The smell of charcoal drifting across neighbourhood gardens is one of life’s simple pleasures. We asked Helen Graves, barbeque expert and editor of Pit Magazine, for her tips to get the most out of al fresco cooking. 

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Pick your charcoal carefully

“Lots of charcoal, particularly 'briquettes' are made with rainforest wood and pumped full of chemicals in order to make them less flammable when they’re being transported to the UK,” says Helen. “Then they get pumped with even more chemicals to make them flammable again.” She advises going for the greener option: “There are now British companies selling excellent, sustainably-produced charcoal.”

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Watch the clock

We all know that feeling of pacing the garden, tongs in hand, while the grill heats up. It’s easy to forget that your barbeque needs time to get going before you can cook on it. “Conversely, it's not wise to light your barbeque then walk away and forget about it only to realise all your charcoal has burnt away,” says Helen. “A chimney starter takes around 10 minutes to get going before you pour the coals onto the grill, and you need to wait for an even heat across the coals before you begin cooking.” So set a timer and practise some patience.

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Go big on flavour

Barbequed food is all about bold, punchy flavours, says Helen, with the smoke and char from the cooking adding an extra dimension to the taste. “You'll need strong flavours to stand up to that,” she advises. “Marinate ingredients if possible, and don't be afraid to baste with extra flavour when they're grilling. Add plenty of garnish afterwards, too.” Check out McColl’s for deals on dips and dressings to go with accompaniments such as salads and tortilla chips.

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Get the perfect cut

Going for a classic steak will show off your grill skills, plus if you use a large cut there’ll be more to go around. “I love the fact that a large steak can be sliced to feed more than one person and the meat takes the smoky flavour so well,” says Helen. “The high heat of a barbecue means you can get a good crust on the outside, which you can't often do cooking it indoors,” she adds. “Season the steak really well with salt (not pepper yet, it will burn) and flip it frequently to build up an even crust. Make sure to rest it well, too.” For a purse-friendly option, go for a flavoursome bavette – or flank – steak. “I'm a big fan of bavette, which likes fast, quick cooking and is a lot more affordable,” says Helen.

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Sip something special

Signal the start of the summer with the pop of the cork. A cool glass of prosecco or an ice-cold beer will put the fizz into your barbeque. Head to your local McColl’s for the latest deals on wine and beer. Fancy going booze free? Mix up a simple Mojito Mocktail by grinding 1 tablespoon of sugar with a small bunch of mint in a pestle and mortar (or use a bowl and rolling pin), squeeze three limes and split the juice and mint mix between two glasses, then top up with soda water. Serve, sip and relax.

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