It’s summer, it’s (maybe) sunny, it’s time to enjoy some barbecue food, writes Clare Hunt
The butt of many jokes and associated with unskilled dads with control-freak tendencies, the barbecue has quite the reputation for producing cooking that is less than delicious. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Barbecue is the hot new hipster on the culinary block, so let this be the summer when you see a whole new side to outdoor cooking. If you’d rather leave the cooking to someone else, there are a host of Devon eateries that serve up an array of delicious barbecue foods.
The traditional method of British barbecue has been all about quick grilling, but in the US, where this style of cuisine originated, barbecue is more about hot smoking with flavour-packed wood smoke, or cooking over a low, constant heat. Both use a more sophisticated cooking process to bring flavour and dimension to the finished food. For the home barbecue, this can translate as offset grilling (cooking over indirect heat), low and slow cooking, adding flavour from wood smoke and tenderising meat, or locking in flavour with rubs and marinades. The results are moist and tender, jam-packed with flavour.
Like most successful cooking, really luscious barbecue is about taking your time over good raw ingredients. Devon is busting with top-notch meat, fish and veg, so when you’re buying, tell your supplier you’re barbecuing and take advice on the best options. Many local butchers, delis and farm shops now stock rubs and marinades to tenderise meat, add herby-spicy flavours and make the most of the barbecue’s smoky ambience. It’s also worth considering the fuel you use as an ingredient in itself: the higher the quality of your charcoal, the better the flavour of your food will be, so look out for pure restaurant-grade or artisan brands. Use longer-lasting briquettes for low and slow cooking, and lumpwood for quick cooking at high temperatures. Most importantly, don’t fire up the coals and expect to cook immediately – prepare the fire in advance and wait till the flames have died and the coals glow white hot to get the best results.
In the past, the smoky flavour of barbecued food was considered almost a by-product of the cooking process, but new generation barbecue is all about cultivating the smokiness, and marrying it with the ingredients. Alyson Murray, co-owner of Tiverton-based Hot Smoked, advises: “When using wood-smoke flavour, don’t overdo it. The food takes on smoke flavour during the earlier part of the cooking process; after that a seal has been formed and any further smoke will just give you a bitter taste. Match food and wood-smoke strength carefully. It is not a case of ‘any wood chip fits all’. There are so many wonderful woods to choose from, all varying in strength: oak, hickory, mesquite for robust smoke flavour for red meats; maple, apple or cherry for a medium flavour for chicken, pork and salmon; beech and alder for milder, more subtle smoke, great with fish, shellfish and white meats. Not forgetting a wide range of specialist woods including juniper, lemon, orange, almond, heather and gorse, all with differing strengths and subtle flavour hints.” So lots to think about, then…
At this time of year, go into any garden centre in the county and you’ll be faced with a bewildering array of equipment – some of it with an eye-watering price tag attached. Do you need it? Probably not. Paul Tarry, barbecue aficionado at Mr T BBQ Man based in Exmouth, observes: “Equipment ranges from small, throwaway, single-use party barbecues for a few pounds to ten-burner professional gas rigs costing thousands. Personally I think that your technique, the quality of the food and preparation you put in has much more of an impact than the equipment. Some of the best barbecue food I’ve ever done has been on holiday with a throwaway party barbecue!” But if you do fancy something a bit more sophisticated, you could do worse than invest in a barbecue that gives you a range of cooking options. Models from manufacturers such as ProQ and Kamado let you grill, hot smoke and steam. You’ll never want to cook in the kitchen again…
Inspired by New York's burgeoning BBQ scene – itself inspired by the traditions of Texas and the Carolinas – Bronx Bar & 'Cue serves up local Devon produce, seasoned with its own spice blends and slow-cooked over hickory or oak. Additional temptations in the shape of sundaes, cocktails and craft beers top off the experience.
Family friendly and renowned for its giant portions, JD's Grill serves up a BBQ feast featuring ribs slow cooked over maple, Cajun blackened salmon and mesquite-smoked brisket. JD's BBQ Shack in Plymouth City Market brings more of the same.
Alongside its signature burgers, the small but perfectly formed Hubbox chain offers flavoursome pork and beef slow-cooked over applewood. Also available to eat out.
Frequently found at local events (keep your eyes peeled at this summer's agricultural shows) and available for private parties, The Pig Apple's smoked pork shoulder, smoked brisket burgers and hot-smoked salt beef are perfectly complemented by homemade slaws, salads and relishes.
Published 23 May 2016
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