Barbecuing Techniques There are three basic methods of cooking food on a barbecue; they vary according to how much patience is required from you, the chef, but the one thing they have in common is that when done right, the results are excellent.
Direct Grilling This is the simplest and most commonly-used way of barbecuing in the UK and involves the direct application of heat to food. Once the charcoal (on a charcoal barbecue) has stopped flaming and turned white (about 20-30 minutes after lighting), it is spread evenly beneath the grill, giving a consistent heat to all areas. The food is placed on the grill and, to avoid any burning, will probably be turned several times during the cooking process. Here's a hint: use tongs rather than a fork to turn your burgers and so on. With tongs you can turn the meat without piercing it and that means, a) the food with be moist and tender, and b) you avoid flare-ups as the hot fat ignites on contact with the coals. Once the food is cooked you could serve immediately but if you need to keep it warm, you've got two choices. You could keep an area beneath the grill free of charcoal or you could place a few layers of aluminium foil at the edge of the grill and use it to 'park' the cooked food and keep it warm.
Indirect Grilling This method is still grilling in the sense that it's dry and relatively high heat, but as the food isn't placed directly above the heat source the cooking time is longer and larger cuts of meat can be barbecued. For this, you'll need a BBQ with a lid. Once the charcoal is ready, don't spread it around evenly but keep it to one side of the grill and place a metal dish to act as a drip tray under the main part of the grill area. Put the food on the grill above the tray and close the lid. This method approximates the working of a kitchen oven. It takes more time but the pay-off is that the meat will be tender and have cooked more evenly (although in order to ensure that, you should turn the meat once during cooking. Either that or arrange the charcoal in a ring, surrounding the cooking area). Another advantage of this method is that once proceedings are under way you can chill out and join the party for a while, unlike direct grilling which requires your constant supervision. Another hint: although this way of cooking obviously lends itself to large joints of meat or whole chickens (not so much a Sunday roast as the Sunday barbeque) it also works well for sausages which, because of the fat content, can be problematic when direct grilling. Finally, if you really have to have that slightly blackened, 'barbecued' look, you can always put the food directly over the coals for a few minutes once it's cooked.
Smoking OK, getting even slower now. Smoking is the traditional barbecuing method in the Southern US states and involves no direct heat to the food at all. In fact, in most smoker barbecues the fire is actually contained in a separate box to the side of the main, enclosed cooking chamber. The temperature around the food is relatively low (about two-thirds that of a conventional grill) and the cooking is done by exposing the food to hot smoke passing through the chamber rather than flame or direct heat. The smoke comes from damp wood pellets or chips which are added to the fire box once the charcoal is ready for cooking (covered in that white ash). The knack is twofold. First, you must keep the smoke passing through because if it is trapped inside the cooking chamber the food will acquire a bitter, creosote-y taste; keep the air vents open for that free flow. Second, you need to maintain the temperature at the right level; many specialist smokers have a gauge on the lid allowing easy monitoring. The results will have a distinct smoky flavour and potentially be very, very tender because of the long cooking time. Different types of wood chips give different-tasting smokes and can be chosen to suit the food, for example, applewood chips to go with pork. Another possibility, if you're in the mood for an experiment, is that instead of soaking the wood chips in water beforehand, you could try beer or wine. Although the market is full of specialist smoker barbecues, as long as your regular barbeque has a lid, you can try smoking.