I love barbeques. I love the concept of standing outside and cooking. I love food that has been sealed in its own juices and dressed with nothing more than a drip of oil, a splash of lemon and a whiff of charcoal. I also own a mighty fine kettle barbeque and am not ashamed to admit it. But you can’t pack your big boy barbie when you’re off camping or heading off on holiday.
If you’re lucky your campsite or holiday apartment might come with a barbeque that’s been reasonably maintained. Otherwise you can find yourself buying small cheap alternatives and leaving them behind, or those tinfoil instant barbeques that seem to make a great deal of smoke and with grills too close to the food to do a decent job.
The alternative is to make your own barbeque. The tips and ideas cover both a holiday alternatives and a more permanent DIY venture for your garden.
One of the best barbies I ever attended involved a South African guy hunting through the undergrowth for a decent-sized piece of fallen tree composed of a V-shaped section of branch with a bit of a curve in it. He then built a fire nestling at the apex of the V, slapped a small grilling rack on top of it (that he kept in his rucksack) and proceeded to cook supper.
The 3 most important things to be thinking about…
Fuel – you need something that is going to burn – charcoal, wood or the dreaded ‘brickette’ (too fast and smokey for my tastes) that can be situated above the air source. So you need a metal rack for the fuel to rest on and one that won’t be distorted by heat.
Air - this is needed to consume the fuel once lit, so air needs to pass under and through the fuel. Note: The biggest mistake barbequers make is starting to cook too soon. The flames need to die down. What you want is maximum heat but no flame and in the case of charcoal, the coals should have turned grey.
Proximity – depending on what it is (fish, meat, fatty, lean…) and the size of what you’re cooking, you may want to place the food nearer or further away from the fuel. How are you going to raise and lower the grill?
The bucket barbie
You need a sturdy galvanized bucket (ideally an old one that doesn’t hold water any more and that’s therefore getting a second life). (You can also buy them cheaply anyway almost anywhere you might camp or holiday.)
1. Use a large nail to hammer some holes around the diameter about 3 inches up from the base and about 2 inches apart.
2. About 2 inches above the holes hammer in 4 or 5 holes on one side of the bucket about 1/1.5 inches apart and the same number of holes directly opposite on the other side of the bucket. The rods need to be spaced so that the charcoal fuel doesn’t fall between them.
3. Thread metal rods of a suitable heat resistant material (they should be around around 2 inches longer than the distance between the 2 sets of holes see 2.) and bend the ends so they stay in place. (But not so tight that they can’t be removed for bucket deep cleaning.) It’s best to make the holes in your bucket and then measure before you buy the rods, so you get rods of the right length.
4. You then need to suspend the food over the top of the bucket. One option is to thread the food on skewers wider than the diameter of the bucket. Alternatively, buy or salvage a metal rack that can be rested on top of the bucket.
Of course, you can also buy bucket barbeques quite cheaply (but not as cheap as a bucket). A good tip is to take a look at the ones on sale even if you don’t plan to buy as it may give you some ideas for your own version. (Bought bucket barbies also tend to have crimped metal sides that hold the fuel and grilling racks in place so you only need air holes.)
Brick barbie (simple version)
Get some house bricks. Place them two house bricks deep the width of a metal grill apart. Build a fire underneath. Put the grill on top and you’re ready to go.
Brick barbie (sophisticated version)
Building your own barbie is a great way of practising your bricklaying skills (okay, not everybody’s idea of a fun time, I admit.). You can also buy brick barbie kits from DIY suppliers.
If building your own from scratch you need to order materials capable of withstanding high heat and open flame. Make this clear to your supplier. The exact size and shape depend on the space and location you have available. So measure carefully before you start ordering stuff.
A word of caution
The most important things with impromptu barbies – whatever you’re using – are (i) it is safe and (ii) is it permitted? Keep away from overhanging trees and dry undergrowth and never barbeque in public spaces – such as a beach or a park – before checking local bye laws and signs. If you do use a tinfoil disposable barbeque, raise it up so it isn’t sitting directly on turf. Parks pockmarked with small burnt brown patches aren’t very pretty to look at.
Wherever you barbeque, keep in mind that you’re playing with fire and take care.
BBQ, barbeque or barbecue?
Now you’ve built it what do you call it on the party invitation you’re sending out? BBQ is acceptable shorthand and is great if you’re a rotten speller like me. Brits often use barbeque, which might be a corruption of the French ‘barbe a queue’ (whiskers to tail) and date back to the days when you popped a whole beast on a spit. Americans tend to like barbecue and the other alternative origin is from the Spanish ‘barbacoa’ (slow cooking over an open fire). What do you think?