Self-confessed ‘Bristolian barbecue nut’ Kevin Baldwin is the pitmaster of The Social Smokers – a group of competitive BBQ fans who showcase their outdoor grilling skills across the UK and have picked up a number of trophies in the process.
We asked Kevin to dish the dirt on how to turn your own back-door barbecue into a work of succulent art, starting with the essential kit you’ll need to buy:
“If you’re starting out my recommendation is to get yourself a kettle barbecue, a chimney starter with a good meat thermometer. Check out Facebook for the Countrywood Smoke and British BBQ Society as there’s always advice available there. I recommend getting some fruit wood chunks from a tree surgeon or garden centre and getting stuck in.
“If you’re not keen on charcoal then gas is fine, but I’d recommend a barbecue that closes without massive gaps at the back. It’ll generally cost a lot but it’s easier and still a lot of fun.”
Here’s six of Kevin’s pro-tips for you to keep in mind.
1. Close the lid
“Ideally you should cook with two zones on the BBQ. One side really hot and the other with a gentle heat (indirect). This allows you to colour the food then move to the other side to slowly get it up to temperature and keep in the flavour. Keeping the lid closed whenever possible helps even the cook and reduce flare ups.”
2. Invest in a thermometer
“It’s an essential bit of kit. Pulling your food off at the right temperature will ensure its moist, tasty and will reduce the risks of poisoning. You can use a cheap digital thermometer from Ikea if you are on a budget or look at an instant read thermo-pen. They even have remote BBQ thermometers that allows you to know the temperature of your BBQ and meat from inside the house. It’s excellent for the long cooks.”
3. Get creative with the basics
“I remember British BBQ’s often being cheap bangers and burgers. Have a go at making your own burgers, buy quality sausages, throw some salmon on an untreated plank of wood and cook indirect.
“If you have kids involved in the BBQ, try a ‘burger school’. all the kids (and probably plenty of adults) make their own burgers using any herbs and flavours around the kitchen then form a patty and cook. I use little flags on cocktail sticks so everyone knows which burger is theirs – plus it’s a great way to get kids to try new flavours.”
4. Try a big slab of meat
“From pork ribs (quite expensive these days) to beef ribs (surprisingly cheap for the amount of meat). You can also try pulled pork, where the key to success is cooking until it’s really soft, like butter. The same goes with American staple beef brisket. If you fancy experimenting with the latest trends try Brazilian favourite Picanha or a tri-tip steak.”
5. Put on a show
“Try your best to make it look good. You can tie fresh herbs on the handle of a wooden spoon to use as a basting brush, or even try cool looking dishes like ‘beer-can burgers’ where you use a beer can to shape the burger into a cup shape and add all sorts of flavours (onions, peepers,cheese,mushrooms, bacon lardons etc).
“I also recommend getting a squirty bottle filled with apple juice to spray on the food to help keep it moist, it’s handy to tame the flames”
6. Head down to Grillstock
“Once you’re hooked on BBQ head to the Grillstock festival in Bristol harbourside. 30 of the country’s top BBQ teams compete in 8 rounds of BBQ competitions over a whole weekend. Rounds include, pulled pork, brisket, ribs, chicken, chef’s choice, burger, hot wings and a mystery round. Usually there are tonnes of free samples of the best BBQ in the country (if not the world) and you also see some of the most impressive and massive BBQ’s around.”
Grillstock Festival takes place at Bristol Harbourside on July 2-3