You might not know this, but between 28 May and 3 June 2018 it will be National Barbecue Week all over the UK. It’s a celebration of all things al fresco and as usual we’ll be putting on our own events, so watch this space.
National Barbeque Week intended to get Britons barbecuing more frequently, more imaginatively and more safely. That could mean dragging your barbecue out of the shed and brushing off the cobwebs, or it could mean investing in a new unit if you think it’s time for an upgrade – or if you’re completely new to the art.
If you’re looking to get sizzling, we’re here to help you with the basics of choosing a barbecue. We’d say about half of the choice comes from which type you need, a quarter comes from the amount of cooking you’ll be doing, and the final quarter is down to your personal tastes of how your barbeque looks.
So let’s dive in. It’s all pretty simple really!
Types of barbecue: gas and charcoal
Your first consideration is the kind of barbecue you want. There are two main fuel types – gas and charcoal. (Electric barbecues do exist but they are still quite niche.) Gas and charcoal barbecues have their admirers and detractors respectively, because they do produce quite different results and are used differently. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.
Gas barbecues: pros
- The main advantage of the gas barbecue over the charcoal is the time it takes to get up to temperature. It’s essentially instant, just like the hob in your kitchen. So when you want to barbecue – whether it’s a spur of the moment decision or you’re waiting for the sun to show – you’re good to go.
- As far as cooking is concerned, it’s an experience much more akin to cooking in the kitchen, so you’ll have a good instinct for how to cook and when things are ready.
- Gas barbecues are also somewhat cleaner than charcoal, and produce less smoke.
- You have much more control over the temperature and intensity of heat with gas, as it’s controlled directly by knobs.
- Gas BBQs often have multiple grills, so you can cook different foods with different techniques simultaneously.
Gas barbecues: cons
- Some people don’t consider gas barbecues “real”. They prefer the smoke, the glowing embers and the aromas of charcoal.
- Gas barbecues don’t tend to reach as high a temperature as charcoal, but that isn’t necessarily a negative, as it can mean less surface burning. However, it can mean less caramelisation, which some people like.
- Gas bottles probably work out more expensive per barbecue than charcoal, plus you’ll need to pay a deposit for your first bottle.
- Gas bottles can also be quite heavy as they need to be tough.
Charcoal barbecues: pros
- The charcoal barbecue comes complete with the aromas, tastes and crackling sound that can’t be imitated by gas barbecues. It’s this “earthy” essence that many fans see as the true nature of barbecuing.
- You will get that authentic smoky taste with a charcoal BBQ.
- Because of the simplicity of the design, charcoal barbecues are generally cheaper than their equivalent gas models.
- With no gas bottles to lump around, you can carry your BBQ in a small bag or simply on its own with the fuel inside. A surprisingly small amount of fuel will last for a whole party.
Charcoal barbecues: cons
- Charcoal barbecues can take a while to get up to temperature, anything from 20 to 40 minutes.
- Cleaning up after each use can be a drag, but it’s essential if you want to keep it working and efficient and to minimise the amount of ash on your food.
- Getting the charcoal lit isn’t always the easiest thing, although this can be helped with a little liquid fuel or a chimney starter.
- It’s much harder to control the temperature with a charcoal BBQ, the only option being to move the food closer to or further away from the heat.
So it all comes down to what kind of barbecuer you want to be. The cooking techniques and end products are quite different with each, so it really depends on the types of food you want to eat and how much convenience you prefer.
Size of barbecue
Next, you need to work out how many people you will be serving. If you like intimate parties with three or four people, the smallest size will be fine. Similarly, if you’re planning on taking the BBQ out with you to enjoy picnics and camping trips, you’re generally better off with a smaller model for obvious reasons. Some collapsible models are available for this very purpose.
Barbecues are measured in square centimetres, which is the area of the main grill. Generally speaking, this size guide will do the maths for you:
Up to 4 people: 1800 cm² 4–6 people: 1800–2500 cm² 6–8 people: 2500 cm² More than 8 people: >2500 cm²
Most of the time, the serving phase of a barbecue party lasts for an hour or more, so it’s not necessarily a case of having everyone’s food done at the same time – you can put a production line into action to keep a steady supply of food coming, whatever the size of the barbecue.
Go for quality
Like all things, there’s a wide range of price points in the barbecue world. It’s often tempting to pay a little less for an inferior product with barbecues, as people reason that it won’t be used very often so won’t suffer much wear and tea. However barbeques are subjected to extremes of temperature and weather, so need to be made of firm materials with good coating. They can also get bashed about somewhat if they’re being moved around, so again, something hard-wearing will prolong its lifespan.
Some of the best names in the business are Weber, Landmann and Heston – stick with these and you won’t go far wrong. Weber is the brand behind the classic kettle BBQ, but they also make excellent gas BBQs. Landmann specialises in gas barbecues but makes brilliant charcoal models and smokers, too. Heston is the company Michelin-starred Heston Blumenthal founded, and as you can imagine, it is engineered and designed to perfection, just like his recipes.
Lids and accessories
Many barbecues come with a lid, which keeps the heat in and has more of a “roasting” effect than a purely grilling one, so if your style of barbecuing demands (for example if you like to cook joints of meat of thick burgers), this might be for you.
We’ll be posting a blog soon about choosing specific barbecue accessories such as tools and add-ons, so please keep popping back to get the low-down.
If you have any questions to ask about choosing a barbecue, please get in touch with our knowledgeable staff or pop into our store to talk it over.