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You can’t beat cooking on an open flame and dining al fresco. Plus, barbecue food tastes so good too. Kick-starting National BBQ Week, we’re making sure we’re ready for a sizzling summer with our Lakelovers guide to all things flame-grilled, smoked and slightly charred.

Cooking with Fire

The BBQ menu is the number one priority when arranging a grill-off, and good planning is key for avoiding undercooked and burnt sausages.

As with all catering, planning is everything. Make side dishes, like coleslaw, potato salad, green salad, vegetable sticks, crisps and dips, in advance. And set up a ‘serving table’ with napkins, cutlery, sauces etc, to reduce traffic in and out of the house.

The trick for BBQ menu planning is to keep things simple. Don’t try to transfer your indoor cookery skills to the outdoor grill as situations like not being able to control the cooking temperature and having less space will cause temperatures to rise, for the wrong reasons.  Instead, try choosing a theme or one main dish and stick to that. For example, gourmet burgers, creative kebab sticks or a whole fish, like trout. Reduce cooking time by flattening out cuts of meat, like rolling a chicken breast or butterflying large cuts.  This will help take the pressure off, as will investing in a meat thermometer.

For slower cook dishes, part cook inside in advance. It sounds obvious, but make sure your BBQ or grill is large enough to cater for your party size. Once coals have heated up, stack some to one side to create different ‘cooking zones’, giving you a cooler area for keeping cooked dishes warm. Ceramic dishes are best to use if you’re going to transfer and keep things warm.

Tinfoil parcels are a great trick for stress-free and completely delicious BBQ cooking. Wrap a seasoned sweet potato in tinfoil, splash with oil and stick on the hot coals for 15-20 minutes. Once cooked, open and serve with Greek yoghurt and spring onion slices. This kind of cooking is not only easy, but is what cooking on a fire is all about.

BBQ popcorn is also so much easier than you may think and is a great party piece. Make a tinfoil parcel of popping corn cornels with a sprinkling of oil, seal and pop on the coolest part of the BBQ for 5-10 minutes.

The Art of Smoking

Smoked food is enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment and you can turn your BBQ into an outdoor smokery easily. Food cooked on a BBQ has so much flavour and smoking it takes your BBQ game to the next level, especially if you use flavored wood chips.

Slow cooked beef brisket in a delicious marinade is a trendy choice for smoking at the moment, but smoked Cumberland Sausage is just as tasty. It is not just meat that is good for smoking. If you can get sweetcorn with the husks on, soak them water and the pop on a BBQ that has a lid. They will steam cook and the water will create smoke to add to the flavour. Jamie Oliver’s recipe of rolling barbecue sweetcorn in butter, fresh chill’s and goat’s cheese and serving with lime, makes for a superb yet simple BBQ party dish.

There’s not just the food to consider, but BBQ’s can create a lot of smoke and if the wind direction changes this can get in guest’s eyes and is not the BBQ party atmosphere that you want. Minimise fat dripping onto hot coals to reduce smoke by placing a tray under the grill and use lean cuts of meat if you can.

Make sure your BBQ is separated out away from the dining area to keep smoke away from guests,  but close enough to shout out when orders are ready. BBQ’s are best in sheltered spots, preferably against the house, but make sure there’s nothing overhanging above or nearby. Also consider proximity to the kitchen, as you’ll be making a lot of trips to-and-fro.

Sizzling Host

On the subject of smoke, consider having a change of clothes planned for once food is served as BBQ smell can linger.

Whilst you are focused on the food and may think that games and entertainment are just a distraction from the main event, when you’re under the heat of the coals having guests watching is not what you want. So plan games and entertainment in space away from the BBQ so you don’t have guests getting in the way. Many garden games can be hired, and the likes of garden quoits, giant Jenga and Connect Four are great for all generations.

A summer BBQ soiree is a pretty hands-on affair for guests too, with diners making up their own burger buns and negotiating a hot kebab stick whilst standing. A spare table that is free from the clutter of side dishes and grilled delights is ideal for this scenario, especially if you’re catering for a large party. For drinks, set up a ‘serve yourself’ bar and don’t forget to grab yourself a cool refreshment as you cook.

Flaming Heathy BBQ

Marinades not only add extra flavour to your sizzling BBQ menu, they also reduce charring if coated for 1 hour prior to cooking on the barbecue. Charring is only a health concern if you’re planning on cooking on the barbecue regularly, but a nice Tex-Mex, Indian Spice or Honey Soy marinade is well worth doing.

A veggie BBQ can offer the same intense flavour hit as its meat alternative but much healthier. Vegetable kebabs are sensational when done on the BBQ, and haloumi and paneer both work well on the grill – combine with button mushrooms, peppers, red onions and courgette for a vegetarian feast. Jackfruit is doing the rounds in the veggie foodie circuit as an alternative to pulled pork so why not impress guests with a stacked Jackfruit bun.

BBQ’s are a particularly great way to get kids to enjoy their veggies so get them involved with making their own kebabs (soaking wooden skewers in water prior to using), and enjoy teaching the next generation the art of BBQ cooking. Give your little chefs aprons and you’ve got yourself a team of servers and dish collectors too!

BBQ season is about about getting hands-on and enjoying the intense flavour of cooking on a flame. Take care and enjoy taking the heat out of the kitchen and into the garden.

Enjoy a scorching summer holiday in the Lake District.