BBQ FAQ – Everything You Need To Know For a Perfect BBQ

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BBQ Planning.

The “six P’s” acronym, Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance, could have been invented for BBQ’s (there is a 7 P one as well, but that may be a little risqué for here!)

Going to somebody else’s BBQ is always great, but hosting your own, especially for more than a few people, can be quite stressful.

Using a checklist, like our one here, means that there’s no need to worry about forgetting something at the last minute. Whilst quite comprehensive, it isn’t exhaustive, so there’s space for you to add your own Summer favourites.

Charcoal BBQ VS Gas BBQ?

Let’s get the big one out of the way first!


Charcoal BBQ’s are certainly the more traditional choice, compared to newer gas models. Many people prefer grilling food over a live fire because it's the essence of outdoor cooking - nurturing the coals and letting the smoke permeate through the food for a more authentic taste. Barbecue fanatics would choose charcoal any day over gas.

But judging which is 'better' out of gas vs charcoal BBQ’s doesn't always just come down to taste. If you're looking for a no-faff BBQ that is still capable of creating delicious food, gas BBQ’s are more ideal than charcoal. There’s a reason why we say that ‘we’re cooking on gas’ as soon as we start making rapid, efficient progress. You also have much more control over your cooking when using gas.

Deciding which is better really comes down to whether you're prepared to spend more time using a charcoal BBQ to achieve that really authentic barbecue flavour, or whether you're happy with some nicely grilled food that took much less time to make.

Charcoal BBQ’s also require a little more effort when it comes to cleaning and maintenance as well. But for many people, using charcoal as the fuel is worth the extra time and effort, because of the better, tastier results at the end of cooking.

It really is a matter of “taste”.

Or is it?

Perhaps the bigger question we should be asking these days is: “Which one is more sustainable?”

Which bbq is more sustainable?

This isn’t as clear cut as you might think. While it is fairly obvious, from an emissions perspective, that charcoal grills give off more carbon than those fired by gas or propane, because they literally burn carbon. But the kind of charcoal you use matters for the environment too. Lumpwood charcoal is often marketed as a more natural product—just chunks of roasted wood. Compared with self-igniting briquettes, which are doused in chemicals, lumpwood charcoal might indeed help you avoid releasing pollutants into the air.

It also has the potential to become carbon-neutral, because it is made from wood, which could be harvested sustainably from trees that consume the carbon that charcoal grills emit. But such a goal is rarely achieved, as it relies on more trees being planted, than the number of trees harvested, because young trees do not use as much CO2 as older trees. Some wood is even harvested expressly for lump charcoal. Briquettes, by contrast, are generally made from wood scraps and waste, which might spare trees from being harvested.

However, in both cases, the chances are the charcoal you are buying isn’t super pure. A 2020 study of cooking fuels revealed that many charcoals, whether lump or briquette, contain all manner of additives, including coal, metal, lighter fluid, plastic and resin.

Propane gas comes from fossil fuels and is not renewable, because it takes millions of years to form. Plus, you have the environmental impacts from the refinery processes and the transportation emissions to get the propane to your local store. (As you do with charcoal, to be fair).

The best case scenario for charcoal would be to use locally sourced lumpwood charcoal, derived from wood scraps, used in conjunction with a chimney starter, more of which later.

What’s the best way to light a charcoal BBQ?

Whichever way you choose to light your BBQ, it needs to start off clean.

Clean out any ash and leftover debris from the bottom, open the bottom grill vent, this will let oxygen get to the charcoal and help it burn.

Scrunch up some newspaper or firelighters on the grate ( I use the Ooni natural firestarters, which are little bundles of coiled up wood shavings, and they work first time, every time.)

Stack your charcoal in a mound, or pyramid, making sure you can get to the starter with a long match or lighter. A bit of care at this point will pay dividends in the long run, make sure that plenty of air can flow through, and around, your pyramid.

Allow the flames to build in their own time, don’t try and force them. It will take about 20 minute to be ready, so have a beer, or do some prep.

Chimney starters.

An even easier way is to use a chimney starter. This handy tool is basically just a metal cylinder into which you place your charcoal. Then all you need to do is pour the burning pieces in your barbecue and spread as appropriate. Sounds easy enough right?

Chimney starter

Well, it actually is! First fill the chimney starter with a suitable amount of charcoal.

Then put a few sheets of scrunched up paper (or natural firelighters) on the grate. Light the paper in several places and put the chimney over the flames. As the paper starts to burn in the bottom of the chamber, the flames will begin to light the edges of the charcoal above. You can monitor the progress by looking through the vents of the chimney starter.

