Alan Cochrane serves up his top tips on host­ing a per­fectly au­then­tic Scot­tish bar­beque

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Alan Cochrane has the recipe for a great Scot­tish bar­beque

Acou­ple of years ago a TV weath­er­man got it com­pletely wrong when he pre­dicted that we were on the brink of what he thought he’d call a ‘bar­beque sum­mer’, given that he was pre­dict­ing months of glo­ri­ous sun­shine. What hap­pened? Two, or maybe it was three, months of al­most in­ces­sant rain. It wasn’t quite as big a howler as Michael Fish’s ‘don’t worry there isn’t go­ing to be a hur­ri­cane’ back in 1987 which then saw al­most the whole of the South of Eng­land, in­clud­ing my Kent gar­den, be­ing dev­as­tated by – guess what – a hur­ri­cane. But it was close.

This year, even if we get not an­other blink of sun­shine, the sum­mer of 2018 will def­i­nitely go down as one of the best. We’ve had fab­u­lous weather; I can’t re­mem­ber much bet­ter for decades. A bar­beque sum­mer? Well, if the quickly-emp­tied shelves of burg­ers, sausages and steaks in our butch­ers and su­per­mar­kets are any­thing to go by, then there is no doubt about it.

Oh yes, and those stores’ stocks of char­coal didn’t last long ei­ther, and of course you can’t have a bar­beque with­out char­coal. Now can you?

Not in my book, you can’t. How­ever, I am con­tin­u­ally as­ton­ished by the in­cred­i­ble ar­ray of bar­beque grills that are now on sale; and I’m just as as­ton­ished at the num­ber that don’t need char­coal. In my book, a bar­beque isn’t wor­thy of the name if it uses any other fuel.

I know that char­coal can be in­cred­i­bly messy and the bit that I hate above all else on bar­beque evenings is the clean­ing up after­wards. But isn’t a bit of mess what eat­ing out­doors is all about? My trusty old We­ber does a mar­vel­lous job: it doesn’t use much char­coal, gets go­ing quickly and cooks per­fectly what­ever I en­trust to its ten­der care. In fact, the We­ber re­placed what was lit­tle more than a hole in the ground and a few sticks, with a bit of fence-wire placed across it, which served as our bar­beque grill when we had that but ‘n’ ben in the An­gus Glens.

The idea that I’d re­place it with a gas-fired mon­stros­ity is beyond com­pre­hen­sion, no mat­ter how slick and space-age it might ap­pear. In­deed, I can’t un­der­stand why any­one wants to cook out­doors on any­thing but char­coal. Af­ter all, aren’t some of us seek­ing to repli­cate some­thing ba­sic, al­most primeval, about cook­ing a meal in the open air, even if it is only the gar­den – and a sub­ur­ban gar­den at that? Why would you want to use the equiv­a­lent of that range cooker in the kitchen? Or if the weather is re­ally bril­liant and you must get out­side to en­joy the sun, why not sim­ply cook things in the kitchen and serve them up out­doors?

I ac­cept that I’m be­ing more than a bit picky about this is­sue but I am noth­ing if not a tra­di­tion­al­ist. Mind you, if cli­mate-change re­ally is go­ing to give us many more nice sum­mers – as well as rub­bish and ex­tra-long win­ters – then maybe we will need to draw up some new code of be­hav­iour about out­door din­ing.

First and fore­most, here in Scot­land, you must al­ways have some al­ter­na­tive source of heat. No, not for the food – for the guests. At the very least, a sup­ply of logs with which to feed a good chiminea.

Next, and al­lied to the first, a pile of rugs, blan­kets, sweaters and, sadly, wa­ter­proofs, must be hand­ily placed so that they can be eas­ily reached when the tem­per­a­ture plum­mets or rain threat­ens.

An in­door al­ter­na­tive is an­other must and for those who in­sist on gas-fired bar­be­ques, this shouldn’t be too much of a hard­ship. Make sure the menu you’ve pre­pared is suit­able for in­door con­sump­tion, as well as out­door, and a de­cent pot of soup is al­ways a handy thing to have in these north­ern climes.

Per­haps most im­por­tant of all – plan noth­ing and in­vite no­body in ad­vance. It is per­haps one of life’s im­mutable laws that bar­be­ques planned weeks, pos­si­bly even days ahead, never take place, at least in the form that had been planned with such metic­u­lous pre­ci­sion by the host.

In­stead, have some friends or rel­a­tives – close neigh­bours are best as they can get to you in dou­ble-quick time – at the ready. Ideally they should be only a few min­utes away and cer­tainly not fussy eaters.

Then, on the spur of the mo­ment when a tiny blink of sun and a slight in­crease in the mer­cury level causes you to leave off a sweater, you can def­i­nitely an­nounce, ‘let’s have a bar­beque’.

Oh yes, and boast as loudly as you dare that all the food you serve up will be char­coal­grilled. It re­ally is so much bet­ter.

Per­haps most im­por­tant of all – plan noth­ing and in­vite no­body in ad­vance

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