BBQ, Barbie, Braai…… you may think these are all synonymous with Barbeque, but there are differences.
Those differences are not just in terms of slang, but have to distinct denominations. There’s the American version of barbeque, which means “low and slow” cooking, often overnight or longer, with cuts of meat that appreciate it, like brisket, using an indirect source of heat from the smoke of a wood fire, for example.
Then there’s what our Yank friends would call “grilling”, which most of the rest of the world would call a barbeque, where things are cooked over a direct heat, i.e. from charcoal. In both cases, al fresco dining is mandatory, or is at least strongly encouraged.
If I lived in the sunny climes of Australia, I am pretty sure my entire kitchen would be outside. With my complextion, it would be outside under shade, but nonetheless, able to enjoy the fresh air we so often are unable to in the UK (unless you like inhaling rain) – it’s no surprise that the UK has some the highest sales, pro rata, of convertible cars in Europe and that we are renowned for going nuts when there’s one ray of sunshine.
This poses a problem for avid barbequeists. It’s brilliant to be able to have a spontaneous braai outside in the garden if the weather is good enough, but then there are logistical issues. If you are a diehard charcoal fan, you have to ask yourself is the grill clean and the old ash cleared out (and god forbid it got wet and turned into an alkaline corrosive), do I have enough firelighters/charcoal/fad fuel of the day/lighter fluid etc? Can I afford to be so decadent as to constantly use disposable grills?. Is the weather going to still be good enough in and hour once it is finally lit (if it does at all)?
I was a die hard charcoal barbequeist. I used to mock those with gas grills as being cheats, or amateurs and for missing out on that smokey flavour that comes with something that’s burning but isn’t propane. But, due to the logistics I ended up almost never having a barbeque because of the faff factor, which is a crying shame when the weather is nice and my gas-grill friends were having the last laugh.
But then I discovered lava rocks. The conventional wisdom is that they don’t alter the flavour of the food relative to a normal gas barbie; I disagree. These are rocks that sit between the gas burners and the grill and absorb the heat from the fire and then radiate it back upwards, which has the effect of even heat distribution – that’s certainly a win for gas!. The smoke flavour with a gas barbeque is meant to come from dripping fat igniting and producing smoke; straight down onto a gas burner gives you a very uneven radius of smoke production (basically where the burners are), but lava rocks, when nicely hot, seem to both combust fat but also absorb some of the excess too – this in turn produces enough smoke to impart just enough of an edge of that flavour onto food.
So now, in these sunnier months, my Outback Excel 300 Gas BBQ is a permenant feature on the patio (primarily covered due to rain!). The logistics are simple – light and cook (not quite instantly, just like the grill in your kitchen it needs five minutes to get to a good temperature), and when done, turn off. Only have to clean the grill each time and the rest wipes down easily enough. I’ve also worked out that in terms of fuel cost, it’s cheaper too – especially when just cooking for two. Keeping aside the investment needed in a gas cylinder for now, a good charcoal Weber is not dissimilarly priced and I am left wondering why it took me so long to see the light.