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Kettle Barbecue BBQ

Blue Sky Thoughts To Boost Trade

Summer’s here, the sky is blue and everyone’s loving bad barbecues and cheap booze in their own gardens – when they should be in yours!

When the sun shines, every bloke discovers his inner-cook and suddenly weekend afternoons are ruled by the mass munching of burnt bangers, washed down with supermarket specials. Come early evening, some weary punters may head to the pub for ‘a proper pint’, but by then the day’s trade has been badly hit.

So the answer is to fight back and boost summer trade by making your garden or outdoor space the place for special summertime food and drink.

Give customers a great excuse to escape the dreaded ‘Family Barbie’ – which we all know usually ends with pink chicken that tastes of petrol and a nasty domestic!

That said, there’s no denying the fun of outdoor eating, especially the smoky magic of BBQ meats and so the first trick is, as ever, give them what they want, but oh-so-much-better-than-Dad-does-it.

And most of all – make it different.

British barbecue champ John Hargate, who runs the famous BBQ Shack  at The World’s End pub, Brighton, gives Take Stock his top BBQ tips.

After working for Gary Rhodes in London, John learned the dark, sticky secrets of Texan barbecuing while living in the heart of US cattle country and has been running his award-winning south coast Shack for more than a year. And John kindly gave Take Stock some of his top BBQ tips to pass on.

“The first thing is get a barbecue with a lid – otherwise you’re just grilling,” said John, with mild disdain.

“Grilling is at a higher temperature, about 320 degrees F, and all you get is the taste of the meat or marinade, none of that special smokiness. You might as well do it over gas. “Barbecuing is about gentle cooking at about 220 degrees F and really lets the smoke from flavoured wood and charcoal get into the food.

“You should never have wood or coals beneath the meat – it should be to one side or the other, so nothing gets scorched or bitter.” John uses huge black monsters made by Green Mountain to produce everything from racks of ribs, through slow-cooked brisket or pork shoulder to melting chicken. And in terms of attracting trade, one of these industrial beauties would soon win your garden a local reputation for being extra special.

But John said simpler devices can still produce great results to get you mentioned over the garden fence.

“You can get a great effect with any kettle barbecue, but make sure you get one with a good thermometer.

“Place a bowl of water beneath the meat, light the charcoal without chemical help and put on some flavoured wood chips for the first quarter of cooking time. Then, when cooking, just leave the lid down with its vent open.

“If the temperature gets below or above about 220 degrees F then either raise it by letting more air in from the base vents or close them to slow the charcoal down.

“The smoke from the top vent shouldn’t be white – too cool – or black – you’ve got a dirty grill!

He said the importance of keeping the temp low is so sugars in marinades or sauces stay sweet and don’t burn and go bitter. “You can find loads of recipes out there, but to make a rub for meats, a rule of thumb is one third sugars, one third salts and one third spices.”

So why not create your own individual BBQ seasonings in your own business name – you could even get punters to judge their favourites from your personalised range – or invent their own.

On the subject of produce – John was refreshingly frank and helpful in these more cost-conscious times.

“I don’t believe there’s any need to source expensive organic meats to get great results. Barbecuing is all about putting so much flavour into the meat that it’s unnecessary in my opinion.

“With straight-forward grilling that may be different, when you’re just lightly seasoning the meat before cooking.”

If you already have an established garden grill, John passed on this advice for improved results with the meats, burgers and bangers available from Fairway wholesalers:

“Never coat meat in prepared marinades or sauces when you first put it on or those sugars will burn too quickly. Brush the sauces on at the end of cooking to keep the taste nice and sweet,” said John before dashing back to his smoker to turn another wall of ribs.

All that heat and meat can make a fella mighty thirsty – so why not pop the classic cocktail of the Southern States on your drinks menu – Mint Julep.

It comes in many regional varieties but is basically Bourbon, broken mint leaves, sugar and shaved ice all muddled up and strained into a tall glass with more ice and a bit more whiskey – Hot Dang!

On the subject of grilling, another way of attracting that summer audience might be the grand spectacle of an Argentine Asado or Parrilla on your patio. These great dramatic devices look like something invented by torturers for the Spanish Inquisition with wheels and cranks to lift huge grills laden with meat above a bed of hot coals for perfect results.

Again – a bit of a crowd pleaser that would get you talked about.

But let’s consider other options to get bums on your outdoor bench seats.

Open air pizza ovens are proving a great hit and something customers probably won’t yet have set up next to the neighbours’ fence. The fragrant smell of wood smoke mixed with freshly baked pizzas is bound to lure people outside from the bar and there is also the chance of winning a reputation for the best home-made bread they ever tasted.Brick-built ovens are commercially available in a range of sizes and styles and once assembled the food prep area can be simply covered with a canvas awning to help keep the ingredients – and the hardworking staff – shaded and cool.

Again, there is an opportunity to create a special atmosphere and engage diners by letting them choose their own pizza toppings as the scent from the odd fist of rosemary wafts from the hearth.

Returning to the outdoor grill, an alternative food event would be to produce steaming dishes of Spain’s seaside special – paella. This is traditionally prepared over an open charcoal fire in great flat smoke-blackened pans and one of its beauties is the flexibility of the recipe, so if you want squid, add squid! It originated in the Valencia region of eastern Spain and can be seafood, meat or vegetarian – or most often, a delicious combination of all three. And once again, the sight and smell of saffron rice, shimmering vegetables, mussels, prawns and chicken cooking in the sunlight is well worth going out for. With endless possible variations, we present our own version of this classic here in our recipes section.

Away from hot options, summer is always a time of salads and sandwiches and again a bit of original thinking could help boost sales by  increasing the family fun aspect.

Create a bit of picnic magic by serving plated cold dishes in wicker baskets or mini-hampers which can be carried out to your garden. You could even provide the loan of a blanket, but perhaps less trusting would be to offer pitchers of fresh lemonade or beer to share.

One topic to be tackled every summer is how to combat the annoyance of wasps and other winged menaces when eating outdoors. While citronella candles are an attractive way of deterring biting flies, wasps are made of tougher stuff. But one interesting new alternative to the
sound of a crackling electric zapper is the Waspinator, a cunning device shaped like a wasp nest which turns the insect’s natural instincts against itself! Wasps are fiercely territorial so simply place a Waspinator in a tree or wall corner and they will be deterred by the fear of straying into another stripy gang’s turf.

The Waspinator is available from Amazon for less than £10.

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