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The BBQ

When Summer arrives it’s worth making the most of being outdoors and enjoying the fresh air.  Summer is the ideal time to dust off the BBQ and start enjoying the taste of burnt sausages and burgers again!

No matter whether you are catering for your immediate family or have invited a number of friends, a BBQ should be good fun and hassle free, and easy on the wallet at the same time.

A BBQ is globally recognised as a “bloke thing”!  It’s the only time they claim to do everything  – from starting the BBQ to burning the food – funny how they never do the prep or clearing up!  The testosterone around a BBQ is something quite unique and I haven’t found any other activity around the house that has the same affect!  Here we have a few suggestions on how to enjoy a BBQ without it costing you a fortune.

There are many opinions (usually from the male contingent) as to whether gas is better than charcoal.  Personally, we favour the charcoal kind as it gives a better taste to the food, however if time is of the essence and you don’t like a lot of mess then a gas one is for you.

Gas canisters cost more than charcoal but they last longer.   Charcoal and firelighters are cheaper but can be fiddly to get started – you need to be patient – don’t resort to pouring fuel on the BBQ to get it started – it’s dangerous and will taint the taste of the food.

If you don’t have a BBQ yet then look around at all the special offers about from local supermarkets like Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s or garden centres such as Wyevale or Blooms.  They all begin having special offers once Easter is out of the way or the moment the sun shines!  All these retailers will have a great choice in both fuel types.

Try to buy one with a lid as this helps cook the food more evenly rather than it being cremated on a grill.  Look at models that have a flat plate, as these are ideal for all sorts of additional foods stuffs including mushrooms, onions, or bacon and eggs for the morning brunch.

If you only want a small BBQ then look at the disposable options.  These are ideal for picnics and/or when you are only cooking for one or two people.

No matter what, make sure you have enough fuel to ensure everything gets cooked through.  There is nothing more embarrassing than resorting to finishing off items in the oven – by all means pre-cook and finish on the BBQ, but not the other way round!

If you are planning a big event then make sure you have plenty of charcoal or gas to last you the entire day as you will most probably end up firing up the BBQ at a least a couple of times throughout the day and evening.

It is a good idea to get other suitable equipment too – you don’t want to be using the best utensils or china on the patio!  There are various different sets for BBQ entertaining from the very cheap to the ridiculously expensive!  Think about what you will be mainly cooking on the BBQ as there is no point in buying all sorts of cooking apparatus if you just cook the basics but again this is entirely up to you.  Personally, I don’t see the point and even if you buy a value set and it falls apart at the end of the summer it won’t matter.

One of the main things to make sure of is that you have enough fuel as there’s nothing worse than half cooked food being finished off in the oven.  If you are planning a big event then make sure you have plenty of charcoal or gas to last you the entire day as you will most probably end up firing up the BBQ at a least a couple of times throughout the day and evening. Finally the equipment, do not think you will get away with using the good stuff from the kitchen so its worth getting your own for the BBQ.  There are various different sets about from the very cheap to the ridiculously expensive!  Think about what you will be mainly cooking on the BBQ as there is no point in buying all sorts of cooking apparatus if you just cook the basics but again this is entirely up to you, personally I don’t see the point and even if you buy a value set and it falls apart at the end of the summer it won’t matter.

The Food & Drink

Many people think the only thing to cook on a BBQ is burgers and sausages but there are so many different and interesting options.  If you do opt for burgers why not try making them at home as they will taste better and work out cheaper.  You can add whatever flavours you want, but be sure to make something that suits everyone. Chicken pieces are also popular on a BBQ, thighs and legs offer the best flavouring and don’t forget the pork spare ribs!!!

Skewers are a fabulous idea as there are so many different variations from meat or prawns to vegetarian, as long as you have the basics of onions, peppers, mushrooms, and tomato’s you can make whatever you want.

Alternatively, why not buy a whole chicken and open it up by cutting out the spine and you have spatchcock chicken. Lamb, pork and beefsteaks are also very tasty on the BBQ but make sure you don’t overcook them as they will end up dry and tough.

Fish is great – use meaty fish fillets like salmon, monkfish or tuna, and prawns are always a winner!

Whilst all meat, veg and fish are great on the BBQ they can taste even better if you marinade them before cooking, not only does this enhance the flavour but it also tenderises the food.  You should think about marinating at least 30 minutes before cooking to make sure the flavour soaks into the food.  If you are able to plan ahead try starting the marinade the night before.

Most foods come off the BBQ looking rather black and some meats, like beef and lamb don’t matter if they are a bit under cooked in the middle.  However it is essential to ensure all chicken, pork and prawns are cooked right through, as they will make you and your guests very ill if you aren’t careful.  I tend to start chicken off in the oven to make sure it gets cooked properly.

Whilst the menfolk think the only food you need for a BBQ is burgers, sausages and bread rolls but there are plenty of other things to go with a BBQ.  In my opinion, onions are a must and no BBQ is complete without brown and red sauces.  A nice crisp salad, new potatoes, coleslaw and potato salad are also favourites.  If you are creative enough you could make your own coleslaw and potato salads which will probably taste nicer than shop bought. Pasta salads, corn on the cob, pickles and chutneys are also tasty accompaniments to the meal.  Summer puddings like cheesecake or Pavola are great desserts.

If you are doing a BBQ for a number of people, don’t feel you have to cover the cost of everything.  Ask guests to bring food and drink to contribute towards the day and evening.  Check that guests do not have food allergies, or specific likes/dislikes – so perhaps ask those guests to bring specific food stuffs which they can eat! Just remember to save a space on the BBQ for any vegetarian food, to be cooked.   However, be mindful a vegetarian might want his/her food cooked completely separately to prevent cross contamination.  If they are overly fussy then let them cook their food on your hob or cooker to save you the hassle.

Do not feel you have to supply drink for everyone as that can work out to be very expensive.  Ask your guests to “bring a bottle”.

My one big piece of advice is not to use your finest crockery or glasses just use paper plates and plastic cups or glasses as there will be no breakages and no washing up at the end of the day!

Seating

If you are holding a group BBQ ask people to bring a garden chair along with them, most people won’t have a problem with this.  The same applies to extra tables – if you need the additional space ask around and see if you can borrow one for the afternoon.

Entertainment

Background music is a must but don’t have it so loud that people can’t chat to one another – BBQ’s are supposed to be a social event and you don’t want to upset the neighbours!  Some people organise games to play over the course of the day but guests will usually find ways to entertain themselves and each other and most will be happy to sit and chat.  If you do want to have something on hand for guests to play then why not look at the giant versions of Jenga, Connect 4, or Chess.  Most supermarkets and stores like BHS and M&S have a great selection of games to play in the garden.

A BBQ should be fun and not something you dread organising because you can’t afford it.  If you ask your friends or family to bring food and drink it won’t cost much at all.  A BBQ is the perfect time to enjoy the summer with good friends and family.

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