Finally, after about ten minutes or so, you should see glowing coals and flames beginning to lick and flicker over the top layer of coals. This means you are good to go.

Now simply pour your hot coals out and spread accordingly.

How do I know when my charcoal is ready to cook on?

This is crucial stuff, because if you jump the gun, the outside of your food could overcook or become a carbonized catastrophe, whilst the inside is still raw.

Your charcoal colour holds the key.

Grey or black with flames: Hold on there. It’s not quite ready yet. You can still squeeze in a bit more prep.

White hot glow with red centre: Ideal for direct heat cooking.

White ash and extreme heat: perfect for indirect heat cooking.

My BBQ is ready to cook, now what?

This last bit sorts the rookies from the pro’s - the arrangement of the hot coals. That’s right, there’s even more you can do to make things easy, and tasty. It’s simple when you think about it. More charcoal at one end, or on one side, will mean you have different heat types, and different heat types are best matched to certain foods and cooking needs.

Direct heat

If you spread out your charcoal in an even layer, you are essentially creating a high temperature ‘stove top’ effect. The heat created is direct, uniform and very hot. It’s like having everything on the highest heat in a very hot skillet. This direct heat is ideal for thin cuts of meat that cook through quickly, such as burgers and thin-cut steaks. However, it will cremate slow cooking food into chargrilled oblivion.

Indirect heat

If you spread the charcoal from lots to none, you will have two heat areas, direct heat from your charcoal pile and indirect heat from the charcoal-free section. This allows you to cook on one side and keep food warm on the other. Alternatively, you can use the indirect heat for low-and-slow cooking delights such as larger, thicker meats, chicken and fish.

A bit of both

So, clearly a sloping arrangement to create a gradient of heat, from blazing hot to a soft sizzle, is best. This is essential if you are cooking for a larger crowd as you can cook up a storm at the top, go slow and steady in the middle of the slope and keep things warm at the bottom. Talk about multi-tasking, you BBQ Master.

One last thing before we start! Make sure you preheat before cooking, close the lid and leave it for 5 minutes or so. You should hear a light sizzle when you put your food on the grill. This will also help you to get those professional looking lines on your meat.

Make Sure You Avoid Fridge Chill

You should avoid taking the meat straight out of the fridge and onto the BBQ. If it is too cold, it can easily burn on the outside before it has had a chance to cook through on the inside.

Take your meat out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you plan on cooking and it will give it a chance to come down to room temperature. Just make sure it’s properly covered and not left in direct sunlight.

Now we’re cooking!

If you’re cooking on a gas BBQ then, obviously, you have much more heat control than on a charcoal one, but cooking over coals isn’t just about luck.

You can control the temperature inside the BBQ by using the vents. It may seem counter intuitive, but open vents will crank up the heat (more airflow to the charcoal). Just don’t overdo it and burn the outsides whilst leaving the insides raw.

Is it ready yet?

A great investment for your BBQ toolkit is a meat thermometer probe. It takes the guesswork out of knowing when your food is cooked, and you’ll get extra kudos for everything being done to perfection.

Our handy time and temperature chart will help to ensure that all your hard work results in a perfectly cooked, tasty feast for your guests. (It's a .pdf so you can download it and print it off, for easy reference)

BBQ FAQ – Everything You Need To Know For a Perfect BBQ

BBQ Drinks Ideas

It is often the alcoholic offerings that can make or break a party (despite your culinary magic over the coals!)

If you don't have a swanky bartender to serve a variety of drinks to your guests, you might be thinking that your only option is to just offer cold beers and maybe some wine and that is about it.

Luckily there are a lot of fun cocktails you can serve that will spice things up and because you can make pitchers of them, they are very simple to make and serve.

We'll get to the cocktail recipes shortly.

If you are offering wine, and are even slightly serious about it, then a little thought about pairing the wine with your BBQ food will be much appreciated by your guests.

A few BBQ food and Wine pairing pointers!

Sausages are an easy go-to BBQ option, especially as they’re often inexpensive. There are also many different types to choose from, including some that are spicy, some that are rich in flavour, and others that are much more subtle. Such differences all make wine pairing more complex.


Not surprisingly, the best wine is going to depend on the type of sausages that you’re serving.


A fruity red wine with some tannins, like a merlot or a cabernet sauvignon, is a good place to start. This type of wine will stand up well to sausages that have complex flavours, particularly those that are on the fatty side. This is particularly true for very spicy sausages, that aren’t subtle at all. You might even want to try a heavily oaked bottle of cabernet sauvignon.


