*I was invited to attend this class free of charge, however, all opinions are my own and honest as always
With most of the UK currently bathed in beautiful sunshine (that’s the case as I type this anyhow. By the time it’s published, we could well be dodging the rain again), thoughts are turning to al fresco dining, lazy days in the garden and inviting friends over to enjoy a BBQ and catch up.
For me, BBQ’s generally consist of burnt sausages, warm beers and people getting rowdy by 10pm, which may explain why we don’t bother hosting them very often. In fact, I’ve had a gas BBQ sat in my garden unused for the past six years! After attending a BBQ masterclass with master chef, Richard Holden last week, that is set to change.
I made my first ever trip to Wigan, ready for the class which was held at John Whaite’s Kitchen and it appeared that the weather also got an invite! Along with several other bloggers and journalists, we began the afternoon indoors. Richard introduced himself to the group and talked us through the myths and general hurdles that us Brits often fall foul of when cooking on the BBQ. Chicken was the main concern for most of us, with food poisoning horror stories meaning we either cook it in the trusty oven or avoid it altogether.
Richard says: “As a nation, we still have a lot to learn about what it is to successfully barbecue, and a lot of it comes down to temperature.
“The first piece in the puzzle is to cook at the right temperature – too much heat and your food is cooked on the outside and raw in the middle, not enough heat and your food is cooked through but missing the gorgeous caramelised exterior that excites the eyes and the taste buds!
“The second piece is knowing the correct core temperature of food, so food is both cooked and safe to eat. When I’m teaching my classes, I give my students a simple saying to ensure food safety: 75, stay alive.
“Meats cooked to a core temperature of 75°C will ensure that all harmful bacteria are destroyed. This is critical for high-risk foods such as chicken and minced products like sausages and burgers. I never serve food without quickly checking the core temperature and a Thermapen is the easiest and most reliable way of doing that.
“Food that is cooked properly while retaining its natural flavour and succulence would put British BBQ on the map, and using a thermometer is part of that picture!”
Looks like my technique of ‘cook until it’s black’ is out of the window then! Richard briefly took us all into the garden to show the different ways of using a BBQ, both gas and coal. We were even graced with a cameo from John himself as he took his adorable pup out for a walk and came over to say hello. We then disbanded into small groups, headed back into the kitchen and began to prep various dishes ready to put what we’d learned into practice.
This involved making two salads and marinading different meats: chicken and flat iron steak. If you want to give these a go, I’ve written another blog post here containing all four recipes. These simple ideas use fresh ingredients for maximum flavour and are achievable for even the most novice cook to really take your BBQ menu to the next level.
As mentioned, my usual technique of pretty much hoping for the best is not the right way to go about things. Richard explained that it’s all about temperature, which is where Thermapen comes in. I hear you cry: “But I really don’t need another kitchen gadget that’ll be left in a drawer!” and I beg to differ. You see, I thought the same thing – until I used Thermapen myself.
Random story: baking chocolate cake is my nemesis. Really. It always has been and I could never get it right, much to my frustration. I put this down to partially never quite knowing when it’s cooked thanks to the colour. This time, I used the Themapen and it turned out perfectly after showing a 95 reading. Not just for meat! But I digress…
Richard taught us a little more about cooking outdoors and then, in groups of four, we honed our new-found skills. After checking the temperature of the meats and making sure they hit that elusive number on the Thermapen, this proved to be the key to perfection after all (who knew?). The chicken was still lovely and moist without being raw and the flat iron steak was beautifully cooked on the outside and tender on the inside.
Richard even whipped up an impressive meringue (casually showing off his enviable baking skills right there. Richard, if you’re reading, I need that recipe in my life!) on the BBQ then topped it with berries, pistachio nuts and fresh cream. The whole class then sat together to enjoy a marvellous meal and get to know one another a little better.
Thermapen is also great for making caramel and cooking with sugar so is worth having around. I’ll be creating all kinds of goodies in the kitchen now, knowing that I can’t possibly cock it up too badly if I’m actually measuring the temperature as I go, instead of guessing as previously!
What is your favourite BBQ food?