Top tips for successful barbecuing from The Field's new cookery columnist, Philippa Davis


A warm greeting to you all – well, I hope it’s warm. With the start of the summer holidays it’s the obvious time to get out the wire brushes, rehome the spiders and light up the barbecue.

I am cooking for several outdoor parties this July. However, in case of a downpour it is prudent to think of a menu that is impressive enough to eat inside if necessary.

When working in London restaurants, the grill section was my favourite. Even at the height of summer, I still loved the challenge of taming the heat and getting the temperature correct to grill each piece of food to smoky, tender perfection. In what was an otherwise all-male kitchen I had to defend my charcoal territory fiercely, as I found there was an assumption that anything involving smoke, fire and matches was rightfully theirs. The following tips will help anyone become master (or mistress) of the coals.

Know your charcoal – you don’t want to start cooking meat and fish until the charcoal has turned white, which can take up to 40 minutes. If cooking for a big party, experiment beforehand so you know how far in advance to light it up.

Place food in rows on the grill; this makes it easier to remember which pieces have been turned and what stage each one is at. Start by placing food at the back just in case anything flares up while putting the next piece on.

If grilling whole fish make sure they are facing away from you and turn by placing the tongs just below the head – this makes it easier and neater.

Have different heat sections by piling up more or less charcoal. This allows you to seal the meat initially then move it to a cooler section to cook through without burning the outside. If fatty pieces of meat or fish keep causing flames to rise up move them to a less heated spot.

Resist the temptation to move food around too much or keep turning it. Wait until the grill is at a perfect temperature (white coals) then sear the meat or crisp up the fish skin on one side. When done it should lift
off the grill easily to be turned. Having the charcoal at the correct temperature should restrict the need to oil food, which can cause unwanted flames and taint the flavour of the food.

As when cooking any piece of meat, once cooked let it rest to let the juices redistribute and get the tastiest results.