If your sausages tend to be mild instead, then consider pinot noir as your wine of choice. The light body of the wine makes it easy to drink and means that pinot noir won’t overpower many foods. This is why it features in so many different food and wine pairings.


Many sausages do surprisingly well with white wine too. This is because sausages are often sweeter than you expect, especially if they contain red onion or apple. The white wine helps to contrast against this sweetness, giving you a delicious balance. The combination is particularly nice for sausages that contain lighter meats like pork and chicken.


Pinot gris is a fantastic white wine to choose here, as it isn’t strongly aromatic and has enough body to stand up against the flavours. This wine will even work when you’re making a hot dog, as most of the ingredients that you stack on top are a little sweet too.

First things first, let’s think about how you’re cooking your chicken. If you’re literally cooking it on the grill and serving it with BBQ sauce, then your best bet is a medium bodied red wine, ideally one without too much oak.


Some types of white wine can work too, including an off-dry riesling and a gewürztraminer. Both types of wine contain some sweetness, which naturally parallels the balance of sweet and spicy that you often find in BBQ sauce.


And, as you can probably guess, you can turn to a rosé too. After all, rosé is a versatile wine and works well with many flavour profiles.

Nothing disproves the notion that you can’t have red wine with fish like Gamay. With its light body and low tannins, Gamay is one of the most food-friendly varietals, but its bright fruit and acidity are a beautiful contrast to the smoky flavour and creamy texture of barbecued salmon.

Like many BBQ foods, it's all about the marinade. Salmon is a blank canvas with fins, which means there are countless ways to play with flavours all summer long. It has such a high fat content (that's what makes it so delicious!) that it doesn't need to be doused with oil and it will take on flavour from dry rubs just as well as wet marinades.

Your wine choice should be influenced by any added flavours from marinades or rubs, but Pinot noir is an easy choice for salmon, which isn’t too surprising, as it pairs well with baked salmon too. If you prefer white wine, then consider a chardonnay. Chardonnay tends to be relatively rich, with buttery tones, so it’s an ideal choice with the richness of salmon. Chenin blanc is an another alternative. This white wine has notable acidity and some sweet flavours. It often isn’t as rich as a chardonnay, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you’re giving the salmon more of a chance to shine through.

While we’re on the topic of seafood, it’s time to talk about prawns. Grilled prawns are a classic BBQ choice, so it’s important to get the pairing right. Most of the time, you’ll be best off focusing on a rosé or a white wine. However, the specific wine will depend on how your prawns are seasoned and what else you’re serving.

For example, if you’re grilling them with tomatoes, then a dry rosé is an ideal choice. The fruit flavours of the wine work well with the smokiness and tomato flavours of your dish.

For grilled prawns that are going on a salad, sauvignon blanc tends to be better. The herbaceous tones in sauvignon blanc naturally pair with greens, while the lightness of the wine is beautiful with most salads.

And, when you’re serving prawns on their own, chardonnay is exceptional. This combination is especially perfect when you’re using a little butter with your prawns. You end up with a rich and delicious combination that is difficult to beat.

Like sausages, burgers are often fatty and can be packed with many different flavours. This is another case where a rich red wine can be perfect. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot remain easy go-to choices, along with a grenache blend.

If you want something a little more unusual, try a bottle of zinfandel. Red zinfandel wine is distinctive, due to its high alcohol content and jam-like fruitiness.

The fruit-forward nature of the wine is ideal when you’re dealing with complex flavours. After all, a burger tends to be full of other ingredients as well as the meat.

Like sausages, burgers are often fatty and can be packed with many different flavours. This is another case where a rich red wine can be perfect. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot remain easy go-to choices, along with a grenache blend.

If you want something a little more unusual, try a bottle of zinfandel. Red zinfandel wine is distinctive, due to its high alcohol content and jam-like fruitiness.

The fruit-forward nature of the wine is ideal when you’re dealing with complex flavours. After all, a burger tends to be full of other ingredients as well as the meat.


BBQ Cocktails

A great way to ensure you have a stress-free party is by whipping up pitchers of cocktails in advance.

These easy drink recipes are made by the jug and designed to serve a small party, keeping you out of the bar so you can enjoy the good times with your friends.

Pina Colada Sangria
Pina Colada Sangria Cocktail
Cucumber and Apple Gin and Tonic Cocktail
Cucumber and Apple Gin and Tonic Cocktail

Honey Summer Fizz Cocktail
Honey Summer Fizz Cocktail

Pimms and Lemonade Pimm's and Lemonade Cocktail


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