How to BBQ For Beginners: Cooking Over Coals Without Burning The Garden, The Food Or Yourself

No one wants a raw sausage to ruin their bank holiday 🔥

British bank holidays aren’t renowned for blessing us with sunny weather, but the August weekend is set to be glorious. This inevitably means in gardens and parks across Britain, people will be firing up the coals, grilling some sausages and dining al fresco.

But if you’re a BBQ novice - or your “skills” require some urgent attention - then you might like to (re)acquaint yourself with some basic ground rules before setting fire to your lunch. The first ground rule: if you’re in the park, don’t put your BBQ directly on the grass – find some stones to make a bed for it.

Whether you are using a piece of professional grilling kit, or just a disposable metal tray, these should help to reduce stress and increase deliciousness – and avoid food poisoning.

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How To Fuel A BBQ

The amount of charcoal you use will depend on the size of your grill (obviously if it’s a disposable one then it comes pre-packaged) but it’s often better to use less than you might imagine.

According to US site the BBQ Guru: “We recommend using paraffin wax cubes, a chimney [a cylinder where you get your coals burning before transferring them to the BBQ] or a charcoal starter torch. To keep things as natural as possible, don’t use lighter fluid.”

When Should I Light The BBQ?

The golden rule of hosting a BBQ is to light the coals well in advance of guests arriving: don’t wait until you’ve got a garden full of hungry people waiting for burgers before getting started.

This is because you can’t – as with an oven or a hob – put food onto the grill as it is heating up. Instead you need to go through a process of letting the coals glow red, and then acquire a light grey coating before applying the food to the grill. You shouldn’t be cooking over actual fire.

There’s sound advice on “You need to wait for the flames to die down – flame-grilled is a very misleading term! You want the coals white hot – by which I mean grey and glowing. That’s the hottest and evenest heat.”

FYI there is likely to be some smoke in this initial stage.

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Which Food Is Easiest To Cook On A BBQ?

If you’re a BBQ beginner then it is probably best not to try and cook too many different things at once - differing cooking times will make you more prone to mistakes.

For meat options: burgers and sausages are always easy, and don’t require the same preparation as a chicken or fish, which you might want to marinade 24 hours before for flavour. Whatever meat you use, make sure it is refrigerated until it is ready to be cooked – don’t leave it sweating in the sunshine ahead of cooking.

For vegetarian options try halloumi (which grills quickly and doesn’t melt over coals), aubergines cooked whole on the grill until the flesh is soft and delicious, or a vegetable kebab stick with peppers and courgettes. The kebab stick will make it easier to rotate as well.

Is The Food Actually Cooked? How To Avoid Poisoning Guests

The most common hygiene or health and safety mistakes, according to a government survey, include 19% of cooks not keeping raw and cooked food on separate plates; 21% not washing their hands with soap after handling raw meat; and almost half (47%) not keeping food chilled until just before use.

Of course there are also problems when it comes to the cooking stage - with food looking cooked (even singed) on the outside, but still being raw in the middle. Make sure you have a pair of tongs or a fish slice to hand for moving the food around the grill. This will mean you can flip regularly to ensure an even all-round coverage, and rotate food round hotter and cooler bits of the grill. (It’s worth getting some decent utensils: nothing worse than losing a sausage as you attempt to flip with a dodgy tool).

A meat thermometer can ensure that things are cooked through to the middle before plating up - almost a third (28%) of Brits admit to not checking before serving.

How Should I Dispose Of BBQ Coals or Ash?

If you are having a BBQ in your garden, then you might be tempted to put the cold coal ash into your compost or in the soil, but the benefits or potential hazards to your plants are much debated.

Recycle Now says: ”Ash from coal or anthracite should be put in your general waste bin since it has little or no nutritional benefit and is potentially harmful to soil, plants and consumers of edible produce.”

Note: always let the ash cool down before placing in any bin.

And if you have had a BBQ in a public place then make sure you are only doing so in a space that allows this activity - you can normally find details on your local council or parks page.

Take some water with you to put the BBQ out, take any litter away with you and be considerate to other people using the public space.