How to host the perfect barbie without burning a hole in your pocket

From using old junk to build your own BBQ to the top-rated cookers: How to have a perfect barbie

  • Easing of lockdown rules means outdoor entertaining is back on the menu
  • You don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy gadgets to host a barbecue 
  • Former winner of TV’s BBQ Champ explains how you can turn an old washing machine drum into a fire basket and grill or a metal barrel into a cooker

Finally, we have been given the all clear to throw another shrimp on the barbie as the easing of lockdown rules means limited outside entertainment with family and friends is back on the menu.

Forget the critics, such as TV Masterchef host Gregg Wallace, who recently described barbecue cuisine as ‘rubbish’ – built around ‘a lump of uncooked meat’ on a plate.

If you are willing to follow a few basic rules, there is no reason why you cannot serve up mouth-watering treats, using the most basic equipment – including old junk found at the back of your garage.

Time for a new BBQ? Those who managed to save money during lockdown might be tempted to purchase an outside burner

Simon Dyer, from Tickenham in Somerset, is a former winner of TV show BBQ Champ.

He says: ‘If you want to host a barbecue over the coming weeks, you do not need to spend a fortune on fancy gadgets. It is not shiny new gear but culinary skills that will ensure you end up serving great tasting food.

‘The magic ingredients are a willingness to be patient and to have fun cooking.

‘If you are on a tight budget, consider turning an old washing machine drum into a fire basket and grill or transforming a 45-gallon metal barrel into a cooker.’ 

Guidance and advice on how to build do-it-yourself barbecues can be found on YouTube.

Just tap in words ‘ugly drum smoker’ or ‘washing machine drum fire pit’ to find useful video links.

But Dyer believes that those who managed to save money during lockdown might rightly be tempted to purchase an outside burner – though the best equipment does not come cheap.

A flaming good investment

The biggest mistake people make with barbecues is burning their food on the outside – while the inside remains partially uncooked.

The main reason for this is flames coming from the barbecue.

The cooking of meat should not start until flames have subsided and the black charcoal has turned white.

British BBQ Society founder Toby Shea believes a £20 investment in a digital thermometer can ensure that food is cooked all the way through before being served. He adds: ‘Once the barbecue flames have died down, you get an even heat that helps cook meat all the way through.’

Barbecue cooking champion Simon Dyer says a wi-fi enabled ‘Meater’ device, costing £79, offers all the benefits of a digital thermometer – but it can also communicate with your smartphone providing details of target temperatures for various meats to help you cook.

He says: ‘It goes in like a six-inch nail and allows you to sit in a nearby pub garden – once they reopen – until the phone app tells you the food is ready.’

He says: ‘If you have deep enough pockets you cannot go far wrong with a ceramic charcoal cooker such as a Kamado Joe – which might set you back as much as £900. For this price, you get far more than just a barbecue –- you get a grill, oven, smoker and pizza oven as well.’

Ceramic ovens are popular as they are excellent for slow cooking – ensuring any meat is both tender and tasty when served.

Toby Shea is founder of the British BBQ Society. He says: ‘Ceramic holds in the heat and allows you to cook on a low temperature.

‘You can cook a meat such as pork in 14 hours in this way – so preparation is key.’

Another budget-busting option is a £2,000 charcoal or wood-fired Cactus Jack. Experts say this represents the pinnacle of outside cooking with a ‘firebox’ oven and grills to ensure meats are perfectly cooked. Having a selection of grill height settings is important to ensure that food does not get burned.

Dyer says: ‘Those looking for value for money on a tighter budget might consider something like a £400 Aquaforno. This outdoor cooking stove is really flexible. It is foldable so it can be taken on camping trips and it also doubles up as a fire pit.’

Another top-rated cooker is the £600 Hellrazr Yama grill smoker, with five separate settings. Those looking to spend less might consider a cut-price option such as a £79 Weber Smokey Joe Premium.

Shea says: ‘Do not waste money on £10 disposable barbecues. Instead, budget for something with a lid so you can also use it as an oven to cook your food as well as grill it.

‘The problem with disposables is that they often heat up too quickly and can end up burning meat before it is fully cooked.’

Traditional charcoal or wood-burning barbecues are deemed to be the best option for providing an authentic outdoor cooking experience that captures smoked flavours.

Dyer says an Argentinian cooking style known as ‘asado’ – where meats and vegetarian dishes can be marinated and grilled by hanging over a fire for perhaps a couple of hours – offer a great alternative to burgers and hot dogs.

He adds: ‘A great tip is to cook while having a glass of beer or wine – cider in my case. It helps relax you. Also, start cooking early.’