The bar­be­cue sea­son is just around the cor­ner. So how do you host a suc­cess­ful cook­out, and what is the eti­quette for guests? Tony Nay­lor of­fers some tips

Friday - - CONTENTS -

It’s al­most bar­be­cue sea­son in the UAE – think you’re pic­nic ready? You’re wrong. Here’re the new rules for BBQs – and please, pro­vide meat-free op­tions.

Bar­be­cues of­ten re­main im­promptu, thrown­to­gether af­fairs, which may ex­plain why many are ter­ri­ble. De­spite the sun­shine, bar­be­cue-wise we are fum­bling around in the dark. It’s time to change that. Read on for the ul­ti­mate bar­be­cue eti­quette guide.

Re­spond promptly

There is never enough food at bar­be­cues. Partly be­cause they are fre­quently or­gan­ised in a last­minute frenzy (you thought that chicken would de­frost in time, it hasn’t; ev­ery­one has had the same idea and stripped the su­per­mar­ket aisles bare), but also be­cause that on-the-fly sta­tus en­cour­ages a lack of com­mit­ment. Whether given 24 or, more com­monly, two hours’ no­tice, do not lurk in a What­sApp group, wait­ing to see who else is go­ing. Don’t re­spond with a vague: ‘We’ll try to swing by.’ Not if you want feed­ing, any­way. Hosts detest dither­ing guests.

Don’t sweat the guest list

That tra­di­tion of painstak­ingly in­tro­duc­ing strangers to one an­other at in­for­mal so­cial gath­er­ings – with its im­plicit, ter­ri­fy­ing in­struc­tion to ‘min­gle’ – is dy­ing out (thank­fully). In­stead, at a bar­be­cue, the rag­bag of friends, fam­ily and even col­leagues that you were able to dra­goon at short no­tice will set­tle into fa­mil­iar sub­groups and be­gin to in­ter­act as the bbq heats up. As host, do not force the is­sue. In time, the fumes from the roast­ing meats will work its magic.

Gate­crash­ers are not wel­come

There is a thin line, per­haps, be­tween the bar­be­cue and the house party. But it ex­ists. You can­not ar­rive with three mates in tow, unan­nounced. Food is be­ing cooked. Hosts need con­firmed num­bers.

Turn up late

Ar­rive be­fore time and the host will still be rac­ing around lo­cal stores, try­ing to buy some fire­lighters, char­coal or even a bar­be­cue.

Be­ware anti-so­cial me­dia

Check the host is cool with you ‘shar­ing’ the fun in a run of ex­cru­ci­at­ing #BBQ #nom­nom­nom #pit­mas­ter hash­tags. They may not want to ad­ver­tise the event to those they didn’t in­vite.

Be a good neigh­bour

Warn your neigh­bours. They do not want to come home to find their dry­ing wash­ing now smells like a fire in an abat­toir and they de­serve to know that, while they try to re­lax in the gar­den, you will be play­ing Katy Perry’s Fire­work cranked up to 11 through a tiny, tre­ble-drenched, tin­ni­tus-in­duc­ing portable speaker. But are you obliged to in­vite them? No. Un­less your neigh­bours are ‘mates’, there are many good rea­sons you might not want them to meet yours.

Know your lim­its ...

... or the lim­its of your bar­be­cue. Do not in­vite 20 if your grill can only ac­com­mo­date six burg­ers at a time. Do not, at the eleventh hour, at­tempt an 18-hour low’n’slow lamb shoul­der. This is partly good man­ners – guests will ar­rive hun­gry, do not make them wait aeons.

Re­spect your en­vi­ron­ment

You are out­side. Bar­be­cue hosts ex­pect mess. That does not mean you can leave the place a to­tal mess. Use the des­ig­nated ash­tray. Do not tread dropped hot­dogs into the deck­ing, stale burger buns into the lawn or chuck chicken bones into the bor­ders. Many hosts will leave rub­bish bags out and may ask you to split up bot­tles, pa­per plates, food and gen­eral rub­bish, to save them the has­sle of sort­ing it later. You may find that fussy, but it is no hard­ship to com­ply. No host should ex­pect you to help tidy up, but do not make that job harder.

Pro­vide meat-free op­tions

A cer­tain breed of liv­ing troll will al­ways find the con­cept of a meat-free bar­be­cue hi­lar­i­ous. Pre­sum­ably such throw­backs do not in­vite veg­e­tar­i­ans to their cook­outs. It would be as im­ma­ture as a ve­gan ac­cept­ing the in­vi­ta­tion, turn­ing up in a Meat is Mur­der T-shirt and mak­ing retch­ing noises ev­ery time some­one bites into a sausage. If you in­vite some­one who does not eat meat (or has other di­etary re­stric­tions), it is in­cum­bent on you to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive. It is in­sult­ing to ex­pect them to make do with salad. And veg­e­tar­i­ans: if you want to en­sure you will eat well, of­fer to bring

If you in­vite some­one who does not eat meat, it is in­cum­bent on you to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive. It is in­sult­ing to ex­pect them to make do with salad

some bar­be­cue sauce-basted tofu or a few mar­i­nated cau­li­flower steaks. It will be a weight of the host’s mind.

