As the weather cools down at this time of year, Melburnians head indoors where it’s warm and cosy and the plethora of cooking shows blare from the television. While you’re barracking madly for your chosen Masterchef or MKR contestant, this is a perfect time I think, to contemplate the next barbecue season.
Being the fanatic that I am when it comes to cooking in the open air, I’ve built my own wood fired oven so I can continue roasting my favourite dishes utilising the magnificent produce obtained straight from the Queen Vic Market.
For those folk who dream about grilling the perfect steak in the warm Summer air, I’ve prepared some basic tips that may help you along the way…
Photo: Andrew Richardson
What’s the right bbq for you?
It all comes down to budget and available space. And why have one when you could have two? Or three?
Seriously though….there are plenty of good quality gas-fired grills on the market that will fit on an apartment balcony or if you have the funds and the room, I’d suggest a bigger grill and a traditional kettle-style charcoal fired barbecue to keep it company.
What if I’m new to barbecuing and don’t know where to start?
Do your research online and pester your friends daily with questions about their bbqs. Once you’ve got some knowledge in your pocket, stroll into your local (reputable) barbecue dealer and peruse their range of equipment and accessories.
If it’s a grill you’re keen on, don’t even consider it unless it has an inbuilt thermometer and preferably, a cast iron cooking surface.
Make friends with your barbecue.
Whether you’re fond of gas-fired equipment or a fan of solid fuel, getting to know your barbecue is essential. They all have their quirks, just like people.
Always pre-heat it and remember to keep the lid down between grilling those steaks or snags! No point wasting all that heat and energy when it can be put to good use, is there?
Essential tools and equipment for the backyard barbecue fanatic.
First thing to mention is the procurement of a good quality wire brush. They’re invaluable when cleaning the grill down and tend not to lose their bristles easily. No one wants to munch on a stray bit of steel while they’re gnawing on their T-bone…
To complete the kit you’ll also require a few pairs of tongs, an accurate digital meat thermometer/probe, a couple of decent quality butchers knives and knife sharpener.
Don’t rely on your mad skills when you think that joint of pork or whole roasted chook has been cooking long enough. Test it with the digital probe to make sure. How do you know what temperature to take it to? There’s plenty of meat temp charts available online and in various cookbooks. Which brings me to my next point, resting the meat.
Resting the meat.
Perhaps the handiest tip I know. There’s a couple of basic tricks that will ensure that any meat you cook on the barbecue will turn out moist and tender every time. The first is to rest your meat on trivet (or sturdy baking rack) and cover loosely with aluminium foil after cooking. The general thinking on this method is to let it have a nap for around half the time it took to bake, roast or grill. This applies especially to larger cuts of meat on the bone so ideally I’d recommend taking it out of the barbecue a couple of degrees shy of it’s target temperature as it will keep cooking slightly under the foil.
Secondly, if you’ve found that your larger joints of meat and roasts have dried out, try placing a foil bbq or deep-sided baking tray underneath. Fill the tray to half with water and make sure you have a stainless steel wire rack between the meat and the tray (otherwise it will fall in the water). Check now and again to make sure the liquid hasn’t completely evaporated; you can always pour more in if it’s getting low.
Follow these two simple methods and you can’t go wrong.
Maintaining your new buddy.
Now that you’ve invested in your new outdoor cooking equipment, a maintenance schedule is the order of the day.
Clean it regularly and if it’s gas-fired, check the lines and fittings as a matter of course. There’s been many a burnt human turning up to hospital due to not replacing a perished rubber O-ring that cost all of 5 cents from your local hardware store.
Know your suppliers and producers.
If you only take one tip away, this is it.
As a nation of foodies, we are blessed with some great local produce and passionate folk who are more than willing to talk about it. If you’re not quite sure what’s in season or the cut of meat that best suits your barbecuing endeavours, just ask!
I’ve acquired a wealth of knowledge by quizzing my favourite trusty Queen Vic Market butcher, fishmonger and grocer every time I’m out shopping.
Don’t forget the veggies!
It’s not all about red meat folks. As satisfying as it is to scoff down a perfectly grilled lamb cutlet or chew on a massive aged rib-eye, it’s also hard to resist barbecued salmon with fresh dill or a whole roasted locally caught snapper stuffed with slices of lemon and herbs.
All delicious dishes that’s true, but if you want truly great barbecued fare, try adding local seasonal corn and/or asparagus grilled over charcoal or gas. And one of my favourite dishes of all time…grilled or roasted plums served with raw cane sugar and a big dollop of fresh cream.
Barbecue with a conscience.
This may be an obvious thing to point out in this day and age but local and seasonal are key words to remember when barbecuing. So is sustainable, organic, free-range and ethically raised but one step at a time eh?
Apart from your trusted local traders, farmers markets are a fantastic way to support your community and small-scale producers who give a damn about what they’re selling plus the added bonus of knowing that your dollar is supporting your fellow man rather than some unnamed massive corporate entity.
A word on smoking.
Australians are relatively new to the art of hot-smoking food in the barbecue so as an introduction to this method, there’s a couple of simple rules to follow:
• Start with a bag of Hickory Woodchips. They’re available from reputable BBQ retailers and reasonably cheap. Flavour wise, they’re pleasant in taste and not overpowering as some of the other timbers can be.
• Soak the chips in water for at least 3-4 hours before throwing onto your completely lit charcoal/embers at the very start of the cooking process.
• Less is more. My advice is start with roasting a chook or a whole pineapple (or both) and a small handful of soaked chips. Both are very well suited to the smoky flavours the hickory imparts.
Check out your local bookstore.
There are a plethora of cookbooks out there in the world and range from the very simple to the way-too-technical. Start at the simple end of the spectrum is my advice and head straight for the barbecue section. With the popularity of outdoor cooking reaching boiling point (not really a pun), there are some great writers specialising in the fine art of ember and flame.
Books for Cooks is located in Therry Street, right next to the market so introduce yourself to the lovely Tim and Amanda for some great advice and publications on cooking in the great outdoors.
Stay tuned for my next blog in May where I discuss some tasty starters and desserts using produce widely available from the market traders and very simple to reproduce on your barbecue or oven at home.
Adios for now amigos!
Next time: Roasted plums with melted Costa Rican raw sugar and fresh cream.
Photo: Andrew Richardson
This blog is written by Andrew Richardson from BBQ Workshop.