Tips from a chef for BBQ perfection

The word “barbecue” Has its origins in Haitian, The native Tiano people of Hispaniola referred to cooking over a flame: “barbacoa” which later become known as “barbecue.”

The Arawak people, who also lived in the nearby Carribbean Islands, called this method of cooking: “boukan” which has since made it’s way into Haitian Creole that today is called” boukannen.”

BBQ or the open flame is one of the oldest ways of cooking we know. Every culture does it.

The only real difference is in the ingredients and how they are used the fire. since we discovered fire and realised that caramelised cooked meat was easier to eat and tastier than raw meat, grilling over a flame has become one of our favourite ways to prepare food.

Over the years, the techniques have been tweaked and perfected, the word barbecue comes from Spanish, who used the word barbacoa to refer to the native style of fire cooking of they found in the Caribbean.

I visit Haiti often and the smell of charcoal or wood burning brings back happy memories of Haitian food. so, Whenever I get together with friends for a barbecue, I often theme it Haitian or Mexican sometimes a deep southern style hits the spot but I always include chocolate somewhere.

Maybe it is the smell of the ribs marinated in dandelion and burdock charring on the grill, or the beercan jerk chicken or just the amazing flavours that a chocolate rub adds to salmon steaks.

But for me barbecues are a time when we can reconnect with family and friends, catch up, chill out and have a good time outside.

Here are some of my top tips to keep your barbecue trouble free, don’t forget to check out my chocolate BBQ recipe ideas

Mis-en place (Prepare in advance)

Chefs organise and prepare (wash, slice dice chop, oil, and season) everything in advance and place things in Tupperware containers or wrap fast covered baking sheets ready for the grill. Marinades and rubs are a good way of keeping meat tender and moist, particularly on charcoal barbecues make the day before and marinate for at least a couple of hours. take the time to double check that your work area is well ventilated, and that the smoke from the grill won’t get caught in any awnings or overhangs and choke you or your guests.

Sides need to be right!

Sides should never be an afterthought! They should make up two-thirds of what you plan to serve especially if you’re on a budget and want to a balanced meal.

You can try a classic potato and chive salad, Haitian picklese, corn on the cobs on the grill, creole rice, some simple couscous or my favourite, homemade flatbreads –made on the barbecue and great for mopping up marinades.

Preheat the grill properly:

Don’t be tempted to rush if you’re looking to get a good crust on your food and that lovely barbecue flavour, you need your barbecue to be hot before you start cooking then it will give you that professional branded look and seal in the moisture and the meats flavours.

We need to control the temperature across the grill,

I ve found the best technique is the half and half – put more of the coals to one side, so you have a-hot side and a cooler side. It will make a huge difference. Cook the meat until charred in the “hot side” then let it cook to perfect level of doneness in the “cool spot.”

I put a roasting try on top to use as a hot box to keep food ready to serve

Control the temperature:

Remember that what you have created is no more than a primitive oven, and you need to control the heat just like a standard oven in the kitchen. A good way to test the heat is with your hand, hold your hand about 12cm/ above the grill and see how long you can hold it there comfortably. (this why grill chefs have no hairs on their arms.)

6 seconds = low heat

4 seconds = medium heat

2 seconds = too hot!

0 seconds = step away from the flame

You can also have a spray container of water to help cool it down or put out any flames

Be organised around your barbecue:

Have enough work area. Work out how many grill-loads of food you have to cook.

What other equipment will you need?

How are going to you keep raw meat separate from cooked?

Try using extra tables and cool boxes and have a rubbish bin with a lid.

Don’t cook cold meat:

Make sure you always bring your meat back to room temperature before cooking. The biggest struggle with cooking on the BBQ is to get the heat from the outside of your steak into the middle without burning the surface to a cinder.

The warmer things are in the middle before it goes onto the fire, the easier it is to cook. (don’t put raw meat back in the fridge cook any leftover meat and use it for salads later)

Use the kitchen:

If you’re at home, you have a fully equipped kitchen use it! start your thick peices of meats, marinated chicken portions or sausages in the oven.

Thin is the new thick:

The thinner your meat, the less time it needs to cook the middle, so the easier it is to cook without burning the outside you can always have a second piece.

Don’t keep poking & prodding:

It takes time for your caramelised barbecue crust to develop and this won’t happen if you keep turning your steaks or burgers. Only turn once or twice. And don’t squash everything

Invest in some tools

3 sets of BBQ tongs One with grips for turning and handling food - one for vegetables another with insulated handles for moving and turning coals and a paint scraper It has a nice flat edge that you can use to flip and turn things with.

A digital thermometer is one of the most important tools I can recommend. Grill chefs grill every day, so they’re masters at knowing when their meat is cooked to perfection, but that only comes with years of practice. A thermometer takes the guesswork out of the equation.

Keep Your Meat Warm with a DIY resting Box:

Tape two foil containers together and pop your meat in inside. The foil will keep them insulated and warm until you’re ready for to serve. 

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