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Saturday, 2 April 2011

Understanding BBQ - Part 1: The BBQ Gadgets

BBQs are casual fun for everyone
What can be better than a BBQ gathering? It is casual, fun for everyone. 
Nice Healthy food, Salads and sides, Many refreshing drinks and coolers, children running around, chit chats.... and best of all cooking and eating in the beautiful outdoors. 

Fun in the outdoors
Create a buffet of delicious sides
With that said, some find BBQs a bit of extra work, some panic and don't know where to start! Don't Panic... with this information I am going to help you learn all about BBQ and even help you learn how to host the perfect BBQ bash. Throughout April, I will be dedicating the posts to BBQ recipes from mains, to sides, Salads, Desserts...etc in order for you to have abundance to choose from. Therefore, do take the time to Read the posts, get to know the recipes, and do make the time to put them to practice. You will be impressed with the outcome, as well as impressive!

The weather is great, the mood is social, friends are around us, and BBQ makes for Good Food. Take a break, and enjoy socialising with your friends and family in a fun filled activity for all.

I have written a BBQ feature for the e-zine on that covered tips and tricks, Do's and Don'ts of BBQ parties. Over there I have extensively discussed how to guarantee success of a BBQ party, so please follow the first link to the article and read it, as it is very useful information.

As for this post, let's begin with the utensils...
The right gadgets, produce the right results. Different Gadgets allow for different options, flavours and experiences. When it comes to BBQ the most essential gadget is the Grill itself.

Nowadays there are BBQs to cater for every situation, from the most basic to the top of the range. From open grills, to closed ones, to multi-leveled, and segregated grills and of course the smokers. If you do not own one, it is worth the effort, to find the right one, as it will determine how much you can get in terms of food quality, variety and quantity at one go.

First you should decide on whether you want to go for a gas BBQ, electric BBQ or a charcoal one.
Here are some pieces of info that can come in handy when it comes to deciding between the two.

Gas and Electric BBQs
These are the most popular, yet the more pricy option. They are instant, as unlike Charcoal, they do not need to be preheated. Gas grills are easy to control and clean as well. These usually have more than one burner allowing for the simultaneous cooking of different foods.
Flame Tamer-grid
The gas barbecues use lava rocks or ceramic rocks to conduct heat. These rocks are arranged over a mesh fitted on top of the burners. Lava rocks are medium volcanic rocks that absorb heat and add flavour. To clean these rocks, you take them out, wash them and dry them in the sunlight. Ceramic rocks on the other hand are are cleaned when placed cooking side down on the burner and allowing the burner to burn any residue from the cooking.

Most gas BBQs have a grease collector that has to be emptied and cleaned regularly to avoid flare ups.
You can also buy Flame-taming grids, which are also known as flavour bars. These especially designed to reduce flare ups, while still adding an open fire flavour to food. If the grid is made from material other than cast iron, the preheating period will need to be extended, so make sure to put that in mind in your planning.

Charcoal BBQ
Charcoal BBQ Also include briquette and wood BBQs
These are good when you seek the smoked flavour of food cooked over charred wood. This type of grill is cheaper than its counterparts the gas and electric BBQs. But they require more time to heat up, which means they have to be allowed preheating time before hand. Charcoal BBQ are harder to control than gas and electric, they are also messier and harder to clean.

Charcoal most commonly used as a heat conductor is made out of wood. Natural charcoal made from wood and mesquite start quicker from other types of charcoal and also smell cleaner.

Reaching the state of
glowing embers required for cooking
Wood is generally unpredictable as a heat conductor. it is therefore harder to control. it has to be lit well before cooking time to reach the required bed of glowing embers that retain enough heat require for cooking. the fire is ready when a white layer of ash is covering the charcoal. If you hold your hand 15cm away from the heat, you should be able to keep it there for 3-4 seconds. If you cannot that means the fire is too hot. If you hold your hand in the same position and cannot feel the heat, the fire might have gone out, or the heat did not reach the required temperature.

Charcoal heat can, to some extent, be controlled manually. In order to make it hotter, shake the grill, push the coal closer together using your metal tongues, open all vents and add new coals. While in order to make the fire burn slower, close the vents and push coal apart.

