Tantalising snap taken by Loren Reed at our Farmdrop Fete last summer.
Almost nothing beats knowing where your food comes from. Our farmers take great joy and pride in doing what they do and always have the highest animal welfare at the forefront of everyday life on the farm. Because it takes so much skill and passion to rear their wonderful animals, they know that there’s almost nothing more disappointing than if your prized cut of meat or seasonal veg is ruined by an error in the cooking department (a free range burger that’s cremated on the outside, scary-pink on the inside burger anyone?). Who better to help you get to grips with getting the best out of your lovingly reared Farmdrop meat and freshest-you-can-get veggies than butcher Henry at Park Farm and farmer Rally at Purton House Organics. Here are their insider secrets for the ultimate barbecue:
Henry at the butchers table at our Farmdrop Fete, photo by Loren Reed
Embrace room temperature
Henry: One of the most important things you can do before you even reach for the charcoal is to let your meat come up to room temperature for at least half an hour before cooking (or a good hour for bigger cuts). This makes for a more even cook on the grills as the closer your food is to eating temperature before you cook, the better. This is a top tip for any meat you’re cooking in the oven or in the pan too - great one for your next roast.
Marinade like there’s no tomorrow
Rally: Marinating is perfect when it come to barbecues because you want your flavours to hold up against the smokey hit and a little effort prepping will earn you massive flavour points. Sticky pork ribs are my favourite! Smash 4 garlic cloves, a few pinches or coarse sea salt, olive oil and a couple of fresh chillies with a few dollops of tomato puree, soy sauce and juice of half a lemon. Rub in and let the flavour penetrate overnight to pack a real punch! Keep some aside for slathering on whilst grilling and you’ll lock in even more flavour.
Henry: Smother meat and veg in rapeseed oil - it has got a higher burning point than olive oil so won’t burn on the hot flames. We coat our burgers, chicken and hog roast in smoked rapeseed oil - it’s smokey flavour really enhances chargrilled meat and vegetable kebabs.
Wait for the perfect heat
Henry: Be patient and make sure the barbecue is at hot as it can be. When the coals are grey and glowing this is when it’s at it’s hottest. You can do a test by cooking off a slice of bacon and see how hot it is, or you can do a test with your hand. Hold your hand above the grill (with caution folks!) at a height about the full width of your hand. If you can hold it there for 6 seconds it’s a low heat, 2 seconds (where anymore it’ll melt your hand off!) is a high heat.
Farmer Rally hanging out with his furry and feathered friends at Purton House Organics in Wiltshire.
Get your kit right
Rally: My pestle and mortar is essential for smashing together marinades. The charcoal you use also makes a real difference to flavour, so choose it carefully. Plan ahead and use an additive-free kind (such as lumpwood charcoal), that is natural and unadulterated. You can add wood chips too for interesting flavours (just soak half of them in water to help them last). Personally, I love roasting over an open wood fire!
Henry: I always recommend using a digital probe thermometer (you can find them cheaply online). It’s so easy to destroy your beautiful cuts for fear of it being raw in the middle. A quick probe into the thickest part can guarantee your food is cooked perfectly every time. Reach 75°C - 80°C and you’re onto a winner for it to be well done. Hit around 52°C for rare and 60°C for medium. Pre-cooking meat in the oven is a great idea if you’ve got lots to cook and is ideal with chicken to ensure it’s okay. A charcoal barbecue will always win hands down over a gas one too as you’ll miss out on smokey flavours.
Whether you use beef or chickpeas (à la our Falafel Burger), make your own.
Make your own burgers
Rally: Making patties by hand with good quality meat is really easy to do and simply the best. Even just seasoning with salt and pepper will give you a cracking burger. Use mince with plenty of fat - such a mince made from flank or chuck cuts - for juicy, flavoursome burgers. Shape your burger to be a little bigger than the bun and put your thumb in the centre to make a dimple. These tips help prevent the patty from puffing up into a dry, fat ball (dry because pressing down to make it flatter sends the fat and juices onto the flames) and you’ll have a the perfect burger-to-bun ratio. Another tasty trick is to add cheese to your minced beef mixture - mix it up with cheddar for strong flavour and mozzarella for gooeyness!
Don’t forget the veg
Henry: It can be easy to overlook veg in temptation of a meat feast but vegetables really come into their own on the grill too. A rule of thumb is to use olive oil or rapeseed in marinades and the more flavoursome extra virgin olive oil for dressing only. Instead of cooking veg straight on the coals, try cooking on top of the grill in a roasting tray so that you can monitor temperature and still get that smokey flavour from the charcoal.
Rally: Grilled sweetcorn is pure summer on a plate. When I was in the West Indies I loved this staple - charred just enough to make the corn deliciously sweet. Try slathering your corn in basil butter after grilling and that’ll really make it sing. Crack open a bottle and enjoy!