How to make barbecuing less work and more fun

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If you find yourself worried about overcooking or undercooking food or sending everyone home with food, this article is for you.

These barbecue secrets can help you relax, allowing space during your cook-out to have a chat.

But if you lovingly tend your barbecue armed with a Dutch oven, temperature probe, plancha plate, and fish basket, this article is not for you.

Basics: The heat is on (and off)

To get a good result (and wiggle room in cooking times), set your barbecue up with a direct heat area and a cooler area off the coals – which means putting them to one side rather than in the middle.

If your barbecue has a lid, you can cook with indirect heat – a bit like roasting – and your food is unlikely to scorch as long as the lid is on. A lid is crucial for chicken pieces, large joints of meat, or anything you’d usually bake rather than a griddle. Without a lid, you’re basically trying to bake with the oven door open. If you want to barbecue chicken without a lid, bake it in the oven before grilling.

But if you are directly grilling, choose boneless cuts of meat or veg. Alternatively, follow advice from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to pre-cook meat on the bone (like these gorgeous ribs) in the oven before finishing on the grill. This prevents the charred/raw conundrum.

Your barbecue needs time and space

The distance between coals and food is important, especially if you’re cooking meat that drips and causes flare-ups. A little flare-up doesn’t matter if you can’t reach the food to leave those bad-tasting sooty deposits. But if it’s too close (disposable barbecues!), you have little option other than to watch your dinner.

One last thing about timing: it’s gospel to wait for the coals to be covered in grey ash so they’re hot enough to cook on. So start your barbecue 15 minutes earlier than you think you should. How many times have you stressed over the food being late, while everyone gets and fills up on crisps, only to find at the end you have the perfect set of coals for cooking?