For me, a good barbecue has never been about cooking and eating my way through a whole heap of different meats with a limp excuse for a salad on the side. While I love good meat as much as the next carnivore, I find the breadth of colors and textures you get from vegetables to be way more exciting.
The trick is to embrace the whole omnivorous experience, layering up ingredients to maximize the wow factor and flavor hit of your dishes—here’s how I do that at home.
Learn the Difference Between Indirect vs. Direct Grilling
With a little fire-knowledge you can literally cook anything on your grill. One key skill is learning the difference between direct and indirect grilling. It’s the linchpin to success. With direct cooking you put your food directly over the fire so it cooks hotter and faster, and with indirect cooking the food is off to the side of the heat, cooking more gently for longer.
As a rule I think many things are better cooked a little more slowly over a slightly lower heat—the end result is juicer, more flavorful, and with no chance of the dreaded "burnt on the outside and raw in the middle scenario."
There are obvious exceptions to this, and in my recipes below, the broccolini cooks super fast over direct heat, as do other thin vegetables like asparagus and scallions. The salmon bites are also a quick direct cooking kind of dish, as are most fish recipes. But there is no way you can rush cooking a whole cauliflower or chicken—these things need time and a more gentle, indirect approach.
Make Sure Your Grill Has a Lid
A lid on your grill is a supremely useful thing—by shutting it as you cook, you trap in the all important convection, or hot air, currents that make the cooking efficient and even. After all, you wouldn’t expect to bake a cake in your oven with the door wide open, would you? Shut the lid and you keep the heat in, things cook better, and you use less fuel.
By placing your food away from the fire and shutting the lid you are essentially turning your grill into an oven, which is why it’s possible to slowly roast the cauliflower as in the recipe below.
Find the Heat Source That Works Best for You
I am somewhat addicted to fire, and charcoal or wood are my primary heat sources. That is not to say gas grills are bad, you can get great results cooking with them, they just don’t get me excited in the same way as solid fuels do.
If you are cooking with gas it’s easy to replicate direct and indirect cooking: you simply cook directly over the gas burners, or leave one burner unlit to create an indirect cooking zone.
I am a passionate advocate of cooking over sustainably made lump wood charcoal, it’s a pure carbon product with no chemicals and I know I can get cooking on it in less than 10 minutes—quicker than I could heat up a gas barbecue. I urge grillers to seek out artisan makers of really good quality charcoal in your area of the world. Both the planet and your cooking will thank you.
Always Practice Mise En Place
Finally, the trick to a successful barbecue party is being a little ‘boy scout’ about it and getting ahead of yourself. Before you even think about heading outside, get completely organized inside. Chefs call this ‘mise en place,’ which literally means getting everything in place—all your veg chopped, your meat marinated or rubbed, your sauces and seasonings lined up, and your equipment organized.
It’s how professional kitchens run efficiently and, while I’m not generally a fan of military precision in anything, when you are cooking outside it’s brilliant to have everything you need right by you at your fingertips. It means you can simply ‘be’ with your fire, and you can enjoy the process rather than having to nip in and out because you forgot the olive oil or need to grab a pair of tongs.