By Smokey Hunter
The hard working tradie or stressed office worker deserves a satisfying food experience at the end of the working day.
What better way to accomplish this than by firing up your own barbecue? It satisfies the fire cravings, titillates the taste buds and is a great way to entertain friends and family.
Gas or charcoal?
For the time-poor, gas-fired barbecues are the go-to. They come in a variety of sizes and makes, but the smaller, less expensive models are the popular ones today.
The Weber Q series has taken the outdoor gastronomy world by storm and all its many clones also produce good food.
Gas is good, but for the bloke or blokess who wants to cook a really great feed, there is a more troublesome and fiddly, but ultimately more satisfying, method using charcoal.
Charcoal is not an easy alternative: it’s fiddly because charcoal barbecues aren’t always ‘set and forget’ and cleaning up afterwards is time consuming. But the satisfaction is in the end result: a smoky, woody flavour and a taste that satisfies the palate.
The good news is the flavours of charcoal can be replicated on a gas or electric barbecue. By adding wood chips, either in designated smoker box, or by making a simple pouch out of aluminium foil, filling it with wood chips and then placing it on the grill grate above a burner, you’ll get a nice smoky result, whether cooking pizza, a rotisserie chook, or a roast of lamb.
On week nights the barbecue can supply the evening meal, especially during the warm summer months when the weather and plenty of daylight encourages outdoor living. If your deck or patio is sheltered and undercover, the barbecue can be used to cook and entertain year round.
For those who want to use gas, Weber Q barbecues come in three sizes, all suitable for the home. Other options include Beefeater Bugg, Zigler and Brown and the Gasmate copies, all of which work well, plus a plethora of other brands.
The smallest Weber, the BabyQ, can be taken camping or down to the beach to the cook an evening meal; bigger barbecues can be utilised as pizza ovens, as the family roaster, for cooking kebabs at the end of the day, or rustling up a feed of chops and snags.With a little more effort, charcoal barbecues can do the same.
The leader of the pack has to be the ageless Weber Kettle, which has been around for ever and was used by generations of barbecue cooks to roast the family turkey at Xmas, and on weekends to prepare “the best pork roast I have ever made.”
Steaks ‘reverse-seared’ on the Kettle take the steak lover to a special place and lamb chops cooked over charcoal have a flavour all of their own, especially when basted with rosemary branches dipped in olive oil.
Among the writer’s favourites are a leg of lamb, or a chook, rotisserie-cooked on the Kettle over charcoal or ‘heatbeads’. Popular heatbeads can be as hot as charcoal and are longer lasting.
Barbecues often lead their owners into the land of sharing and caring, encouraging them to put on a feed at home for mates. Either gas or charcoal is fine for this, and while gas barbecues and charcoal kettles can also happily work alongside each other, there comes a time when a smoker comes into the reckoning.
The smoker comes in electric, gas, charcoal or wood options. The most popular seem to be offset smokers, running charcoal or wood as fuel, plus a flavour source.
Bullet smokers like the Fornetto, ProQ and Weber Smokey Mountain are an ideal place to start the smoking journey, which can be very rewarding.
Two briskets cooked over a water bath can be slow-smoked simultaneously in a bullet smoker, but if you have the local rugby team coming round you want to be running an offset smoker.
The writer has a bullet smoker, a Weber Smokey Mountain, and it is the most used charcoal burner he owns. While writing this article he was overseeing a slow, nine-hour smoke-cook of a 4.7kg pork picnic shoulder to feed his family and a few others with pulled pork and slaw buns. Yum!
For a team of mates, Hunter recently cooked a lamb shoulder and a small brisket point end, both in the smoker, two chooks on the rotisserie in the Kettle, and sausages and steaks on the Family Q.
And for the still hungry, he seared up a few lamb chops on the Kettle once the chicken was finished. It was a big night with very little left over!
Another type of smoker is the ceramic cooker/smoker, like the Big Green Egg or the range of Kamados. These ceramic cookers do a fantastic job. They are capable of a hot and fast cook/grill, or a long, low and slow cook at a very steady temperature.
The low and slow style of cooking is possible with any sort of barbecue, but owners of ceramic cookers, bullet smokers, and offset smokers make an art form out of it, turning cheap (and previously unwanted) cuts of meat into juicy, delicious meals.
Top of the pops for beef would be brisket, followed by chuck, oyster blade, ribs and beef cheek. All of these love being cooked for a long time – around 9 to 12 hours – at a very low 112-125°C. The process turns the previously tough dog tucker into a deliciously gelatinous, melt-in-your-mouth feed you will want to eat again and again.
Lamb shoulder loves being cooked this way, too, the meat either sliced or pulled. Pork is a specialty area, where ribs, pork belly, pork shoulder or the whole hog can be turned into delicious meals. Chicken can be smoked, fried, roasted or grilled.
Barbecuing is a very satisfying pastime and might even lead to career changing moments – like taking up competition barbecue cooking.
The writer is taking a judging course where he hopes to learn how to present food attractively, but within the competition guidelines of the Australasian and New Zealand Barbecue Alliance.
The food he will be judging includes pork ribs, beef (including brisket and beef ribs), chicken, lamb, seafood, chef’s choice and more. He reckons it should be a great day – but he’ll probably come home and bash out some pork ribs in the smoker afterwards. Heck, they only take four hours!
The writer Smokey Hunter occasionally works for Weber, demonstrating their products at a Weber specialty store and sometimes selling them too.
At home, he has five Weber BBQs at home that he actively cooks on. With that sort of hands-on experience, Hunter has a good idea of what is happening in the marketplace and what people like to barbecue.
The writer has an Instagram site – Smokey Hunter – and is very active on various Facebook barbecuing sites.