The ultimate BBQ guide: Everything you need for dining alfresco

Louise Whitbread
·9 min read
Fire up the grill this bank holiday for a BBQ in the sunshine: iStock
Fire up the grill this bank holiday for a BBQ in the sunshine: iStock

The weather is heating up and that means it's time to dust off the barbecue for some alfresco dining.

On 28 May, the prime minister Boris Johnson announced that groups of up to six people from different households will be able to meet outdoors, or in a garden, in England from Monday 1 June, as long as households stay two metres apart.

The government confirmed that hosting barbecues and inviting people over will be permitted from this date, as long as people are “scrupulous” about washing their hands, maintaining good hygiene and social distancing.

The new government guidance states that "it remains the case that people should not spend time inside the homes of their friends and families, other than to access the garden or use the toilet."

Whether you wheeled out the barbecue with family weeks ago or are planning your first one of the season, we have your ultimate guide to creating the best barbecue possible.

From the best barbecues to cook on, to the expert-recommended tools, recipe ideas and the drinks to go with it, we’ve got your outdoor grilling bank holiday weekend covered.

There’s no better time to fire up the grill and sip on your cocktails to celebrate making it through another week.

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The best BBQs

The Weber spirit II E-320 (Weber, £699) topped our test of the best gas BBQs, which will suit cooking for a larger family. A gas barbecue is much quicker to get cooking on than its charcoal counterpart, and means you won’t have to get your hands dirty or deal with the plumes of smoke either.

The cast-iron grate gave a really good sear to all of our tester’s food, and it incorporates a removable circular section, so you can accessorise with a pizza stone, griddle or even a wok, adding real versatility to the meals that you produce.

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Another bonus was the side burner, which meant our tester could simmer some sauces in a 10in pan or even fry some mushrooms to go with a barbecued breakfast. The foldable side table can be collapsed after use, reducing the footprint of the barbecue and making it a welcome addition to different sized spaces.

This charcoal grill is BBQ expert Genevieve Taylor’s favourite (Beds BBQ)
This charcoal grill is BBQ expert Genevieve Taylor’s favourite (Beds BBQ)

Genevieve Taylor, BBQ expert and author of vegetable barbecue cookbook, Charred (Amazon, £16.99), told The Independent that her favourite barbecue is the Napoleon Pro22 charcoal kettle (The BBQ Shop, £269). It has a stainless steel heat diffuser and dual stainless steel air vents and an ash catcher that unclips so you can dispose of it without leaving charred remains on your grass.

The best BBQ tools

“Good fuel is essential, charcoal is your number one ingredient and will make or break your cooking,” says Taylor, who recommends Whittle and Flame cornbury ash charcoal (Whittle and Flame, £12 for 4kg).

Genevieve Taylor’s third book, ‘Charred’, is all about vegetable grilling (Jeni Nott)
Genevieve Taylor’s third book, ‘Charred’, is all about vegetable grilling (Jeni Nott)

We were very impressed with the Apption labs Meater+ smart wireless meat thermometer (Meater, £99) in our BBQ accessories guide, which will ensure your meat is cooked to perfection, without having to cut in half.

This wireless meat thermometer syncs to an app on your phone so you’ll never burn your barbecued meat (iStock)
This wireless meat thermometer syncs to an app on your phone so you’ll never burn your barbecued meat (iStock)

Simply stick the probe into the thickest section of the meat and then sync it to your smartphone. Tell the app what type of meat you’re cooking, how you’d like it cooked (from rare to very well done), and as long as you’re within 50m, it will tell you when it’s ready to eat without the need to keep lifting the barbecue lid.

An alarm will alert you if there’s an expected surge in temperature thanks to misbehaving flames and it will even advise the best resting time, too.

