The sun won’t hang around for ever: get your sizzle on while the blue skies last with the best barbecues around, says Chris Carter.
The bad news is the longest day was last week. The good news is July begins on Sunday. So, if you are yet to indulge in a spot of alfresco cooking, or your old barbecue is frazzled, there’s still plenty of time to get your sizzle on. In fact, July and August tend to be the hottest months in Britain anyway. So if May – the sunniest on record, according to the Met Office – is anything to go by, there should be plenty of blue-sky days to come before autumn rolls around again.
Charcoal or gas?
Friends have fallen out and neighbours have gone to war over this question. They needn’t have bothered. “Charcoal is obviously the best,” says The Times’ food editor Tony Turnbull – “ideally single varietal and from a hand-coppiced wood in Oxfordshire or something”. Some enthusiasts invest in charcoal “libraries” of oak, apple and ash chips for various grilling needs, “as if they are culinary curators rather than middle-aged wannabes overseeing a sausage incinerator”. But there’s no doubt. Charcoal gives you the best flavour, especially if you throw on some branches of rosemary or a sprig of thyme for added aroma.
That said, Turnbull confesses to having bought a “gas-fired beauty”. It’s “an age thing”, he says. “I got fed up with spending hours waiting for the charcoal to come up to heat while watching the rain clouds moving in.” Well, we all have our crises of faith.
Charcoal it is. And charcoal’s charcoal, right?
Er, no. “You may think that one bag of charcoal is almost identical to another,” says Olivia Abel on Business Insider UK. But you would be wrong. “There are actually many different types and styles of charcoal to choose from.” For starters, you have your briquettes, lump charcoal and flavoured briquettes. Last year, barbecue maker Weber introduced its first briquettes and “the barbecue world buzzed with excitement”, says Abel. They are a great all-rounder. The reviewer on Mad Meat Genius, a reviews site, also gave it the authoritative thumbs-up: “We are very pleased with the performance and longevity of Weber charcoal briquettes. It passed our uncontrolled experiment with flying colours.” So, there you are. An 8kg bag costs around £13 in Britain. We look at some of the best barbies to fire it up in below.
Everdure Fusion charcoal
Heston Blumenthal’s achingly hip Everdure Fusion charcoal can be plugged in, which not only makes lighting the coals as simple as pressing a button, but it also powers pop-up rotisseries, says Wired. In just a few moments the charcoal starts to smoke and within five minutes the coals are red hot. After ten, it’s ready for cooking. If you prefer the authentic taste charcoal offers, but hate the uncertainty and waiting around, “it’s brilliant”. As for the rotisserie, two clamps securely grip whatever it is you want to cook up to 15kg. It will gently turn at the press of a button. The porcelain enamel “firebox” also makes cleaning more akin to scrubbing a roasting tray. “Expensive and excessive, but if you’ve got the budget you won’t be disappointed.” This is “space-age style for the modern Neanderthal”. £899, EverdureByHeston.co.uk
Weber Genesis II E-310
“Big Weber barbecues are the ones you see keen cooks drooling over in department stores,” says Expert Reviews. “The engineering, durability, cooking performance and hi-tech extras all combine to make this a world-famous brand with serious kudos.” Take the gas-fuelled Weber Genesis II E-310, for example. It feeds up to eight people and boasts solid, precision-controlled dials. The porcelain-enamelled grate is hard-wearing and has a round centre that can be removed and replaced with Weber’s griddle and wok set (which costs extra). It is also compatible with Weber’s app-controlled temperature-monitoring system, iGrill (not included). You stick the probe in and it tells you when your food is ready. £797, JohnLewis.com
Big Green Egg
A barbecue as well as a culinary institution, the ceramic Big Green Egg grill and smoker emerged in the 1970s and has won over a cult following in the years since, says the Evening Standard. Temperatures can be accurately controlled over long periods thanks to its many levels, its thick cast-ceramic walls and heavy lid with two vents. In fact, it can cook slowly for ten hours on just one load of charcoal – perfect for slow-roasting meats, such as pulled pork. The Egg is also up to the task of searing steaks, and you can even cook pizza and bread on it. The Big Green Egg may be expensive, but it “offers enough alfresco possibilities to last a lifetime”. £1,275, JohnLewis.com
Napoleon Triumph 495
The Napoleon Triumph 495 is “beautifully made with really heavy grills, and plenty of space, including a useful cupboard underneath”, says The Daily Telegraph. What’s more, if you’re torn between buying a charcoal or a gas barbecue, with the Triumph, you can have both. An optional extra allows you to place a charcoal-loaded plate over the gas flame, which you then turn off once the coals have got going. It also comes with a rotisserie. Nor do you have to lug around “hideous” gas cylinders: Napoleon makes built-in barbecues that can be hooked up to the main gas supply. £699.99, KeenGardener.co.uk
The charcoal-fuelled Ozpig may be portable, but it will just as well stay put in your garden for use as a full-time barbie, says The Independent. It also doubles up as a campfire cooker. So, whether it’s chilli or chargrilling you’re doing, the Ozpig can do both, thanks to a swivel cooking surface where you can either apply food directly to the grill or use a pan atop the heat source. The legs and chimney do fit into the barrel, and it comes with its own carry bag, but the whole barbecue weighs around 17kg, so “you don’t want to be hiking too far with it on your back”. If you’re a rotisserie fan, there’s even an attachment you can buy for it. “It’s sturdy, steady and for serious campfire and portable cooks.” £299, BBQ-barn.co.uk
And for those who have everything…
“The Nissan Smokin’ Titan is one hell of a name for one hell of a machine,” says Joe Finnerty in The Sun. A modified Nissan Titan XD Gas King Cab, which would otherwise cost $36,590 in America, the beast made its appearance at the 2018 Work Truck Show in Indianapolis, Indiana, in March. It is “the ultimate BBQ accessory”. The pick-up truck has been fitted with a six-burner stove, a fridge-freezer and wooden cutting boards for prep on its custom flatbed. The trailer, pulled by a “hefty” V8 engine, features a built-in barbecue smoker, a kitchen sink and water storage, plus boxes to keep your wood pellets and chips. There’s even a spice rack to keep your meat seasoned, and Titan’s premium sound system “so you can get the tunes pumping” at your party.