The Great Outdoors
With umbrella systems, outdoor lighting and heating now readily available, al fresco dining is achievable 24/7, 365 days a year. Top tips and recipes for thrill-with-the-grill action – whatever the weather!
In the summer months the UK’s obsession with al fresco dining comes to the fore, and all eyes turn inevitably to the ubiquitous barbecue. But the challenge for clubs is to ensure that members and guests join the festivities at the club, rather than lighting the barbie at home. And with over 10 million people hosting barbecues last year, the home represents serious competition. So how do you ensure that the club barbecue is the one they all talk about?
Making some noise!
Letting members know that you’ll be twirling the tongs come rain or shine is a good starting point. Umbrella systems have reached such a level of sophistication now that not only can they protect against both rain and sun in equal measures (optimistically a beating sun) but they can include heating, lighting, fibre optics, speakers and graphics to ensure that every activity, from barbecues to weddings, can be held outdoors in comfort. Look for umbrellas which are resistant to dirt, and if the club is in an area used to severe weather warnings, make sure you look for the most durable options.
Patio heaters too have proved a boon for outdoor diners, and are now available as free standing, table top variants or even wall mounted. As a rule of thumb, a full size free standing patio heater (just under 8 foot) will cast enough heat to warm an area six metres in diameter. Put into practical terms, that’s around four to five tables. Where space is at a premium, table top heaters might be the answer. Terrace screens are another consideration – particularly for clubs whose sun trap is also a wind tunnel. Screens can be tailor-made and installed, with an option of colours and designs. The club logo can also be included.
Outdoor dining – the barbecue.
From hot dogs and burger to ribs and steaks, keeping the barbecue menu short will help club cooks focus on producing fewer things better. It will also minimise wastage. Time and inclination permitting, of course, you can add any amount of interesting accompaniments, such as colourful salads, curly fries and roast potatoes, all of which can be prepared in a conventional kitchen. Aim for high quality cuts of meat where possible – perhaps locally sourced. And remember to plan the menu around your equipment.
Keeping it safe.
Thoroughly cooked, safe food means that the temperature must be spot on. Light charcoal barbecues well in advance, and wait until the charcoal is glowing red with a grey, ‘powdery’ surface. For another check on the cooking temperature, hold your hand about six inches from its surface. If you can keep it there for over five or six minutes the barbecue isn’t ready for grilling, while at four/five minutes it’s reasonably hot, three minutes reasonably hot and two minutes the temperature is very hot.
Flaming good show.
If you want to add a little drama to the event, you can increase the smoke level by throwing wet wood chips on charcoal barbecues. Grill-lines add a professional touch. Place meat across the grill bars at the highest heat possible, and then turn it (same side) at right-angles – lengthwise to the grill bars – for the ‘cross hatch’ effect. Repeat on the other side. Return to normal cooking heat once the effect has been achieved.
Marinating meats pre cooking will infuse flavour throughout the food while also helping to retain moisture when cooking, protecting the food from intense heat without slowing the cooking process. Food can be marinated overnight, or for a more immediate solution, place the marinade and meat, fish or poultry together in a plastic bag before sealing. Massage in the marinade for a few minutes and place in the coldest part of the fridge for around 30 minutes.
Cuts of meat: good cuts for barbecues include rib steaks, T-bone steaks, pork cutlets and entrecote, lamb chops and noisettes of lamb. If you plan to use marinades, it’s worth noting that white meat absorbs marinades quickly and cooks rapidly. For lamb, consider marinating a whole rack of lamb, and then cook it before slicing into cutlets. Fish is another great ally of the barbecue. You can create colourful kebabs, alternating chunks of meaty, firm-fleshed fish such as salmon or monkfish. Equally, you can cook them whole, in fillets or in large chunks.
KEEPING IT SAFE - THE DOs AND DON’Ts
• Do wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing food, particularly after touching raw meat/poultry/fish.
• Do ensure that frozen meat is completely defrosted before barbecuing so it cooks evenly.
• Do cook all food thoroughly. Cut open burgers, sausages and chicken to check that they have been cooked through.
• Do save cooking time by part-cooking poultry in the kitchen, keep it chilled, and then finish it off on the barbecue.
• Do ensure that the grill is lit immediately when using gas. If the grill fails to light initially, turn off the gas and leave for a few minutes before retrying.
• Do have a fire blanket/ water spray handy for charcoal barbecues.
• Do store gas canisters safely and according to manufacturers’ instructions.
• Do ensure the charcoal is cold and/or the gas securely turned off or is disconnected before leaving.
And the don’ts
• Do not keep left over barbecued food for more than an hour in hot weather.
• Do not let children and animals anywhere near the barbecue.
• Do not use anything other than proper barbecue lighter fuel to light a charcoal
barbecue. Never use petrol or other inflammable liquids; the flame can travel up the liquid and set fire to you.
• Do not allow raw and cooked meats/poultry/fish to come into contact (as with normal good kitchen practise). Keep vegetables and salads separate from the meats/poultry/fish.
• Do not position the barbecue near fences, hedges etc or on uneven ground.
• Do not part-cook food on the barbecue and finish off later