Let's Eat

Getting your grill on al fresco

Don't save the barbecue for best, it's the perfect way to cook supper any day


When the weather’s hot, it’s one of the easiest ways to prepare your food — even just for a family meal. And with no frying and minimal oil, barbecuing can also be a healthier way to cook.

Cooking outdoors is an everyday occurrence in many other parts of the world (most street food is cooked on a barbecue) so the idea of treating barbecues as special-occasion meals may seem a bit odd to those from other countries.

Here in Britain we tend to limit barbecue fare to burgers and sausages, but there’s no need to stick to sausages, buns and burgers, or sugar-laden marinades and sauces. There’s so much more — focus on fish, poultry or “meaty” vegetables like mushrooms and aubergine, or imagine the possibilities of a Tel Aviv-style mangal with skewers of juicy, spiced chicken and veggies sizzling on the grill.

With so many of us likely to be staycationing this summer, firing up the grill is also a great opportunity to virtually travel across the globe and enjoy the cuisine of wherever we might have been — think Thai gae yang chicken, tandoori tofu, or Texan fajitas with all the “fixings”, not forgetting the pleasures of sumac-laced haloumi, or za’atar-scented shwarma in hot, toasted pita.

Let veggies play a starring role and you’ll satisfy vegans and vegetarians too. If you’re still craving a burger, it’s a cinch to make your own with turkey thigh mince, a dash of soy sauce and black pepper.

And why stop at savoury? Apricots and nectarines, pineapple, even strawberries and watermelon come off the grill hot, sweet and juicy, with a hint of smokiness, making a fabulous finish to a family meal.

Here are my tips for barbecue success this summer:

First things first

It takes time to heat up the grill and cook the main course, so it’s a good idea to have something for everyone to snack on. I like to brush some flatbreads with a little water then throw them on the grill for a minute or so once guests arrive and serve warm with a bowl of hummus or a simple salsa.


Prep ahead

To make life easier, prepare sides and salads well ahead — one of my favourites is a gorgeous platter of garlic and herb marinated grilled vegetables (see photo above).


To everything there is 
a seasoning

To add instant flavour and help browning, use a marinade or spice paste. My everyday go-to marinade is soy sauce, olive oil, sumac and crushed garlic.

For a delicious exterior and moist interior, mix crushed garlic and spices such as paprika, cumin and black pepper into a paste, then brush over the food any time up to 24 hours before cooking.

Top tricks of the grilling ninja

  • To prevent food from sticking, wait until the grill has heated up, then brush it with oil using a long-handled silicone brush before adding the food.
  • Don’t have your barbecue super-hot or your food will char on the outside before the middle is cooked. (What’s more, charred or blackened meat contains a harmful substance called acrylamide.)
  • If you want grill marks, let the food sit for the first few minutes without moving or turning it. To avoid overcooking, you don’t need to cook the second side as long.
  • Gas barbecues lose heat rapidly when you open the lid, so resist the temptation to peek or you’ll slow down the cooking process and let those wonderful aromas escape instead of infusing your food.
  • If you’re cooking chicken, choose thigh fillets or joints — they stay much juicier than breasts and are harder to overcook.
  • Fish can stick to the grill or fall apart when you try to take it off. So use firm fish such as salmon or tuna, and either grill it sitting on a bed of sliced lemons or woody herbs, or — even more exciting — on an alder wood or hickory smoking plank.
  • If you’re planning to cook your vegetables in real time, remember they need medium heat and take longer than you’d think. Chunks of onion, peppers or mushrooms are at their best cooked for a long time and slowly; so start them off before the protein — or better still, toss with a dash of oil and a pinch of sea salt then give them a blast in the microwave to soften in advance. You can do this several hours ahead.
  • Remember that food, especially meat, continues to cook a little even after it’s off the heat. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check if it’s cooked in the centre then transfer it to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
  • Don’t be tempted to use the warming rack, as this will lead to over-cooked meat or frizzled veggies.

Fruity finish

Halved fresh peaches, apricots and chunks of pineapple are wonderful when seared on a grill — the heat caramelises the surface, bringing out their natural sweetness, while the flesh becomes extra-juicy. Thread mixed fruit on bamboo skewers that have been soaked for a couple of hours (or use metal ones) and serve with a simple fruit sauce of puréed berries.

Judi Rose is the author (with Dr Jackie Rose) of To LIfe! Healthy Jewish Food

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