A Smoker
The Smokers or Smoking Food
Smoking food is a cooking method in which the final flavour is affected by the choice of wood used in the grilling. Usually done in a closed cabinet-like grill where all the smoke and resulting aroma of the burning wood and used herbs get trapped, intensifying the absorption into the food inside.

Smoke box
Hickory and mesquite are the most commonly used woods for smoking. But there are many other varieties to be used in smoking, to include: applewood, tea tree, cherry wood, banksia or peach wood...etc. These chips have to be soaked in cold water so they will smoulder slowly over the fire rather than burning fast. for more varying flavours, you can soak a variety of herbs and spices in the water with your wood chips. Instead of placing the wood chips, hers and spices directly into the fire, where they will burn real quick, you should place them in a smoke box that allows for slow combust instead of flare ups. The smoke box is usually placed over the heat source during preheating. when the gas appears, adjust the heat to low, if using a charcoal grill, place the smoke box directly under the food. and cook using indirect heat.
For best results during smoking avoid interrupting the smoking process and continuous opening of the lids, and bear in mind that basting reduces the smoky flavour you are trying to achieve.

Cooking Over Direct Heat
This method is also referred to as direct cooking, open grill or the direct method. In this method the food is put directly over the heat source. This method is best used for: Sausages, steaks, burgers, and vegetables. 

A rotisserie is often used to prevent flare ups, either on low heat, or over a heat proof plate placed over the heat source to collect drippings. Food is sometimes wrapped in foil to protect it and prevent flare ups when using the direct method.

Using the Indirect Heat Method
This method is also known as covered cooking, kettle cooking...
In this method the food is placed in a preheated covered BBQ, with the burners under the food turned off while side burners remain on (in a gas BBQ). In a charcoal BBQ, the coals are placed in stacks to the sides instead of directly over the heat, leaving the centre of the BBQ, directly under the food empty. Usually a disposable aluminum tray is placed in the empty area to collect drippings.

In this method the food is cooked by the circulation of hot air. This method is good for cooking larger pieces of food, as it ensures even cooking and the pieces being cooked through without burning or drying out. Also suitable for smoking and slow cooking.

You can use both methods. Steaks and chicken pieces can be seared over direct heat, then placed in an indirect heat area of the grill to be slow cooked till done. When using both methods, it makes for a more tender outcome.

Side Burner
More BBQ Gadgets and Accessories
Gasfuse Essential for safety when using gas BBQs.

Side Burner Great for stir frying, heating sauces, deep frying...etc

Charcoal Chimney
Charcoal Chimney Sometimes referred to as fire lighting hood. It is a metal cylinder with holes on the side and a handle, used when lighting charcoal.


Fire Starters Also referred to as fire-lighters. These are useful in getting the fire going. They come in liquid form or solid blocks.

BBQ Tool Set

BBQ Tool Set Usually containing, slides, long-handled metal tongues, basting brushes, forks, skewers and knives. They can come in a ready set in a box or a rolled up kit. Or the items can be purchased separately.

Warming racks
Warming Rack Used to keep the food warm, with direct heat. Also used to cook food by the indirect heat.

Kebab Rack & Skewers used to elevate food and ensure even cooking and browning

Stiff Wire cleaning Brush Ideal for cleaning the grill and removing charred food stuck to it.

Meat Thermometer

Meat Thermometer Takes the guess work out of cooking time, especially when it comes to thick pieces of meat.

While BBQing, you will need a work surface, a table next to you where you can place utensils, cooked food before transferring to serving plates. You will also need a clean spray bottle filled with water to dose off flares. Have everything handy, and remember that Organisation is key to successful barbecues.

These are the most commonly used BBQ gadgets, and the cooking methods used in BBQs.
Stay tuned for the basic techniques used when grilling, the basic recipes, (in part 2) and moving on to the many BBQ recipes for all courses. Now there is no excuse for not going for a BBQ gathering. Try it once, and it will become your new thing :)

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Hope this post helps you in deciding which gadgets to go for, and puts you right in the mood for BBQ season. Everyone loves a good BBQ, don't you? Would love to hear from you, leave me a comment...
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