6 things you need to know before you barbecue
The weather finally seems to be improving across the UK, and it's likely that you'll want to make the most of the sunshine while it's here. What better way to get friends and family together than by lighting up the barbecue?
Whether you opt for a veggie skewer or a good old British banger, it's important to make sure you're cooking safely and hygienically so you and your guests can avoid food poisoning.
To help things run as smoothly as possible, we've put together our six tips for a perfect barbecue...
1. Clean thoroughly
Check that the barbecue is really clean before you start – a good scrub with a stiff brush and warm soapy water should do the trick. If the grill looks beyond hope, soak it in a solution of biological washing powder, then scrub the bars with a metal scourer, rinse and dry.
Remember: you may have washed it after its last use, but if it's been sat in the shed or garden it will definitely still need a fresh clean.
2. Follow hygiene rules
Don't leave food you would normally refrigerate standing around in the warm weather – cool boxes packed with ice blocks come in very handy for this. Always keep cold food below 5°C and hot food above 63°C.
If you've kept meat in the freezer, the Food Standards Association (FSA) recommends defrosting it in the fridge overnight as frozen meats do not cook as thoroughly on the barbecue. Place the meat on the bottom shelf of your fridge on a plate or tray so that the juices do not drip onto other food.
Avoid cross contamination while cooking by using different utensils and plates for raw and cooked food and washing your hands after touching raw meat.
3. Cook carefully
Remember that charred on the outside doesn't always mean cooked on the inside! You should always cut into and check burgers, sausages and poultry. All should be steaming hot, not pink when you cut into the thickest part, and all juices should run clear. An instant-read digital thermometer will take the guesswork out of cooking; make sure it’s inserted into meat at the thickest part and is touching meat, not bone.
If you want to baste your food with sauce during cooking, don’t use a marinade that’s had raw meat or fish sitting in it! Make up more marinade than you need and, before you add your raw main ingredient, pour off some into a separate bowl to use exclusively for basting. Throw any leftover marinades away immediately after moving meat or fish to the grill.
To help cook evenly, regularly turn the meat and move it around the barbecue. If in doubt, keep cooking! Where possible, consider cooking chicken and pork in the oven before giving it a final 'finish' on your barbecue. You will still achieve that special 'chargrilled taste' and you will know the meat is cooked all the way through!
4. Keep bugs at bay
There are always a few pesky pests that want to join in the fun! Wasps are a common offender, and contrary to popular belief, it's not your sugary drink that they're after. While adult wasps feed on sugar, they spend the summer hunting for protein to feed their young, so your beef burger isn't as safe as you think.
To keep them away, make sure you're covering up the food after everyone has been served — this will also help to deter ants and flies. If a wasp does appear, don't flap around as this may anger it and make it more likely to sting you.
5. Stop stickiness
To prevent sticking, grease the barbecue grill rack with a little of the natural fat from the meat you are using, or some sunflower oil. Some people also rub half a lemon or onion over the hot grill to help season food.
6. Prepare for next time
Once you’ve finished cooking, sprinkle some sand in the drip tray — it will absorb the cooking juices and you can easily sweep it out afterwards.
Leave a gas barbecue on for a while after you’ve finished cooking to burn off any food residue and, ideally, don’t let the sun go down on a dirty barbecue. It’s easier to clean while still warm, and then it will be all ready for next time.
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