Four dishes to bring your barbecue to life this summer

From jerk burgers and charred prawns to burnt aubergines and grilled strawberries, here are four ways to add some flair to your barbecue.

By Christie Dietz
Published 25 Jun 2021, 15:23 BST
Barbecuing, a broad term that covers techniques including smoking, grilling and roasting, is embraced by many ...

Barbecuing, a broad term that covers techniques including smoking, grilling and roasting, is embraced by many different cultures, with plentiful regional variation.

Photograph by Getty Images

We humans have been cooking on an open fire for around two million years. Although it remains the most primal way of preparing our food, we’ve also, in our various different ways, got it down to a rather fine art. Barbecuing, a broad term that covers techniques including smoking, grilling and roasting, is embraced by many different cultures, with plentiful regional variation. The ingredients can be plain, spice-rubbed or marinated and cooked over wood embers or charcoal, on tabletop grills or below ground in a pit.

At South African braais, slabs of meat and spicy, fatty, spiral-shaped sausages are cooked over hot coals. Visit a Brazilian churrascaria, meanwhile, and anything from chicken hearts to whole racks of ribs will be wheeled directly to your table from a charcoal grill. In Germany, outdoor barbecues are loaded with sausages and paprika-spiced pork steaks all summer long; in Japan, bite-size pieces of beef and offal are cooked on table-mounted grills. Then there’s the American South, where barbecuing refers to a ‘low and slow’ cooking technique using indirect heat or hot smoke — and from Texas beef brisket to Kentucky mutton, it’s less a style of cooking and more a way of life. 

The following barbecue recipes offer a global spread of flavours from countries with very different culinary cultures, but a shared passion for fire and smoke. Whichever route you take, however, the key to a successful barbecue lies in its preparation: make sure you have everything to hand before you start, your tools are clean and you have time to pay attention to your food and the flames. Really, though, the most important thing is to relax and enjoy yourself — whether you’re on your own or with family and friends, barbecuing is all about good food and having fun.

Barbecued prawns by Ross Dobson

Photograph by Allan Benson

1. Barbecued prawns by Ross Dobson

For many, the stereotypical shrimp is the quintessential Australian barbecue food. The ingredient list here is very short, so it’s crucial to get the best-quality seafood you can and pay close attention to the details. Ensure your prawns are fresh, as frozen ones will release a lot of water and you’ll end up with very soggy results. Large or king prawns are easier to peel and devein than small ones, and are also much easier to handle on the grill.

Takes: 30 mins

24 large whole raw prawns
2 tbsp fine salt
lemon wedges, to serve

1. To devein the prawns without removing the shell, stick a toothpick through the top, arched part of the shell (imagine it having a back). You don’t want to break the vein at this stage — instead, use the toothpick to lift it out in one piece, then use your fingers to slowly pull out the entire vein and discard. Repeat with all the prawns; they’re now ready to cook.
2. Heat a barbecue hotplate or grill plate to high and sprinkle the salt over the surface of the hotplate. When the salt starts to smoke, lay the prawns on the hotplate and cook for around 5 mins. Turn them over and cook for another 5 mins, or until pink and curled. 
3. Serve with lemon wedges, finger bowls and lots of napkins. 

Taken from Australia: The Cookbook by Ross Dobson (£35, Phaidon)

Da’Flava jerk burger by Craig & Shaun McAnuff

Photograph by Matt Russell

2. Da’Flava jerk burger by Craig & Shaun McAnuff

The term ‘jerk’ refers to a way of cooking meat and to a spice blend, both of which are traditional to Jamaica. This burger combines a blend of jerk herbs and spices, as well as melted cheese, caramelised onions and jerk barbecue sauce, creating a juicy burger that’s filled with flavours of the Caribbean. To ensure your burgers hold together well while cooking, rest the raw patties in the fridge for an hour before they go on the grill.

Takes: 35 mins plus 1 hr chilling 

1kg beef mince
2 tsp allspice
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp browning sauce or dark soy sauce
squeeze of lime juice
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium onion, ¼ chopped and ¾ sliced
2 scotch bonnet peppers, deseeded and diced
2 spring onions, finely sliced 
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
60ml white wine vinegar
1 egg, lightly beaten 
vegetable oil, for frying 
6 square slices of cheese
6 lettuce leaves
jerk barbecue sauce
sweet potato fries or coleslaw, to serve

