There’s nothing I love more than a good barbecue. Ok, technically maybe Christmas dinner and fish and chips of course (well I am from Scarborough!) but there’s almost nothing I love more than a good barbecue. What could be better than lounging around in the sunshine with a few beers, burgers sizzling away on the beautiful warm fires of the barbecue, food aplenty, a little music and good cheer amongst friends, the air filled with delicious, salivating scents.
Or at least that’s the theory…
The thing is, despite my love affair with this rustic form of dining, I have a long history of each of my barbecues, in one way or another, being a complete disaster. No sooner do I announce plans for a barbecue that the weather forecasters seem to practically run out of storm clouds to place on the map directly over my garden, surrounded inevitably by sunshine everywhere else across the country. Fortunately for me as a child my parents, knowing how much I love such occasions and keen not to disappoint, always ensured that our barbecues went ahead come hell or high water (ah… the barbecue in the flood, happy memories!) and rather than let me down would happily send me out into the wilderness to cook the food under the cover of the tallest tree on the street as thunder crashed overhead, the rain doused the flames and as everyone else watched happily from the comfort of the conservatory…
Then of course there was my general refusal to buy new charcoal on the basis that there was still loads left over from last year stored near the damp patch in the garage. Curiously enough we often struggled to get these barbecues lit despite the charcoal’s profession to be “self igniting” (a term that left me starting to think that it would just light itself one day in the garage but refuse whenever it was needed). Fear not though, whenever the charcoal proved tricky my scout training would always kick in and, whilst it may have taken copious numbers of matches, almost an entire campfire being built to ignite a single charcoal brick and it may have been 2am and everyone asleep before the first sausage made its way from the barbecue but by god I would always succeed!
Recently though I’ve been to many barbecues aiming to avoid this issue by having a gas cooker rather than cooking on the coals. The advantages of this are huge – an almost guaranteed fire reaching cooking temperature immediately and providing a nice, even heat throughout. No charcoal black sausages, no burgers so flame grilled they are still on fire as you serve them, just a normal grill but outside. However, I’m sorry folks but this is not truly a barbecue.
Burgers and kebabs so black they’re no longer recognisable as food or so undercooked they’re barely above freezing is all part of the fun of the barbecue! If several blokes aren’t standing nearby secreting some lighter fluid and a can of deodorant under their t-shirts and trying to explain where their eyebrows have gone you’re doing it wrong! Sure having actual edible food and fewer reports of food poisoning has a certain appeal but when it comes to the barbecue you have to make a decision: do you want to have an actual barbecue or just eat outside?
Barbecues aren’t about our evolved world of proper cookers and hygienic surfaces, they’re about getting back to the natural, caveman way of cooking, except with the exception of having a fridge to keep the beers cool and ketchup to make the charcoaled food actually taste nice! If you wanted your outdoor food to taste nice and not be deadly you should have gone to your local beer garden and ordered a nice steak. The ability to make fire with merely a few twigs, some matches, two bags of self-lighting charcoal, 4 lighters, a newspaper, a flamethrower, two litres of lighter fluid and a complete disregard for your own safety is the kind of survival skill we need to keep alive.
So step away from the gas canister and stop bringing all of that stuff out of the oven to just “finish” on the barbecue, it’s time to get back to nature and drag out the rusting, fly-ridden death-trap still filled with charcoal from the great barbecue of ’99. After all, that’s what it’s all about.