I recently asked Heston Blumenthal for his top tips on how to barbecue for a party.
And although it was only a short conversation, he certainly turned my ideas on how to barbecue completely upside down.
We met at the launch of his 4K Everdure outdoor charcoal oven at the Sipping Rooms in London’s Canary Wharf. He was there with the Fat Duck team, so I was also able to nab Otto Romer of the Fat Duck for his tips from him as well.
Heston seems remarkably passionate about plants and gardens. And he says ‘there has always been something magical about cooking together with friends around a BBQ.’
How to barbecue checklist
- Don’t try to cook too many different elements. Keep it to one or two simple dishes
- Plan ahead. All the salads, sauces, relishes, bread and desserts should be finished before the first guest steps in the door.
- Let barbecue meat rest. Once cooked, leave meat to sit for at least five minutes before slicing or serving.
- Use elements from your garden. Try herbs in cocktails or in the barbecue coals.
- Decorate your garden
- Enjoy yourself. Don’t get too wrapped up in doing too much.
Heston’s best ‘how to barbecue’ tip
‘It’s the same advice as I give for Christmas,’ said Heston. ‘Don’t do too much. Historically people have thought that the more variety you have, and the more things you cook, the better it’s going to be.’
‘But go the other way. Don’t try to provide too much variety. Focus on what you’re serving.’
If you relate this to how we entertain inside, this makes perfect sense. How often do we offer people chicken, lamb, burgers, sausages and steak in the same meal when we’re entertaining indoors?
So whether you’re just learning how to barbecue or you’re already an expert, it makes a lot of sense to focus your attention on just one or two dishes. Then you can get them right.
And at the launch, the Fat Duck team was barbecuing for an all-day press event. The menu was almost minimalist for a buffet – a choice of pastrami or ribs for the main, accompanied by a salad and fries. Delicious!
More Fat Duck barbecue tips
I also asked Otto Romer, head of development at the Fat Duck for his tips.
‘Plan ahead’. This is his number one tip from him.
Once again, it was reflected in the meal I saw prepared for us by the Fat Duck team. The only items being cooked were the two barbecued meats and a chargrilled prawn starter. Everything else had been prepared ahead.
At home, this could mean doing almost everything the day before, giving you the time and energy to enjoy your guests on the day.
Let barbecued meat rest
Otto emphasized the importance of allowing cooked barbecue meat to ‘rest’ for at least five minutes after it finishes cooking. This allows the juices to settle. So when you cut into the meat, you won’t lose so much.
‘To cook the perfect steak, turn it every 10-15 seconds for about 2-3 minutes,’ said Otto. ‘Then let it rest for five minutes.’ (If you prefer well-done steak, you’ll need more cooking time.)
Heston is clearly intensely involved in all his collaborations. The analytical approach that led him to serve caviar with chocolate because of their molecular similarities has echoes in the designs of the barbecues.
For example, the Hub charcoal barbecue has an exceptionally shallow tray because you don’t actually need lots of charcoal. A thin layer heats up more quickly and stays hot enough to cook for as long as you need it. I’ve always been irritated by the feeling that I was wasting half the charcoal I used on conventional barbecues.
‘Use something from your garden’
Heston has spoken about the healing qualities of plants and gardens.
So he suggests an almost symbolic use of ‘something from your garden.’ ‘If you’ve got anything at all in your garden you can use it in the meal – even just leaves or some lovage – use it,’ he said. ‘Make a big point of using it. Enjoy it.’
I was impressed by the way The Sipping Rooms decorated their outside bar, set up for the occasion. As it is virtually in the street, they presumably have to dismantle it every night, but it was beautifully decorated with plants and flowers.
Maybe this is something we domestic cooks and gardeners forget sometimes. You can decorate the outside in the same way you can decorate the inside.
And with all that time you’re saving by only cooking one or two barbecue dishes, why not? See here for Garden Party Decorations and Easy Garden Party Ideas.
Gardens have an ‘energy’ about them…
‘People can spend all day running around and they don’t get the chance to enjoy their own garden,’ said Heston. ‘Gardens aren’t just about what you look at, they’re also about the interaction with nature. They have an energy about them. So if you’re inviting people to your garden, get involved. That’s what I say.’
And what about the barbecues themselves?
Heston says that he wanted to bring the qualities of a ‘high end’ kitchen to the barbecue. So the 4K outdoor charcoal oven (note – it’s more than just a barbecue) costs £1,799.
That’s a lot more than the ‘average’ barbecue. But it does baking, roasting, grilling and slow cooking as well as barbecuing, so it’s more of a year-round addition to the kitchen. My brother-in-law has a high end barbecue, which he keeps just outside the back door. He uses it throughout the year.
The 4K is super-insulated, so it uses less charcoal (and isn’t as hot on the outside). There are meat probes, permanently attached, so you can’t lose them. And bluetooth connection so that your phone can tell you when your meat is cooked to perfection. Plus timers, temperature displays and everything you’d expect from a top notch oven.
Watch the video:
More about how to barbecue
Find Heston Blumenthal’s barbecue recipes and cooking tips online.
See here for how to find the Everdure range of gas and charcoal barbecues, represented by Kettler.
One of the best-known and highest rated ‘how to barbecue’ books is Barbecue! Bible: 500 recipes by Steven Raichlen. (links to Amazon are affiliated, see disclosure).
And see more ideas for decorations from the garden on my Pinterest board here.
If you’re thinking of installing an outdoor kitchen or re-designing your garden for entertaining, then take a look at the Frustrated Gardener blogger’s tips – he designed his delightful small town garden specifically for entertaining.
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