Choosing a barbecue

Barbecues range from inexpensive mobile models for occasional use, to built-in types – it’s important to choose the right one for your garden and lifestyle.

If you’re thinking about buying a barbecue, consider first whether outdoor cookery would be an occasional or more frequent parr of your lifestyle. One factor is whether summers are reliably hot and sunny; another is how much you actually enjoy outdoor family meals or entertaining based on barbecues.

It you anticipate frequent use, a built-in, permanent barbecue can be a strong focal point for outdoor entertaining. If, however, your garden is small or if you just want to barbecue from time to time, choose portable equipment instead. These can be carried or wheeled out as needed, but adequate storage space is essential.

Barbecues vary enormously in cost; if you only use a barbecue rarely, improvising might be better than buying or constructing expensive equipment. Whichever type you choose, siting it near the kitchen reduces the amount of effort involved in setting it up and keeping it supplied.

Most portable barbecues cater for the needs of an average family. Large-scale entertaining, however, requires a large grill, to prevent a queue of hungry guests forming. A cooking area of about 90x45crn (3×1’/2ft) is a realistic minimum. Four typical hamburgers or small chops need a grill area of about 30cm (12in) square; sausages can be packed tighter.

The traditional fuel is charcoal lumps or hardwood charcoal briquettes, which impart a smoky flavour, and you can also buy quick-to-ignite charcoal and a natural alternative fuel made as a byproduct of pine harvesting. Barbecues that run on bottled gas or mains electricity are more expensive but, as they heat a bed of reusable lava rock, they start up more quickly, are easier to clean and running costs are lower. If the barbecue is permanent and the structure allows, logs can be used. Oak, hickory and even ‘whisky’ and ‘pecan1 woodchips are available, to add aroma and flavour.

Built-in types

The main advantage of a permanent, built-in barbecue, apart from its potential visual attraction, is that everything is ready to use at a moment’s notice. The barbecue area could include built-in surfaces for serving food and drink; adjacent seating; storage space for fuel and utensils, and even lighting.

The simplest type is a temporary brick or block enclosure, with three shelves supported on metal lugs set into the brickwork. The lowest shelf is a shallow metal tray which serves as an ashpan. The middle one is a mesh grid on which the charcoal is burnt. The upper one is a similar grid on which food is cooked. You can buy the tray and grills as a kit, or improvise using oven racks from an old cooker for the grids and a sheet of metal for the ashpan. You don’t need mortar; simply build the bricks up in overlapping layers (stretcher bond) on a hard, level surface and set the ashpan and grids in place. It’s then easy to dismantle everything afterwards.

You can use a similar structure to enclose a rectangular brazier. Simply build the surround to match the size of your barbecue, then support it on a horizontal platform made from solid timber or a ‘concrete paving slab. Make sure that the dimensions shown are suitable for your site. (For more details on building a barbecue, see Garden Construction 33-36.)

Portable types

The simplest and cheapest portable barbecues can be set on any firm surface out of doors, such as a trestle table or paving slabs rested on bricks. Other portable models come complete with tripod stand or are mounted on mobile trolleys. At the bottom of the price range is the disposable barbecue – a small aluminium foil container that holds charcoal, with a grill on top. These are suitable only for two people wanting a spur-of-the-moment outdoor snack or picnic.

One up from this is a simple circular brazier with a metal fuel tray and grill, mounted on three legs and fitted with a semi-circular windshield. More expensive, longer lasting types are made from heavy-gauge steel with stainless steel grills. Some feature split-level grills and a rotating spit rod, plus wheels on two of the three legs. Inexpensive, cast iron ‘barrel’ bar-becues have adjustable grills, plus a choice of leg heights; the charcoal is lit with kindling or newspaper placed in the barrel.

Rectangular barbecues comprise small trays of sheet metal or cast iron topped with a grill (called hi-bachis), or larger braziers mounted on legs or wheeled trolleys, sometimes called wagon barbecues. Hibachis don’t usually have windshields, but the grid level can be varied for last or slow cooking. They are small enough to clean indoors and store in a cupboard when not in use. Brazier types usually have a lid that doubles as a windshield, and often incorporate a spit rod. On sophisticated models this may be battery driven. The trolley may be fitted with side flaps and low-level shelves. And for smoking fish, meat or poultry, there are special portable smoker barbecues. All of these are de-signed to run on charcoal or briquettes. Models with lava rock, heated by gas or electricity, cost a bit more. The smaller types run off throwaway gas cartridges; larger ones must be connected to ret illable cylinders – ideal for camping.

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