoal, or wood, as opposed to the fast-lighting charcoal, I find you get such a better taste.

“My favourite recipe is a butterflied leg of lamb, marinated in garlic, olive oil, rosemary. Throw the whole thing onto the grill – just watch when you have oil on it because it will cause fires – and then once you’ve cooked it, slice it.

Cullen Allen, at home near Ballymaloe. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cullen Allen, at home near Ballymaloe. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

"You’ll find people tend to eat less when it’s cut this way — as opposed to individual steaks — so your meat tends to go further.

“I’ll always do in advance a really nice potato salad. At this time of the year, when you’ve got the new potatoes coming through, cook a pot of new potatoes and while they’re still warm, pour on olive oil and shallots, quarter them, and it’s really delicious.

“Whereas your meat is your meat is your meat, good salads are the really healthy side of barbecuing.”

MARINADE MIX UP

Fiachna Ó Braonáin has been a member of Hothouse Flowers since 1985. He hosts Late Date on RTÉ Radio 1.

“My first memory of barbecuing was in Brittany in our friend Henri’s field outside Quimper in the late 1970s. In between rounds of pétanque or boules, the grown-ups were sinking cold cans of Kanterbrau while marinating the chicken.

Fiachna Ó Braonáin getting ready to barbeque some veggies. Photograph Moya Nolan
Fiachna Ó Braonáin getting ready to barbeque some veggies. Photograph Moya Nolan

"Being only nine or 10 it was strictly Orangina for me and my siblings... We tucked into the food and found the taste to be a little lemony with an overtone of soapiness… and realised to our horror that the grown-ups had marinated the chicken in Paic Citron, a type of washing-up liquid, and not as was intended in olive oil, Dijon mustard and lemon dressing. A baptism of fire!

“There’s something primal about cooking outdoors. It seems totally natural to me that mankind would have cooked outdoors before we built walls around ourselves. An open fire and the spoils of the hunt! And Sancerre, of course.”

GREAT FLAVOUR

Eoin O’Mahony is a fourth-generation whole-beast butcher. His enmother Katherine started O’Mahony’s Family Butchers in the English Market, Cork, in 1974.

“The first thing I remember cooking on the barbecue that was different was a butterflied leg of lamb. I remember serving it to people who didn’t like lamb, not telling them what it was, and they saying, ‘My God, this is beautiful!’

“What I enjoy about cooking outdoors on the barbecue is you can fire off as much smoke as you like without setting off alarms, so you can give meat a very good char, which means you can give meat a great flavour.

“I have had disasters, where I’ve walked away from a steak with a beer in my hand, or I’ve got distracted, and the steak is ruined.

Eoin O'Mahony with 'tomahawk' rib steaks Donal O'Keeffe feature. Picture: Larry Cummins
Eoin O'Mahony with 'tomahawk' rib steaks Donal O'Keeffe feature. Picture: Larry Cummins

"The trick is to learn from your disasters. Something we’ve discovered, through our customers, is a more American style of barbecuing, with different cuts of meat, for different styles of barbecue.

“What we call a barbecue, Americans call a grill. They generally tend to cook lumps of meat over the barbecue. You can do that for 40 minutes, or for four hours, or overnight. Grilling a tri-tip steak, or a Pichana steak, you can sear and cook it almost like a roast, then set it aside for 20 or 30 minutes. That’s your showpiece, and then you have your bangers and all the rest of it.

“The beauty of a piece of meat like that is you can cook it to everyone’s liking. If they like it well-done, a piece from the edge will do the trick. And a well-heated plate will convince a fan of well-done steak that medium is well-done.

“My top barbecuing tip is simple: Talk to your butcher.”

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