Focus on BBQ – Tips from top chef Grant Hawthorne

This month the cookery school has a chef guest: our Knife Skills teacher Grant Hawthorne who as the owner of African Volcano, knows a thing or two on barbecuing.  Grant has a stall at Maltby Street Market and every weekend he makes hundreds of perfectly made delicious burgers.  We have asked Grant his secrets for the perfect barbecue and here is what he has to say:

On the BBQ itself:   Ideally you should use a “half drum” design. If it has sufficient depth and space, then a “feeder fire” (in 1/3 of the area and next to the main fire) can be used to supplement the main fire, for extended BBQ cooking time.

Best way on lighting a BBQ.  When lighting the fire, place cardboard on the bottom. Take 3 long “cheap candles” (approx 20cm long) and slice in 2. Expose the wick on either side and light these. Build the kindling on top of this. Add candle “dripping” or waste candles on top of this. The top candles melt and causes the wood to catch fire; the residue gets caught by the cardboard and reignites, creating a “circle” effect of fire-melt-reignite-melt-fire. Add more candles if necessary and slowly add the larger pieces of wood. This can be used with brickettes or coal, in the same way. Protect the fire from excess wind by using a “blocker” or natural shield..

Perfect cooking temperature.  When you have coals, hold your hand approximately 6cm from the grill area of the BBQ. If you can hold your hand there for 2 seconds without it being too hot. Then you have the correct temperature. If it is too hot, then you need to wait a while for the heat to cool down. If in a rush, you can use a little lager to dampen it down momentarily. Be careful not to extinguish the coals. Always have a damp cloth/ tea towel to hand for wiping.

How to control the temperature of the BBQ? Have cheap lager to hand. This is used to dampen the flames down. You can use non-alcoholic beer or if needed, some fruit juice. Far better than water, as it has a small amount of flavour which will be imparted to the meats that are being cooked. Splash the lager sparingly. A 3 hour BBQ time for 4-6 people will use approximately 3-4cans of lager.

Have a bucket of iced water to hand for emergency purposes.

Ensure you consume plenty of water or liquid during the cooking process. Dehydration will occur and best avoid that with regular sips of water. Consuming too much beer will dampen your reflexes, so best you mix your drinking with 1 to 1 ratio: 1 glass water; 1 glass beer. When the cooking is done, then all bets are off and you can relax with a few more beers. Or glasses of wine.

How to cook the perfect BBQ.  Put your oven on to 80-100C setting, so that you have a warm place to “hold” your cooked meats, whilst the remainder of the BBQ is being cooked.

When you have the meat on the BBQ you can throw on some smoke flavour enhancers. Dry or wet twigs from bay trees or rosemary. Do this is only done when the meat is on the BBQ and not beforehand otherwise the smells will dissipate, without infusing.

The longer cooking items need to be placed on the BBQ first. Turn frequently and monitor the temperature. Longer cooking will include whole baby chicken; chicken thighs and drumsticks. Breasts of chicken should be cooked with a lot more care and not overcooked as they need to be juicy.

Keep your marinades to hand and baste regularly throughout the cooking process.

Keep a baking tray to hand – preferably one that won’t mind direct heat or flames that may char the outside of the tray. This is to store your cooked meats and can be used on the edge of the BBQ to “hold” the meats, if no oven is available.

Start off with the pieces being cooked around the edges, away from the centre of the BBQ where the “hot spot” will be. Keep an eye out for flames and dampen down from time to time with the lager.

Cook steaks on the hotter part of the grill area (normally the centre), so the steaks are seared and do not overcook. As with varying cuts of meat, well-aged beef (28 days), does not need a long cooking time and approximately 7-8minutes will be sufficient for medium-rare. Baste regularly with your marinade.

Sausages (pork or beef) need to be cooked around the edges of the coals as they need a slightly lower temperature for longer and full cooking.

Lamb chops and pork chops need the same care and attention as the rest. Depending if you like your meat well-cooked or slightly underdone they can be cooked on the medium to high heat. Make sure the lager is to hand for regular flame suppression.

Burgers need to be basted briefly with oil, so they do not stick to the grill. The marinade can then be applied liberally to the burgers, whilst cooking. Again, if you prefer them slightly undercooked, then remove from the heat early enough.

Cooking vegetables such as corn on the cob; potatoes; etc will require them to be cooked long and slowly. More often than not, wrapped in tin foil shiny side facing in) with butter or olive oil and seasoning. When 90% cooked, the foil can be discarded for a more direct-heat and “grilled” appearance.

When the BBQ is done, and before you start eating, put on a few more pieces of “starter wood” for the immediate flames and “quick heat”. This is used for toasting marshmallows for an after dinner treat. Ensure the BBQ is extinguished properly, before retiring to bed as a BBQ is a potential fire hazard.

Thank you Grant for your tips and we look forward to seeing you at our Knife Skills classes in the Autumn.