An ode to the good, old-fashioned British barbecue | Jack Marshall's column

There’s pomp and procession to a proper British barbecue.
The barbecue: an animal flesh pied-piper which guarantees familial attendance.The barbecue: an animal flesh pied-piper which guarantees familial attendance.
The barbecue: an animal flesh pied-piper which guarantees familial attendance.

It’s a studiously-planned event held up by three core pillars: the food, the weather, and the company. Like a royal parade, it follows a well-defined groove with which we know in our bones. It’s fun to moan about rubbish British barbecues, but genuine moaners are to be dismissed mealy-mouthed contrarians.

Because barbecues are exciting. Every part of the process takes on added meaning because we are officially no longer cooking indoors. Indoors, things like ovens and microwaves and sinks exist, whereas outside there is only fire and smoke and that tea towel on which everything is wiped like a mechanic’s oils rag.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Everything becomes more important, from the nature of the charcoal - briquettes or natural lumps? - to the use of wood chips - soaked in apple water for that authentic Granny Smith taste - and, of course, the meat. This is no regular day, and so no regular meat will do. Instead, it’s off to the farm shop for the primo stuff. No messing about, this is for The Barbecue.

My dad is currently going through a phase which has manifested itself in the form of him insisting that all family barbecues be cooked using ‘the snake method’. This process involves creating a ‘snake’ of charcoal around the outside of the barbecue which cooks slowly, stage by stage, throughout the day. The snake is wrapped around a pan of hot water, which makes everything smokey somehow.

As such, barbecues follow a pretty predictable pattern: the fire is lit at some ungodly early hour like 3am or something and the snake slowly burns. It’s exciting, like you’re witness to some arcane technique perfected by the rednecks of the Deep South and now commandeered by a pale bloke from Ashton-under-Lyne. There’s a pang of thrill looking across to the barbecue quietly smoking away in the corner of the garden as appetites build.

Then the rain starts and we have to carry out the horrifically dangerous task of lifting the flaming meat cooker into mid-air and onto the decking so that it can smoke away under cover. As a budding pit-master, my dad has a temperature gauge as well and we all watch keenly as the centigrade climbs.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Nothing brings a family together like a barbecue. Squished together sharing cans and laughs, the barbecue is the animal flesh pied-piper which guarantees attendance. The big plates come out and the food is piled high. And everyone goes happily quiet apart from the dog.

Related topics: