A New Flame
Cooking with charcoal in specialist ovens is setting the UK’s restaurant scene alight. Grilling and cooking food over natural fuels is nothing new. Natural fuels have been around for as long as man has been cooking. Smoky, rich and complex flavours clearly lie deep within our psyche. We all know that a charcoal oven or grill comes with a certain amount of theatre – and this plays a large part in food presentation, but is it as easy as it looks?
The short answer, is yes. Mibrasa are seen by many as the charcoal oven industry leaders, so we gave expert Neil Mantle a bit of a grilling. He pointed out that no matter what size of restaurant or kitchen – the right equipment, correctly installed will serve you for many years to come.
The first question you might ask yourself is what do you really want to get out of your charcoal oven? Do you want to create a new menu around it, or add flavour to your current one? This should help you decide which size of oven to go for.
Primarily, a charcoal oven should be seen as an intrinsic piece of equipment and not just a fringe one. It is hugely versatile and will produce excellent results on all types of meats, fish and vegetables – even desserts. Solid fuel appliances generally use wood, wood pellets or charcoal to create the heat output required. Depending on their origin and quality, each of these fuel options will burn at different temperatures and create diverse flavours.
Kitchen space is key. Ovens need to be sited under an extraction canopy as they emit carbon monoxide, but because they don’t require gas, electrical or water services, this gives you a certain amount of flexibility. Appliances which are designed to burn solid fuels need to create and maintain high temperatures, so they are naturally heavy – therefore suitable lifting gear needs to be considered. A smart move would be to position your oven so it is in view of the restaurant, as an actual flame really brings the whole customer dining experience to life.
Is it safe?
An enclosed charcoal oven should be treated with the same respect as any piece of hot cooking equipment. The chamber can reach temperatures of over 450°C so care should always be taken. Well-constructed ovens such as the Mibrasa will retain heat and outer surfaces will become warm but not dangerously so. It is also important to note that existing floor surfaces should be strong enough to support the weight of the unit.
Generally, cleaning the oven is not difficult. Just be aware that the oven operates at such searing temperatures it is advisable to allow the embers to fully cool before removal and cleaning.
What can it do for me?
There has been a huge change in the restaurant sector. Historically, a large proportion of sales were in traditional open grill Greek and Turkish restaurants. But when new equipment came onto the market, many diverse restaurants, from top-end Michelin-starred establishments to grills and steakhouses came on board.
When sourcing a new oven, take the time to see one in action. Well-made equipment will last for years and will continue to retain all-important heat and subsequently flavour. Ensure the door correctly meets the cabinet and that there is no cooking smoke escaping from the front.
Above all, taste the food that a charcoal oven creates. You’ll see how earthy, complex flavours can be created with greater consistency – the cornerstone of any commercial kitchen.
Apart from the added flavour and theatre which comes with charcoal oven cooking, you’ll notice much speedier cooking times, increased depth of flavours and a much higher retention of juices. Many people think that such an oven is only suitable for meats, but the possibilities are endless.
Fuel for thought
There are many fuel options available. Having tested many types through the Mibrasa oven, it’s clear that you get what you pay for. Cheap charcoal will burn quickly which leads to more frequent topping up, so you’re using more of it. Therefore, a good mid-range product will give you a suitable burn time with less replenishing.
Here are just some of the delicious dishes that can be created quickly and easily in your charcoal oven.
CHARCOAL GRILLED PIZZA WITH MOZZARELLA SPINACH & PROSCIUTTO
SUPER JUICY CHARCOAL GRILLED BEEF BURGER WITH A BRIOCHE BUN
JERK-SMOKED CHICKEN WITH GREEN SALAD
CRISPY GRILLED PORK BELLY WITH BBQ SAUCE