It’s that time of year again — the laughter, the expletive spiked roars, the tinkle of beer bottles meeting by the neck, and the horrified ‘weows’ of little children scorched by daddy’s red centred sausages.
Barbequed food is made delicious by a marriage of technique, the company and that healthy side serving of the just being outside.
Make your venture into this annual culinary adventure fun rather than frustrating with our tips on handling the big summer smoke.
Design flames to technique
Your choice of BBQ should be influenced first and foremost by your style of entertaining and the available room.
* 36cm by 36cm is the most diminutive practical grill size for a family barbeque, and that does not include vital passing room to keep adult and in particular child traffic away from the action.
Ensure you have a stable surface, whether it’s paving slabs or a table top.
* A wider surface and integral cupboards and shelving will take plates, condiments and ingredients out of your hands, allowing you to attend to precious cooking times.
Look out for this season’s edgy stainless steel and brightly coloured enamelled units with hardwood shelving on a dedicated stand. Try the Weber Q1200 and Q2000 series from €349.
* The decision to build-in can go as far as you like in terms of brick, wood and metal shelving or a completely detailed outside kitchen, under an overhang open to one or more sides.
The truly ingenious may be able to get away with little more than some DIY wall building, and the price of the stove (€350 plus), but for full bespoke models expect to start in the high hundreds and pay from €3,000-€4,000 for detailed steel or powder coated ‘kitchens’ set around a supplied BBQ, and including a small sink with cover (ex. plumbing) and the inclusion of a fridge to chill ingredients and beer.
* Masonry BBQs using everything from BBQ fuel to logs are a hefty but attractive option.
Bushbeck of Germany are represented by several retailers here in Ireland, with tall sculptural quartz and terracotta stoves from €645, also suited for use as eye-catching outdoor fireplaces.
* For something really different, take a look at the recently explored art of the Irish smoker, a small enclosed BBQ which gives exotic notes to meats with the power of damp aromatic wood off-cuts and shavings, low n’ slow and deliberately overcooked for hours.
Pick up a copy of Project Smoke by Steven Raichlen, Workman Publishing, €20.99. Or try the Ofyr.
Gas offers the familiarity of the kitchen stove. Push-start as standard, its a huge bonus for instantaneous dinner parties and afternoon cook-outs in our miserable weather.
Temperatures are effortless to regulate with dial operation.
Sizing starts at 2-ring family BBQ for a party of 6 and under, rising to as many as 6 (burners and plates) with various dedicated functions.
A hot plate is useful for searing steaks and handling small sliced vegetables or meats that would fall through the grill bars, and a small side burner can be used to tenderly prepare and keep sauces deliciously warm.
The notion that gas BBQs do not deliver that lip-licking charred flavour can be challenged by the inclusion of two elements.
Flavour bars or metal rods set under the grill are drenched in the dripping fats and seasoning coming off your food as it cooks, vaporising it into taste rich steam.
Secondly, any gas BBQ can be spiced and smoked to some extent with the inclusion of wood chips.
One way is to put some damp hardwood hickory chips (€10 a 3lb bag) into a loose crunch of foil, pierce it a few times and put in on the grill with the food.
High-end gas barbecues have infrared corrosion resistant burners that spread the gas flame onto a dedicated ceramic tile cooking the food more evenly with infra-red heat. Look for a heavy unit, not just a big one.
A wider BBQ of at least 50cm by 40cm, flanked with shelving protects two sides, discouraging dangerous huddles over a naked flame.
Hot choice: Phoenix 2 burner gas BBQ in red, reduced to €199, 4 burner €399, Woodies DIY.
With gas and charcoal barbeques so well priced, it’s clear that charcoal lovers are dedicated to the ritual of the deep, slow burn.
Charcoal is more demanding in terms of a cool start and the only means there is of swiftly changing the cooking temperature is to raise or lower a rack (if your BBQ offers the option).
Lighting to cooking time varies between 20-45 minutes depending on whether you choose instant light fuel or lump-wood.
For BBQs under 60cm a ‘chimney-starter’ can cut the time to that golden glow roughly in half.
You fill the cylinder of the starter with briquettes on top of the grill and light using BBQ starter cubes, and then very carefully pour the coals into the base of your BBQ when they are suitably hot.
The Weber Rapidfire (#7146) is €30 with cheaper models from €15.
Despite having less controllable, consistent heat, once understood even a charcoal kettle in good heavy steel from just €50 can deliver succulent heights of foodie delight.
If you fancy a wood burn with the high density heat of charcoal take a look at the new Uuni 2S which runs on wood pellets. €300.
Size wise, for charcoal choose a kettle for the family and a ‘drum’ for larger gatherings.
In terms of features, angled griddles drain off excess fat.
A lid (not offered in cheaper BBQs) seals in hot air and moisture to allow the grill to operate as an oven, ideal for cooking large pieces of meat.
You may have to experiment with timing, to avoid the dreaded red-hearted roast — a no-no for poultry and pork.
Invest in a metal meat thermometer.
Porcelain-coated charcoal barbecues offer better resistance to scratches and heat damage.
* Hot Choice: The front loading Ozpig BBQ and wood burner from €409, Argos.
For something completely on trend for sustainability and that glorious waft of real wood, the Uuni 2S is a full outdoor oven with a real chimney that runs on energy dense, commercial wood pellets.
The unit burns at 500°C, and cooks a pizza in an astonishing 90 seconds, great if you have a hungry hoard marauding on the patio.
Prepare breads, salmon, vegetables, steaks or really anything that enjoys short, wood-fired cooking and you’ve got a party.
Self assembled, for a piece that’s intended to last a lifetime, it’s well priced at €300 for a compact family unit.
The box with your 12kg Uuni 2S includes a cordierite stone baking board (which increases the thermal mass of the oven), a pizza peel and a cook’s manual.
Ideal as a summer wedding gift. Buy online at uk.uuni.net or in store at any Brown Thomas. Cover €50 extra.
Neglected barbecues are something of a nightmare to clean.
Sticky sauces, oily meat, and repeated usage without wiping off means the unit can become welded up with a hard, potentially flammable material that’s a ballroom for flies between firing up.
Check the manufacturer’s instructions, and go from gentle to light, starting with a hot soapy wash, before moving to more noxious means. Replace any parts with holes or pitting.
* For a filthy grill, heat the barbecue, using fresh coals for a solid fuel model and putting on the smoking/oven lid if you have one.
Leave for 10-15 minutes to get the dirt molten, turn the unit off, or allow a charcoal barbecue to cool down over about half an hour.
* Having removed the warm but not hot grill bars and any flavour bars, work them with a light gauge brush.
Don’t scrub enamel on the exterior with abrasive products, as it will dull the finish. Look for areas where oil has gathered in corners. Dry immediately. Cosmetic corrosion is expected.
* To tackle the grease reservoir where the drips collect, try pouring in a little lava stone cat litter to soak up the mess.
This can be simply poured out into a non-melting container or tin and put aside for the black bin. Wash the tray in hot soapy water and rinse.
* Commercial barbecue cleaners are chemical heavy, and generally give off powerful fumes. Use with caution.
* Season the cooking bars with a little vegetable oil, this will protect them from rust and make the next clean easier. Resolve to clean the unit every time you use it — a far easier prospect.
* Check the stability of the barbecue legs and any cradle or shelves while you are at it, tightening nuts on wheels.