The British summer is well underway and this can only mean one thing - the barbecues have been wheeled out from storage and are taking pride of place in we Brits' gardens. I shall be honest now and say that I loathe a barbecue and think they should be outlawed in Britain, or other countries where the weather is not regularly conducive to outdoor dining.
The only type of barbecue I can just about tolerate is a sit-down with cutlery affair. If there's proper napkins to hand then all the better. Barbecues where you have to stand up and wolf a hot dog or chicken kebab down are ghastly affairs. I like food and wish to enjoy it at leisure.
My parents have lovely barbecues (if indeed that is not an oxymoron). We all sit on the terrace at their Gloster outdoor furniture (that has been properly washed down before use), under the often-superfluous parasol, food is placed in serving dishes down the middle of the table, and we all sit with blue gingham napkins on our laps to protect the chinos. It's very civilized and we all look like we've been lifted off the page from the John Lewis catalogue. It has much more relaxed atmosphere than an indoor meal in a dining room, yet one can enjoy the breeze and gentle heat. These ordeals where you have to stand up and find an unclaimed piece of patio in which to stand are so tense. You have to worry about whether you have salsa running down your chin, focus on making sure your burger doesn't fly out the other side, and then find where you left your glass so you can have a much needed drink.
The secret of successful dining (indoor or out) is to think about your guests' every need. I have found with stand-up barbecues that hosts are much more laid back about everything and often overlook the most basic of details. It's only good manners to think about your fellow diners when you are hosting.
Here are my tips for ensuring that whatever style of barbecue you do this summer you get the etiquette right. (The cooking is down to you.)
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- If you opt for a stand-up affair, consider a service table where you can place the dishes of food as well as cutlery, glasses, jugs of water, juice and the like, as well as napkins...
- ...Ensure that you have put out sufficient napkins for your guests. Even if they are paper ones, make sure that they have something to wipe those sticky hands
- Men: however good you think your barbecue skills are, don't start giving the cook unwanted advice
- Beer should always be served in glasses and not drunk from the bottle. The last time I drank out of a bottle I was 18 months old
- If knives and forks are not put out you have permission to use your fingers
- Kebabs: if eating sitting down with cutlery then hold the top of the kebab stick and using your fork slide each chunk of meat onto the plate. If eating with the fingers then hold both ends and gnaw away (inelegant but acceptable)
- Burgers: watch how much sauce you put in the middle of your burger as when picking up and biting in to it the sauce could shoot out and give your fellow diners a nasty squirt
- Peas: often seen at barbecues and quite hard to eat at the best of times. Hopefully a host would only serve these at a sit-down affair. Don't turn your fork over in the right hand, keep it in the left and push the peas onto the tines. Or, use some of the other food as 'glue' (mashed potato is excellent for this)
- Whilst the men traditionally will cook the meat and often taken all of the credit, don't forget to thank the ladies or those who prepared the salad, vegetables or puddings!