1. Put the beef mince in a mixing bowl and add the allspice, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, browning sauce, lime juice, garlic, chopped onion, scotch bonnets, spring onions, thyme, black pepper, white wine vinegar and egg. Mix thoroughly, then divide the mixture into six and mould each section into the shape of a burger. Place on a plate or tray, cover and chill in the fridge for 1 hr.
2. Lightly oil a griddle or frying pan and set over a medium heat. Add the burgers in batches of two or three and cook for a few minutes on each side until browned to your liking. Put a slice of cheese on each burger to melt.
3. Set the burgers aside and keep warm. Sauté the sliced onion in 1 tbsp vegetable oil until well done.
4. Place a lettuce leaf on the base of each bun, then add a cheese-topped burger, the sautéed onions and a layer of jerk barbecue sauce. Serve with sweet potato fries or coleslaw.

Taken from Original Flava by Craig and Shaun McAnuff (Bloomsbury Publishing, £22)

Whole burnt aubergine with charred egg yolk, tahini & chilli sauce by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich

Photograph by Patricia Niven

3. Whole burnt aubergine with charred egg yolk, tahini & chilli sauce by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich

The smoky flesh of a charred aubergine is loved by many for its use in the Levantine dip, baba ganoush. Here, however, the grilled vegetable is served whole. This recipe is inspired by a famous Jerusalem establishment that serves whole burnt aubergine topped with a little grated tomato. The flavour is enhanced by the charring, so keep your aubergine over the barbecue until its skin is blistered and blackened, and the flesh is soft enough that you can scoop it out with a spoon.

35 mins 

2 aubergines
50g tahini 
2 egg yolks 

For the lemon, chilli and garlic dressing 
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped 
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped  
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped 
juice of 1-2 lemons (about 80ml) 
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp caster sugar 
2 tbsp olive oil 
1 tsp salt
1 bunch of parsley, leaves picked and chopped (about 30g)

1. If you’re cooking over a barbecue, place the aubergines on a very hot grill or directly onto the embers, if you prefer. Let them scorch all over, turning occasionally, until the skin is charred and the flesh is so soft it seems they’re going to collapse, around 30 mins. If you’re not using a barbecue, cook the aubergines under the grill turned to its highest setting, or in an oven heated to 240C, 220C fan, gas 9 (if using the oven, pierce them with a fork beforehand, as they have a tendency to explode); scorch one side, then rotate and continue until the flesh is completely soft.
2. While the aubergines are cooking, combine all the ingredients for the dressing, except the parsley, in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the tahini paste with 50ml ice-cold water to get a thick, whipped-cream consistency. 
3. Once the aubergines are fully blackened, transfer onto serving plates and slit open to reveal the flesh.
4. Add the parsley to the dressing and mix. Douse the aubergine flesh with half the dressing, then top with the whipped tahini. 
5. Use the back of a spoon to create a small well in the tahini, then tip an egg yolk into the centre of each well. Use tongs to carefully remove a hot piece of charcoal from the fire and lightly char the top of each yolk. If you’re not using a barbecue, use a blow torch to scorch the egg, or simply heat the back of a spoon over a flame and use that instead.
6. Drizzle over the remaining dressing and serve. 

Taken from Chasing Smoke: Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich (£26, Pavilion Books)

Grilled strawberry Eton mess by Marcus Bawdon

Photograph by Dog ‘n’ Bone

4. Grilled strawberry Eton mess by Marcus Bawdon

Grilled fruit might not be on everyone’s barbecue menu, but the caramelisation really brings out new flavours. In the case of strawberries, it’s an unexpected jamminess that completely transforms them. This classic Eton mess features a contrast of textures and flavours — sweet, crunchy and creamy — all made a little better with fire. Skewering the strawberries makes them significantly easier to control.

Takes: 15 mins 

2 ready-made meringue nests
12 strawberries
2 tbsp extra-thick double cream
sprig of fresh mint, leaves finely chopped
4 wooden skewers, pre-soaked

1. Set up your grill or barbecue for moderate- to high-heat close-proximity grilling. 
2. Place the meringue nests in a plastic bag and smash them into small pieces using a rolling pin (the bag keeps the pieces from going everywhere).
3. Add three strawberries to each wooden skewer, then set them on the grill. Grill the skewers until the fruit is just starting to char and soften, around 2-3 mins on each side. Remove from the grill before they get too soft and fall off the skewer.   
4. Divide the crushed meringue and the double cream between two plates. Place the grilled strawberry skewers on the meringue, then sprinkle over the mint leaves and serve.  

Taken from Skewered by Marcus Bawdon (£16.99, Blackwells)

Published in Issue 12 (summer 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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