Whether your idea of the perfect barbecue is as simple as a few bangers in a bun, or something as intricate and cheffy as a whole-roasted lemon sole, there is a barbecue out there to meet your needs. “When people ask me about barbecues, I ask them: ‘What is it that you actually want?’’’ says Matt Black, chef director of Valletta. “Some people want a design piece for their garden, some want something they use once a year, and others want something to do smoking, direct cooking, and a range of things.”
As well as function, buyers should consider what kind of flame they are after. “Personally, I love cooking on a pile of wood, but this takes a lot longer to get ready to cook on. The upside is, at the end of your feast, you can keep the logs burning and the flames lighting the party,” says Andy Waugh, founder of Mac & Wild and Sixes Cricket Club. A quicker option would be charcoal: “You don’t have to wait as long for the coals to be red-hot. They also produce less smoke, so can be a more enjoyable experience for you and your guests.”
“You can literally cook anything on your barbecue, it’s just a matter of trying and practicing,” says Nicolas Fagundes, S.Pellegrino Young Chef winner and sous-chef at Pichet in Dublin. He burns his charcoal “for at least 45 minutes before I cook. I like to burn all the dark-black charcoal before I start to get rid of all the toxins, which makes it easier to control the temperature.” He says he cooks everything from baked sweet potatoes to grilled aubergine slices on his barbecue. “For an all-encompassing rule, cook vegetables like you would cook a steak — three minutes on each side — and you won’t go wrong,” he says.
Though a gas barbecue is even quicker than charcoal, Gareth Ward, chef patron of the Michelin-starred Ynyshir in Snowdonia, says it imparts next to nothing in terms of flavour. Ward, who has collaborated with StarChefs on an at-home BBQ kit, says, “Ideally, you want the hot wood and hot charcoal and you want the fat to drip off the meat onto the coal,” he says. “That gives off the most incredible flavour which, in my opinion, is impossible to achieve over gas.” But, says Waugh, sometimes ease wins out. “I have two young kids, and I’m pretty time-poor at home. Gas is instant heat, so you can just get straight to work. It’s an excellent way to cook alfresco without the time involved in getting the coals ready, and you won’t smoke out your neighbours, either.”
Best overall barbecue
For general use, seven of our experts recommended the Big Green Egg. These included Jeff Baker, development chef at Farmison’s butcher in North Yorkshire, and Avinash Shashidhara of Pali Hill in Fitzrovia, who called this the “epitome” of barbecues.
The Big Green Egg is based off a kamado grill — a sophisticated kind of ceramic charcoal grill popular in Japan. “They’re very easy to maintain their temperature, so they become almost like a coal-based oven, which is super easy to use,” explained Jimmy Garcia, owner of Jimmy’s Pop Up (which includes the new BBQ Club on the South Bank). “They also use Japanese ceramics, which means that within the barbecue, all your food retains its moisture when you’re cooking. With anything like meats, chicken, and fish, it allows for a bit more ‘give’ on the cooking time. If you overcook your meats, chances are they will still be nice and tender, which is no mean feat.”
Gareth Ward spoke highly of the Big Green Egg, particularly how well-built they are. “They hold heat really well, they are very reliable, and they are easy to use.” Matt Black added that “the Big Green Egg is all about heat retention, so you’re using less fuel, and the heat becomes a lot more circulated due to the design.” It also came recommended by Tom McKenna, a chef and culinary director of sauce brand ’Nade, who said it was “as beautiful as it is functional,” adding that “lots of barbecuing techniques can be performed and perfected with this grill.”
As well as the barbecue being available in a variety of sizes and styles, Ward says you can buy extra tools and inserts to cook everything from pizzas to a roast dinner. “They are also incredible for smoking, and there’s a variety of different things you can do with them,” says Garcia, such as contactless direct heat or indirect heat. He says that he has started using them across all his pop-up restaurants, and his staff often comment on how easy they are to use. “For its versatility and effectiveness at barbecuing, searing, and smoking, the possibilities are endless,” says Luke French, chef owner of Jöro in Sheffield.
Best (less expensive) barbecue
The Weber Kettle barbecue came recommended by five of our experts as a better-value option. “I think an entry-level Weber Kettle is the perfect model for somebody who has never barbecued, or someone who is a seasoned barbecuer looking for a new model,” says Black. McKenna, who says he prefers charcoal over gas grills, agreed: “The Weber is my absolute favourite. The rounded shape of the lid and bowl is great for a slow convection barbecue, as well as for smoking. It’s an extremely simple design, easy to use, and very versatile.” It also came recommended by Ioannis Grammenos, executive chef at the Heliot Steak House, and Andy Waugh, who said, “It is nigh-on impossible to talk about barbecues without mentioning this classic. My dad used to own one, my father-in-law currently has one, and frankly every self-respecting household in England should own one.” Fagundes also likes Weber’s master-touch models (which are currently sold out) for their sophisticated temperature-control options.
Best (even less expensive) barbecues
This under-£100 recommendation came via design consultant Sam Norris, who runs Garden Street — an indie retailer specialising in outdoor furniture. “The beer-barrel design only requires 1.5 kg of charcoal to prepare a complete barbecue for the whole family,” he says. Though it only has one shelf, the food is protected by the side guards, which help maintain a consistent temperature, even on windy days. “The stainless-steel finish is also weather-resistant, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the rain,” says Norris.
Fagundes told us this £50 barbecue from Argos was an excellent dupe for the Weber model. “I have this one myself and I love it. It looks very similar to premium barbecues, but overall, it does the same job and also features a handy system to light up the charcoal.” He says it has a surprising capacity to feed crowds, and has served food for 10 to 12 people on just a five-kilo bag of charcoal. “What you do not have, which you pay for with a premium barbecue, are stones to keep the temperature stable, so you just must keep watching your coal. But that is part of the fun, isn’t it?”
Best (less expensive) kamado-style barbecues
Though our experts swear by the Big Green Egg, there are less expensive versions on the market. Andy Waugh says he owns a Kamado Joe, and recommended it for many of the same reasons as the Big Green Egg. Its smallest option, the junior, is “significantly cheaper” than the Big Green Egg — 42 percent cheaper, in fact. It measures 34 cm in diameter.
James Cochran, head chef/owner at 12:51, told us about Ovo (short for Outdoor Versatile Oven), a brand of kamado barbecues that come in some eye-catching colours, such as this tangerine colourway. “It’s very portable, measuring just 32 cm in diameter, so it’s great to take to the beach, park, or woods,” he says. “A great essential for outdoor camping material too, but good for smaller gardens as well. You can tuck it away no problem once you’ve used it.”
Best-rated gas barbecue
Hilary Anderson and Jack Rowbottom, who cook under the moniker The BBQ Lads, recommended this four-burner gas BBQ by Char-Broil due to the infrared capabilities. “It really works,” they say. “The heat is evenly distributed across the grill so you get no hot spots or cold spots, and everything stays cooked to its juicy best.” Anderson and Rowbottom noted the ceramic “sear burner” on the side, which lets you heat up to 400 degrees in seven minutes. “You can get perfect sear marks and juicy pink meat.”
The barbecue is turned on with the push of a button, and has no open flame, making it safer to use around children. It can also hold an 11 kg gas bottle and features an indicator showing you how much is left.
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