Getting ready for summer grilling

With summer comes the traditional backyard barbecue. Here we have tips on how to make the most of summer dining, without cooking yourself in the process.

Big flames may create a spectacle but the remnants of burnt steaks and sausages may also leave a bad taste in your mouth. Photo / Thinkstock
Big flames may create a spectacle but the remnants of burnt steaks and sausages may also leave a bad taste in your mouth. Photo / Thinkstock

As the weather heats up across the country, so does the gas barbie, roaring hot enough to singe the hairs of a cook's arm.

Oil, slathered on too thickly by a dedicated but hapless chef, sparks flames and smoke which within seconds spoils the meat with a charred, horrible bitterness.

Served up with a spongy white bun, blackened onions and a streak of bottled sauce and bob's your uncle, dinner is served.

Granted, not everyone is a master Argentinian steak chef or wants to be, but turning a very average barbecue meal into something a little special is simpler than most imagine.

Victor Pisapia, the director and executive chef at Australian cooking school, VictorsFood, tells us the right way to throw a shrimp - or anything for that matter - on the barbie this summer.

Burning your bridges

The first rule of barbecuing sounds like something straight out of MasterChef: respect the food you're cooking.

Why people would buy a prime cut piece of meat or a selection of quality vegetables just to burn them beyond recognition remains a mystery to Pisapia.

"I think the traditional Aussie barbecue is throw the steak on the barbecue and smash it down ... until it's burnt to death," he says.

"People need to learn that they have to show respect for the ingredients."

He says it's "just totally wrong" to take steaks straight out of the fridge and chuck them onto the barbecue.

"They need to take it out, bring it down to room temperature, season it, and then throw it on.

"If it's in a marinade, they need to shake off the (excess) marinade so it doesn't create the big flames."

A flaming bad meal

Cooking with fire looks fancy, no doubt about it. Celebrity chefs make it look easy and the results are tasty, so why doesn't it work at home?

It is actually the coals, not the flames, that create that magical taste when meat is cooked in a wood fire.

Using flames from a gas-fired barbecue to recreate this experience is just going to "engulf" your food, Pisapia warns.

"A lot of people think creating the flame is what a barbecue is supposed to do, but it's really not," he says.

"In creating the big flames what that does is blacken the steak, and you get a really bad taste in your mouth."

Cooking oil is generally the main culprit, with your barbecue chef lathering it onto the meat before whacking it on the grill.

A simple steak on the barbie doesn't call for the meat to be soaked in oil - it will char and spit the moment the liquid meets the flames.

"If it's calling for just a steak onto the barbecue type of thing they need just a little splash of olive oil, a little salt and done," Pisapia says.

Know thy barbecue

As with any meal, you need to get well organised before you start barbecuing.

After deciding what to cook, bring everything you need to the grill because you can't walk away once things start sizzling.

"If you go away for too long then there is a strong chance you will overcook it or you'll burnt it or it just won't come out the way that you're hoping for," Pisapia says.

One of the biggest problems facing the backyard barbie is that people don't know the right temperatures needed for the dishes they're cooking.

Ensuring the temperature of your barbecue is just right is a crucial factor, particularly when cooking meat and veggies together on your grill.

If you throw everything in together and hope for the best it "will be a disaster", Pisapia says.

"People need to be a little more flexible.

"They need to pay attention to where their hot spots are, where they would do the grilling of their steaks."

A true barbecue chef - and there is such a thing - knows their cooking surface back to front and understands that no two grills are alike.

"They really have to be on top of it and learn how to move the food at a certain point," Pisapia says.

"When it's too hot, they need to move it to another part of the grill."

A culinary canvas

Anything can be done on a barbecue, Pisapia insists, as long as the chef is prepared for the task.

If steak is your thing, why not spice up that quality cut with an exotic sauce or different marinade?

It's important to remember when using a gas barbecue that the flavour come predominantly from the meat itself and the sauce.

"There's nothing that gets past a boneless rib-eye ... that you can put onto the barbecue and do with an Argentinian Chimichurri sauce," Pisapia says.

Fresh seafood is also a delight. Start with a clean slate and opt for steak fish like tuna, swordfish or salmon over the flakier options, which can be a challenge to grill.

Wrapping mussels, clams, pippies and prawns in little foil packages allows them to cook through and helps with serving.

Ratatouille is a "fantastic" barbecue dish for summer, Pisapia says, but it's important not to overcook the vegetables.

Just ensure the veggies are charred slightly before tossing them with extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, oregano and baby tomatoes to create a healthy and colourful dish.

Corn also goes down a treat on the barbie. Brand the cobs beforehand, then place them on the barbecue to get the kernels crispy.

Serve with a chipotle chili sauce and stack high for visual effect.


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