DJ BBQ, aka Christian Stevenson, is grilling obsessed (David Loftus)
DJ BBQ, aka Christian Stevenson, is grilling obsessed (David Loftus)

Of course, you can’t flip burgers without a good pair of tongs. This Big Green Egg professional-grade BBQ tool set with wood handles (The BBQ Shop £32.50) has everything you need for a complete kit, it comes with tongs, grill spatula and basting brush so you can serve up a well-cooked feast.

Weber’s premium tongs are dishwasher safe, compact to store and are long enough to keep your hands far from the flame (Weber)
Weber’s premium tongs are dishwasher safe, compact to store and are long enough to keep your hands far from the flame (Weber)

DJ BBQ’s favourite tools to use when he’s cooking up a feast are the Weber premium tongs (Weber, £22.49). “They act like an extension of my hand,” he says. They have a non-grip slip handle and are useful for turning hot dogs and rearranging sliced vegetables and even large joints.

This apron from Le Creuset has a front pocket to keep your phone safe and splash-free while you’re manning the grill (Selfridges)
This apron from Le Creuset has a front pocket to keep your phone safe and splash-free while you’re manning the grill (Selfridges)

Prevent any hot spitting meat from staining your clothes with this hardy Le Creuset chef’s apron (Amazon, £45). Made from hardy canvas cotton, it’s heat, stain and steam resistant, and can go straight in the washing machine if it gets too smoky.

BBQ recipes, sauces and cookbooks

Once you’ve got your grill fired up, tools at the ready and apron tied, it’s time to get to the cooking part.

Pick up a meat box which has everything you need to create a delicious menu of dishes. In our guide to the best meat boxes, we particularly liked the Farmdrop BBQ meat box (Farmdrop, £22.40).

This box from Farmdrop includes the classics from burgers to sausages, as well as other meat, and comes from an ethical farm
This box from Farmdrop includes the classics from burgers to sausages, as well as other meat, and comes from an ethical farm

It contains six beef burgers, six sausages, six lamb ribs and six pork ribs. It champions farmers who really care about the environment, animal welfare and quality but allows you to make the choice of whether you want organic or free-range produce.

No barbecue is complete without a tasty burger and DJ BBQ is the master of big, over the top burgers that taste as impressive as they look.

“The DJ BBQ crew cook a lot of burgers. I reckon each summer we grill around 8,000 burgers over live fire. As many people won’t have access to a butcher, it’s best to just go for a decent fatty beef mince (ground beef). The more fat, the better. Minimum 20 per cent fat,” he says.

DJ BBQ’s ultimate cheeseburger is stacked high with onions, Monterey Jack cheese, romaine lettuce, horseradish root and more (David Loftus)
DJ BBQ’s ultimate cheeseburger is stacked high with onions, Monterey Jack cheese, romaine lettuce, horseradish root and more (David Loftus)

For a step-by-step guide to perfecting his burger yourself, find the full recipe here.

If you’re cooking without meat, and don’t want to compromise on the fun, or want some more interesting side dishes than just mozzarella salad, there’s a whole world of vegetarian and vegan barbecue cooking inspiration from chefs and their cookbooks.

Taylor says: “My favourite dishes to cook are big sharing platters of grilled vegetables, layered up with lots of spices, herbs, dressings; they look impressive and are bursting with flavour. For grilling, I love all the Mediterranean vegetables such as peppers, aubergines and courgettes, as sunshine vegetables have a real affinity with fire.”

Her barbecued carrot, ricotta and toasted pecans dish (recipe here) is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser to have as a main or as a side dish.

The combination of sweet charred carrots, creamy ricotta and crunchy nuts in this veggie salad will go down a treat (Jason Ingram)
The combination of sweet charred carrots, creamy ricotta and crunchy nuts in this veggie salad will go down a treat (Jason Ingram)

Find our other favourite recipes perfect for vegetarian barbecue cooking, from Georgian-style aubergine rolls to sweet potato and quinoa rosti in her cookbook, Charred, here.