Pitch in

The stan­dard bar­be­cue con­tract is: the host feeds you and you bring some snacks if you are asked to pitch in. Pro­vide snacks, sides or sal­ads, stay hum­ble. This is not about you or your cook­ing prow­ess. It is about help­ing the host feed a gen­eral, usu­ally non-foodie au­di­ence. You may make a ter­rific pan­zanella or nicoise salad but, heavy with carbs or pro­tein, nei­ther are bar­be­cue side sal­ads. Like­wise, ar­riv­ing with a Thai-style chilli, peanut and wa­ter­melon salad is deeply pas­sive-ag­gres­sive. Your con­tri­bu­tions need to be a) suit­able, b) crowd-pleas­ing, and c) things you can pre­pare be­fore­hand and serve with min­i­mum fuss.

You can­not com­man­deer the kitchen on ar­rival, much less the bar­be­cue to grill cour­gettes. Bring things that make burg­ers and steaks sing (kim­chi, coleslaw, chimichurri); clas­sic sim­ple, fresh sal­ads (a well-dressed green or tomato salad); or sal­ads that have a nat­u­ral affin­ity with charred meat (tab­bouleh, grilled chipo­tle corn and av­o­cado or smoky, lemony grid­dled veg­eta­bles).

More is bet­ter

The fridge will be full and, in­vari­ably, by the time you ar­rive, so will that bucket/bin/old stor­age con­tainer of iced wa­ter the host has pro­vided. Chill your soft drinks at home, take them in a cool bag and, if you have been nom­i­nated for mock­tail duty, bring what you need: ice, fruit, juices, mix­ers, knife, shaker etc. The kitchen will be busy. The last thing the host wants is peo­ple in and out look­ing for limes, ice or a bot­tle of lemon juice. The best guests stay out of the way.

Stop in­ter­fer­ing

No cook wants peo­ple giv­ing their opin­ion on the food they are pre­par­ing but, at bar­be­cues, even well-in­ten­tioned in­ter­jec­tions can quickly de­scend into a testy, ter­ri­to­rial jock­ey­ing. If a cook is fail­ing to light a bar­be­cue be­cause they have not opened the vents, they will not thank you for point­ing this out. Is the ‘grill mas­ter’ in­cin­er­at­ing the food over roar­ing flames? Well, un­less you are about to be served raw chicken, get a le­mon­ade and ig­nore it. Be­cause, not un­sur­pris­ingly, in­sist­ing that they let the char­coal turn white first will quickly sour the at­mos­phere – you are in their home, es­sen­tially call­ing them use­less.


Credit due, you make ex­cep­tional grilled leg of lamb. But no one cares about your wifi-en­abled Pro Chef 3000X. Dron­ing on about what this ‘bad boy’ can do is talk so small it is al­most in­fin­i­tes­i­mal.

Wear a com­edy apron ...

... at your peril. They are never funny.

Pri­ori­tise child­care

Foot­balls and bar­be­cues do not mix (nei­ther do Nerf guns, wa­ter bombs etc). Par­ents: con­trol your chil­dren as you would your dogs. Pen them in some­where, away from the grill – if not for their own safety, for the host’s san­ity.

An­nounce you are serv­ing food

Give ev­ery­one equal op­por­tu­nity to eat, rather than slip­ping it out on the QT to the tac­ti­cians who have cho­sen to hover around the grill.

Set up a table

A table a short dis­tance from the grill is use­ful first as a mock­tail sta­tion. Then, as the food is served, put ev­ery­thing on it: meat, buns, cheese, sauces, sal­ads, plates and forks. Peo­ple can as­sem­ble their food there, to their own pref­er­ence. Too many bar­be­cues are spoiled by the ‘pit boss’ foist­ing what he or she likes, or what is sim­ple to serve, on guests, rather than let­ting them choose.

Slow down on sec­ond help­ings

We see you. Sneak­ing back in for sec­onds be­fore ev­ery­one has eaten. And your chil­dren will carry this mark of shame for gen­er­a­tions.

Dress down and get in­volved

In the lim­ited ex­ist­ing lit­er­a­ture about bar­be­cue eti­quette, there is some con­ster­na­tion about the fact that some guests will have to eat stand­ing up. No one has enough emer­gency chairs in the loft to go round. If you are too pre­cious to sit on the grass, perch on a step or bal­ance your drink on the com­post bin then, frankly, bar­be­cues are re­ally not for you.

Be ready to get messy

There is a (de­luded) school of thought that a bar­be­cue host should cater to your ev­ery com­fort, from wet wipes and tooth­picks to end­less cut­lery. This is ab­surd. Is there kitchen roll to wipe your fin­gers and face? Then we are good to go. It is im­pos­si­ble to eat bar­be­cue food el­e­gantly. Even try­ing to ru­ins it.

Ig­nore the bugs

If you are over the age of 12, do not run through the gar­den scream­ing at the ap­pear­ance of a wasp. It is in­fu­ri­at­ingly at­ten­tion-seek­ing.

Go home

An af­ter­noon bar­be­cue will run into the evening; an evening bar­be­cue will run late. You know the rules. If the host has put the lid on the bar­be­cue and is roam­ing around, col­lect­ing rub­bish and emp­ties, take the cue. It’s been lovely. But, come on, pack up and ship out.

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