Awesome Sausage Holders!

Well, I received this amazing gift from @redhatman a few days ago. I’ve not had chance to use them yet, but I’m really impressed, and very grateful!

Awesome or what? Thanks @redhatman!

In case you can’t work out from the picture, they’re sausage holders. The sausages go in the *ahem* only unpainted place, and then the whole thing goes on the barbecue, leading to no overcharring. Inspired!

"Is that a nail in your pocket, or are you skewering my sausage?" or such like.

From what I can gather, @redhatman crafted this entirely himself, and shipped them to me, entirely at cost to himself. I’m touched – thanks very much! I’ll post a review once the weather is good enough, and I’ve got some sausages :)

As you were!

Charcoal Chimney!

For my birthday (26 – getting on now), Gemma‘s mum was kind enough to buy me a wonderful bit of apparatus that I’ve been hankering after for a while: a charcoal chimney (or to give it its proper name, a Rapid Fire Chimney Starter. It’s glorious:

Charcoal. In a chimney. See what they did there?

You all know that I’ve been using instant lighting stuff for a while. But it’s expensive, and it feels like cheating. I don’t like cheating (one could argue the same about this, but hey).

The idea is pretty simple – charcoal briquettes (or lumpwood stuff) in the top – a varying amount depending on the size of your barbecue, and loosely screwed up newspaper underneath a metal cone-shaped frame in the bottom. The paper burns, the chimney acts like a chimney (!) and therefore the charcoal burns too. In about 15 minutes the charcoal is ready to pour onto the grate.

Genius! But it does have a few issues, which I’ll get to grips with:

  • Where do I put it? After making charcoal super hot, it is also super hot. Can’t put it on the grass, nor on the patio in case the dog gets near it. Luckily I’ve got a raised ledge covered in slate chips, which did the job.
  • If your charcoal dies too early (which, for an whole-evening barbecue like MattFest, it might), you need to get some more on the go. It’s not really practical to do that in the barbecue, so you’ve got to light the chimney again, with more charcoal, somewhere else. Difficult with aforementioned dog on the loose and looking for burger bits. We managed, though, and this won’t usually be a problem.
  • Using crumpled newspaper is either not great, or I’m not doing it right. It has to be loosely crumpled, but I’m finding it goes out too quickly. The box does also recommend using firelighters in place of newspaper, which, according to Stu, works well.

The main benefit, of course, is that it saves a lot on fuel. And it looks so freakin’ cool!

Getting Started: Equipment

Right then. Better start barbecuing, I guess. This post will introduce you to the stuff Gemma and I use to barbecue with on a (more-regular-than-we-should) basis.

The Barbecue

We’ve lived in our house since 2007. We started barbecuing then, using some sort of cheap ‘open’ barbecue (the sort that comes from a well-known catalogue shop and looks like a big metal box with shelves). Rubbish! Because of the amount of space around the charcoal, it was difficult to get anything lit. And once the barbecue was lit, it didn’t stay hot for very long. Oh and being huge, it took a mountain of charcoal to get anything good going.

That leads me to Matt’s first Top Tip™: don’t buy a cheap-ass barbecue. This is based on our experience, of course, but our grilling lives were enhanced by the world of Weber (any Weber folk reading, I’d love some free stuff, ok? Thanks).

Mmm, deliciously expensive barbecue
Where the magic happens. Ahem.

The barbecue we ended up buying was the one to the right, a Weber OneTouch. It cost about £70 from a well known orange-branded DIY store. Seems expensive for a charcoal grill, but money well spent. It always lights, first time, because it’s quite deep inside (see other picture), and has vents in the bottom for air to get in.

More importantly, though, it cooks really well. The lid allows it to act like an oven, which means you can do fairly awesome things like cooking a roast chicken in it. Can’t do that with your open barbecue can you? Eh?

In the past we’ve replaced our barbecue every year or so (nothing to cover it -> rust -> weird metallic flavours). These things apparently last for ten years or more if kept properly. So anyway, enough sycophantic praise…

Inside of the barbecue
It's Grilliant! (Sorry, I'll go now)

The Fuel

Ah, onto a controversial topic. We’ve never really got on with normal charcoal (heretics, I know). But if you do want to use plain charcoal/briquettes I’d recommend using firelighters. Lighting fluid has often given my food a weird flavour before.

So… we use instant-lighting fuel (see left). It costs more, but until we get a Charcoal Chimney (thanks for that one, Ina Garten), it’ll do. Takes about half an hour to be ready, and cooks for over an hour without trouble. Disagree? Put it in the comments!

Other Stuff

So you’ve got the barbecue and the fuel. A few other things you’ll need:

  • A good knife. If you’re just making burgers and sausages, you can probably do without this. But for some of the recipes on this blog, you’ll need to chop! And that leads me to…
  • A food processor. Homemade burgers are great made by hand, but quicker made with a machine.
  • Barbecue tools. Personally I can get by with just a fish-slice-style turner, and some tongs. But a big fork is sometimes useful.
  • Barbecue drip-trays. Obviously you can get non-branded ones, which are just as good. Perfect for indirect cooking, like for a roast chicken (more on that soon).

I think we’re set! Let’s do some barbecuing!