For a vegan diet, Thea Brook, owner and executive chef of The Brook in Hackney, London, suggests Seitan “ribs”. Seitan is a great for those who want a meat replacement every now and then. It has a good bite to it, is very versatile and can be flavoured and cooked in different ways to create a range of dishes. Find the full recipe for them here.

Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, the duo behind the BOSH! vegan cookbooks, have their own version of creamy mac and greens, which makes the perfect hot side dish to grilled meats and veggies. The vegan version uses roasted mushrooms to add a salty flavour and a dairy-free bechamel. Find the full recipe here.

Dr Will’s BBQ sauce is both smoky and sweet – the perfect combination for grilling (Mighty-Small)
Dr Will’s BBQ sauce is both smoky and sweet – the perfect combination for grilling (Mighty-Small)

To spice up meat and veggie dishes, add a hearty glazing of chipotle and pasilla chilli BBQ sauce (World of Zing, £3.95) or marinate overnight for a flavoursome smoky sauce. Or try this Dr Will’s BBQ sauce (Mighty-Small, £3.49) which was featured in our IndyBest review of condiments to spice up home cooking.

It has smoky notes from the paprika and a sweetness from using real tomatoes and dates. Our reviewer liked using it to dip chips in, but it’s also great as a tasty base for making pizza, and it totally transforms a can of jackfruit, too.

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If you need some more inspiration on what to cook, or how to best use your grill, we’ve rounded up the best barbecue cookbooks. The selection is inspired by barbecue cooking from around the world, with bold, exciting flavours from as near and far as the Middle East, the American midwest, Korea and a whole host of other areas along the way.

Our review said: “Whether you prefer to smoke, grill or slow-cook, most books start with an intro on how to get the most out of your barbecue – whether you cook with charcoal, wood chips or gas.”

Rich Harris’ book, Fire & Smoke, came top in our IndyBest on the best barbecue cookbooks. It won the BestBuy award as recipes didn’t just focus on slabs on meat and included instructions for every component of the dish – including marinades, dipping sauces and any accompanying veg it should be served with. And we also liked that it had more innovative recipes like tandoori sea bream, lobster rolls and Galician octopus that could all be barbecued, too.

Pour yourself a drink

It’s the weekend so treat yourself to a cocktail while you finish cooking your meat and veggies to perfection.

Create your own beer-tasting session with this party box from Honest Brew (Honest Brew/The Independent)
Create your own beer-tasting session with this party box from Honest Brew (Honest Brew/The Independent)

Try one of our three-ingredient cocktail recipes that are fuss-free, easy to follow and inexpensive.

A classic margarita requires just tequila, cointreau, lime juice and ice cubes. Pour into a cocktail shaker, shake it up, serve and enjoy.​

Once dinner is served, pair a Chilean chardonnay such as the Abolengo Chardonnay Curico Valley 2018 (Lea & Sandeman, £15.50), which has melon and peach flavours for a refreshing, fruity richness that will compliment your meal.

Or stock up on the beers with this Honest Brew party box (Honestbrew, £59.90). It’s a carefully curated case of 24 beers featuring breweries like Northern Monk, Verdant and Wild Beer Co, so you can have fun finding a new favourite.

The clean-up

Once you’ve eaten yourself full, finished off the beers and seen the sunset, use this Bamboo BBQ cleaning tool (John Lewis & Partners, £6.99) before you head to bed so you’ll have nothing to do the morning after.

The brass bristle on this BBQ cleaning tool will ensure you won’t be left with charred remains (John Lewis & Partners)
The brass bristle on this BBQ cleaning tool will ensure you won’t be left with charred remains (John Lewis & Partners)

It’s made with a bamboo handle, a brass bristle and comes with a hanging loop so you can have it to hand whenever you need it.

Read our guide to the best BBQ accessories and the best BBQ cookbooks

Read more

10 best gas BBQs to suit every outdoor space

Two recipes from DJ BBQ’s ‘The Burger Book’

How to cook the perfect vegan BBQ

How to do up your garden during the lockdown