There’s nothing like a barbecue on a hot summer afternoon: ice-cold beer in chilled glasses, shorts and sandals, fresh green salads, grilled fruit kebabs with melted ice-cream. Even just the thought of that delicious, smoky aroma in the air, is enough to make me want to go to sleep right now and not wake up until the sun’s out for real. But think about it, what’s to stop you having a barbecue any old time of year? Apart from torrential rain, obviously. There are no hard and fast rules saying outdoor cooking is only for parties, high summer and special occasions. In fact, it can pretty much special-up anything, even just an ordinary week-night tea time. Follow a few basics, resign yourself to getting rained off once in a while and the anytime barbecue is yours, any time you feel like it.
Pick a Perfect All-Year-Round Location
Having the BBQ at the heart of everything works fine in summer, other times you have to think more practical than sociable. As close to the kitchen as you can, is the best idea. If you have a patio with bi-fold doors, even better; you can cook outside and serve inside if it’s too chilly to go full al fresco. You’re also using your outdoor space more often, so it’s like having an instant kitchen-extension for next to no money.
Keep the BBQ Prepped, Primed and Ready to Go
The trick to pulling off a fast, impromptu cook-out is to have the BBQ poised and waiting. Always keep a supply of charcoal on hand. Most supermarkets stock mountains of the stuff in summer. Off season, garden centres are your best bet. And if you don’t see bags on display, ask; they’re guaranteed to have some in storage.
Clean the BBQ rack meticulously and remember to dry it thoroughly. The jury’s out on whether to oil metal racks. I think you should concentrate on a shiny-clean and sear-hot cooking surface, and lightly oil the food instead.
Remember, without the summer party atmosphere as a distraction, you have to move faster than usual to fill plates. So, leave at least thirty minutes for the coals to turn red-hot and filmed with white ash, before you start getting everyone excited about eating.
And buy a good, sturdy BBQ cover if you’re keeping it on all-weather standby. The more love and attention you lavish on the basic equipment, the better the end barbecues will be.
Think Fresh and Seasonal for Food
The more you barbecue, the more you can experiment and move away from summertime standards like steak and sausages. Get into cooking fish, seafood, vegetables and fruit. You can make just about anything on a barbecue – even salads. Mussels will open up perfectly and taste fantastic. Barbecued oysters are more amazing than you’d ever imagine. Simple, colourful kebabs could be just the thing to turn kids into fish eaters. And grilled late-season peaches? Don’t get me started.
Another advantage to anytime family style barbecues is how forgiving everyone is. It’s not like being centre-stage at the neighbourhood cook-out, so you can make mistakes, tweak marinades and be as creative as you always wanted to be and think of it like a rehearsal for the big, summer show-off.
Treat Yourself to Some New Toys
It might be difficult to justify buying shiny, new accessories if you only dust the BBQ off when the sun shines. But if it’s in constant use, you can afford to indulge yourself a bit. Fish baskets cut out a lot of fuss and they’re great for giving that Instagram-ready look to grilled sardines, trout and mackerel. Mesh rotisserie cages are surprisingly inexpensive and let you go all medieval on whole chickens. You might be a bit away from a fire-pit and customised side table, but glossy stainless steel tongs and ridiculously tough, heat-proof gauntlets? To be honest, I think they’re as good as essential for the all-season barbecue professional.
If you’re worried about missing the summer atmosphere, don’t be. Put together a playlist and go for it, you’ve only got yourself to please. Keep folding patio doors open, get everyone involved in prepping salads and sides, setting the table, offering advice (inevitably) and things will liven up fast. And guaranteed, once you start down the anytime barbecue road, get those delicious smells wafting out into the air and grow a bit of a reputation for your signature style, plenty of party people will be only too happy to come eat at yours – even in the dead of winter.