Food & Drink

7 pro tips for the best summer BBQ ever

From two-zone cooking to grilling sweet treats, these hacks will make you a BBQ legend this summer.

Chefs and BBQ pros have shared their top tips for grilling this summer
BBQ Chefs and BBQ pros have shared their top tips for grilling this summer (Alamy Stock Photo)

The weather is tentatively starting to play ball, which means one thing: BBQ season is well and truly here.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just dipping your feet into the world of grilling, everyone needs a helping hand along the way.

Experts have given their top tips for taking your BBQ to the next level this summer…

1. Don’t be afraid to try something new

If you’ve spent the last few summers slapping burgers and a few sausages onto the BBQ, it’s time for a change. While you can’t go wrong with a good burger, there are so many other options out there that can take your BBQ’ing to the next level.

“Don’t be afraid to try grilling new ingredients – most things that are cooked indoors can be cooked outdoors too,” says Helen Graves, author of BBQ Days, BBQ Nights (Hardie Grant, £22).

“Try grilling new potatoes, for example (they become beautifully tender with a smoky crust) or try skewering smaller vegetables like peas to get some smoky, charred flavour into them.”

(Alamy Stock Photo)

2. Use natural fire

“When it comes to BBQ, cook with natural fire,” urges Nathaniel Smith, author of Flayvaful (Murdoch Books, £22). “This might seem obvious, but you can’t beat cooking with coal or wood.”

In the same vein, he adds: “Stop using BBQ fluids, they ruin your food.”

3. Plan ahead

The best BBQs come from a bit of careful planning. “There’s nothing worse than having everyone wait for you because the meat is taking longer than expected,” notes Smith.

“Think about what time you want to start serving people and work backwards. Allow time for your BBQ to come up to temp and if you’re really serious, invest in a chimney starter to speed up the lighting process.”

If you did want the best out of your BBQ experience, you could go one step further and invest in a good thermometer. “Nobody wants to spend money on ingredients just for them to be overcooked,” Smith says.

“Let’s face it, most people don’t BBQ often and if you’re not used to being on the BBQ you can easily underestimate the heat source. Any decent food thermometer will give you precise temperatures, which takes out the guesswork!” Plus, you don’t just have to use the thermometer when you’re grilling – it’s also handy when checking food you’ve cooked in an oven too.

4. Try ‘two-zone’ cooking

If you don’t set up your BBQ for ‘two-zone’ cooking, now’s the time to start. This is where you place all the coals on one side of the grill, with Graves explaining: “This leaves you with a cooler ‘coal-free’ zone – use this when your BBQ is getting too hot (for example when too much fat is dripping and is causing flare-ups), for storing food that is cooked but that you want to keep warm, or for cooking ingredients more slowly, for example larger pieces of meat or vegetables.”

Smith is also a big fan of the two-zone method, saying: “So many people burn food because they just put everything on at high temperatures. Have your BBQ set up so the charcoal is on one side for searing and the other side is effectively an oven once you put the lid down.”

5. Keep the lid closed

Anyone who has BBQ’d before knows the insatiable urge to continually open up the lid and check how your food is cooking – but this could be a major mistake.

Keeping the lid closed is “more economical, it locks in more flavour and keeps your temperature nice and steady”, says Smith.

“This obviously depends on what you’re making, but if it’s not a quick cook, there’s absolutely no need for your lid to be open constantly. This is honestly one of the keys to making the best jerk, because jerk is a method – it’s not just a seasoning.”

6. Keep things hot and clean

Genevieve Taylor, author of Scorched (Quadrille, £25), specialises in cooking fish on the BBQ – and there are some specific techniques that will lead you to seafood success.

“When cooking any sort of fish on the BBQ it’s essential that the surface is very hot and very clean before the fish goes on it, this really helps to minimise sticking,” she says.

“I like to cook fish on a perforated grilling tray that I get really hot over the charcoal before I cook on it – it just means that if things do get a little ‘sticky’ you can lift the whole tray off and use a fish slice under calm and controlled conditions, rather than trying to unstick it directly from the fiercely hot grill bars. Using two skewers per kebab is also a great idea to keep things secure and stop the prices spinning around.”

It’s a good piece of advice for any BBQ – Smith also recommends cleaning your kit regularly, saying: “A dirty BBQ is not only a little bit disgusting, but it also contributes towards temperature spikes and flare-ups.”

7. Use the dying heat

When you’ve cooked the main meal and the heat is flickering out, use this as an opportunity to cook a sweet treat.

“Use the dying heat of your BBQ to cook dessert,” says Graves. “While we’re eating the main course, I love to throw a roasting tray of stone fruits (eg. peaches) into the BBQ with some white wine and spices – close the lid and let them cook in the remaining heat. They’ll become sticky and soft and are perfect served with ice cream.”