Every year, CHOICE's resident grill masters Chantelle Dart and Fiona Mair get out their barbecue tongs and put a range of the latest barbecues through a series of tests in the CHOICE kitchen labs. They spend hours searing steaks, cooking sausages and roasting whole chickens to rank the latest batch of barbies from best to worst, which means they're pros when it comes to the perfect grilling technique.We asked them what their top expert tips were to becoming the ultimate barbecue boss, and this is what they said.
Before you get started
1. Choose the right barbecue fuel
The type of fuel and the type of barbecue you're using makes a huge difference to what you're cooking, says Fiona. Gas barbecues heat up faster and are generally easy to control and use, but if you want to get that smokey, charred flavour, you need to use charcoal or a pellet barbecue. Or, if you have a gas barbecue, you can get similar results by using wood chips and a smoker box.
"Another great way to get that smoky flavour while using a gas barbecue is to create a homemade version of a smoker box," says Fiona. "Wrap wood chips in foil, and pierce a few holes at the top of the foil pouch to let the smoke out. Place the packet directly on the grill plate above a burner while the barbecue is preheating. Add your meat and avoid opening the hood too much during the cooking, remove the wood chips halfway through the cooking time."
2. Choose good-quality produce and prep it properly
Both Fiona and Chantelle agree that using the freshest and best-quality meat, vegetables and seafood you can afford will give you the best results. You can, however, improve a cheaper cut or more average cut of meat by marinating it for at least a few hours or overnight.
Bringing your meat to room temperature before cooking will give you juicier and more evenly cooked results.CHOICE kitchen expert, Chantelle Dart
"This will really help tenderise the meat and add flavour," says Fiona. Her go-to tenderising marinade is to mix 1 sliced garlic clove with 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar.
Place steaks in a large bag with the marinade, season with black pepper and add a few sprigs of rosemary. Using the ball of your hand, gently press the meat out flat and massage the marinade in and set aside for at least three hours or overnight.
Chantelle reminds you to remove your protein from the fridge at least 30 minutes to one hour before cooking. "Bringing your meat to room temperature before cooking will give you juicier and more evenly cooked results."
CHOICE expert Fiona Mair testing the digital meat probe on one of the latest barbecues we reviewed.
Barbecue cooking tips
3. Cook with the hood down
Both Chantelle and Fiona prefer to cook with a hooded barbecue. "It allows you to cook so much more," says Fiona.
"You can use a hooded barbecue in a similar way to an oven and cook everything from sausages and ribs to whole fish, roasts, whole cauliflowers and pumpkins and jacket potatoes".
"Cooking with the hood down will cook things faster, and you'll also get less flare ups and juicier food," adds Chantelle.
Remember to always rest your meat after cooking it, too, as this gives the juices more time to settle and gives more succulent results. Steaks should be rested for 5-10 minutes and roasts should be rested for at least 20 minutes
4. Make foil your friend
Aluminium foil is your secret weapon when barbecuing, says Fiona. You can wrap fish and vegetables in foil to steam them, and use sheets of foil to help meat cook more evenly - either by covering up areas that are cooking too quickly, or by covering whole roasts with foil before cooking (this will also help speed up the cooking time - just remove the foil at least 30-40 minutes before the end of cooking to allow it to caramelise and get evenly browned and crisp).
5. Use a meat thermometer or a digital meat probe
A meat thermometer is a great tool to help you get perfect results when barbecuing. It helps ensure your meat is cooked to the right temperature, stopping you from accidentally cooking your chook into a burnt crisp or undercooking meat and creating a food poisoning incident.
"If your barbecue has a thermometer on the hood, you can use it to easily monitor the temperature inside and use your barbecue like a second oven to roast or bake. A meat thermometer is also a great tool to have - you just insert it into your meat to test whether the internal temperature has reached the required level," says Chantelle.
"Some barbecues now cleverly incorporate smart technology and have meat probes that connect via bluetooth to your smartphone, and can send you an alert when your steaks are ready."
6. Use brine and dry rubs for large cuts of meat
Brining and dry rubbing large cuts of meat not only adds incredible flavour but will guarantee the most juicy and succulent results.
Fiona's go-to technique when slow cooking meats such as briskets, topside, whole turkeys and whole chickens in the barbecue is to make a brine: bring 1 litre of water to the boil and remove from heat, then whisk in 80g salt until it has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool completely then add the meat to the brine, cover and place in the fridge overnight or until ready to cool.
Remove the meat from the brine, pat dry with paper towel, then generously sprinkle with a dry rub mix (5 teaspoons unsmoked paprika, 1½ teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon of garlic powder and 1 tablespoon onion powder). Cook indirectly (not over a direct flame) on a low temperature (about 90–110°C) for up to 4–5 hours with the hood closed.
A great marinade helps tenderise your meat and adds flavour.
Once you have finished cooking
7. Keep it clean
No-one likes cooking on a grotty and greasy barbecue, and there's nothing worse than pulling out the barbecue when you're ready to cook dinner and finding it dirty from last weekend's cook-up. Fiona also reminds us: "A clean barbecue is a safe barbecue."
"Ensure you brush any food residue off the grill plates while your barbecue is cooling and remove fat from the drip trays," she says.
"If you pre-line your drip trays with foil, this will make cleaning easier. Cleaning away the grease and fat that accumulates after cooking will help reduce flare ups, and scrubbing off any food that has stuck to the grill could help prevent the spread of bacteria and potentially avoid an invasion of cockroaches and flies."
A true barbecue pro keeps their grill sparkling clean at all times.
8. Look after your gas bottle
"It's really important to take good care of your gas bottle," says Chantelle.
"Turn off the gas at the gas bottle between uses and store it out of direct sunlight," she says. Some barbecues come with storage for gas bottles, perhaps a spot underneath the barbecue or a hook for it to hook onto, which can be useful to keep them safely tucked out of the way when not in use.
"When you're finished cooking, take a look at the gas level and check whether you need to get a refilled bottle. That'll save you running out of gas next time you want to cook something," says Chantelle.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.