From light lunches in the park under the summer sun to a BBQ with family and friends, the fresh air and scenic surroundings of eating outdoors create an atmosphere that's hard to replicate inside.
Although nothing quite beats the taste of cooked food on the BBQ, mastering beautifully smoked food cooked to perfection can be difficult. And keeping your pre-made food fresh if you're off on a picnic can be even tricker!
That's why we've put together an ultimate guide to outdoor dining, with expert tips and tricks from Peter Sidwell. We'll cover everything from how to know when your barbecued meat is ready to how to keep flies off your food, as well as some BBQ recipes for inspiration.
Tips for cooking on the BBQ
What temperature should barbecued meat be cooked to?
Peter says: "The safe temperature for meat depends on the type you're cooking with. Chicken and pork should have a core temperature of 75°C, whereas fish should be 65°C before eating."
"A digital thermometer is a good way to understand when your meat has reached the correct internal temperature. Insert it into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding any bones or fat, and wait until the temperature reading stabilises."
Unlike chicken which can carry harmful bacteria if it hasn't reached a specific temperature, the internal temperature at which beef is cooked to is a matter of personal preference. From rare to well-done, here's a chart to give you an idea of the core temperature you need for beef, steak, and lamb.
Temperature chart for beef, steak, and lamb
|Beef & Lamb Cooking Level||Internal Temperature (in Celsius)|
Top tip from Peter: "You'll know your steak or lamb is cooked correctly if you don't need a steak knife to cut through it when eating. The meat should be tender!"
But what core temperature do chicken and fish need to be?
"To ensure that chicken is thoroughly cooked, a core temperature of at least 75°C is recommended. A digital probe will help you avoid uncooked meat," says Peter.
"But remember, different parts of the chicken may cook at different rates: chicken thighs and legs take longer than the breast, so it's best to place them on a hotter part of the grill or frying pan to sear and add flavour and then move to a cooler spot to cook through."
"When cooking fish, the core temperature should be 65°C," explains Peter.
"To ensure you're cooking with the freshest fish, buy it the same day you plan to cook it. And, if possible, try to avoid buying fish on a Monday, as it's more than likely Friday's catch, which won't be as fresh."
What temperature should the BBQ be?
The temperature of a BBQ can vary depending on the type of food you’re cooking and the method you’re using. However, as a general guideline for meat, it’s best to preheat the grill to around 205-230°C. This allows for a good sear and delicious caramelisation on the outside while still allowing the inside to cook to your ideal level.
Peter recommends making use of BBQ hot spots (parts of the grill that are hotter than other areas): “I always make sure my BBQ has a hot spot in the centre of the grill at around 200°C for searing and then spots around it at 150°C so that I can move food over to a cooler area to cook slowly.”
If you have stale bread in the back of your cupboard, here’s a great way to use it to find your grill’s hotspots! Follow these steps:
Preheat the grill on high for 15 minutes, and then turn the heat down to medium
Place a single layer of your stale sliced bread across the entire surface of your grill
Close the lid and cook the sliced bread for 60 seconds before turning off the grill
Flip over each piece of bread, keeping the slices in the same place
Where you see overdone toast is where you have your hot spots
You could also use an infrared thermometer: "Good barbecuing is all about control of the heat. And an infrared thermometer can help you with this — just point it at the different cooking areas, around 10 inches away, to measure the temperature," explains Peter.
If your BBQ hasn’t reached the desired temperature yet, just leave it a little longer and check again. Or, you could open the vents that control airflow to the fire, allowing in more oxygen to increase the rate of combustion, in turn increasing the heat. Too much, however, could be dangerous, so make sure you monitor it closely!
How to stop food sticking to the BBQ
Food sticking to the grill could put a downer on your BBQ, making it difficult to flip or move food around, not to mention the mess on the grates you’ll have to scrub off afterwards.
“Wet food is more likely to stick to the grill, so make sure your ingredients are dry before barbecuing by using a kitchen towel. Then, use a high-heat cooking oil to coat your food, as this will create a protective barrier from the grates,” says Peter.
“You should also ensure your BBQ is clean before lighting, as a grill which is dirty or coated with leftover food can create a rough and uneven surface, making it easier for food to stick.”
It’s important to note that a little bit of sticking is normal, so don’t worry too much! Just use tongs to gently loosen food and continue cooking.
BBQ mistakes to avoid
1. Not cleaning your grill before use
This seems obvious, but making sure you clean your BBQ before cooking on it is essential, as a dirty grill can impact the flavour of your food. And even worse, it could also give you food poisoning; leftover food particles and grease create a breeding ground for bacteria growth!
2. Not oiling your BBQ
A common mistake when it comes to barbecuing: if you're not oiling your BBQ before cooking, you'll probably have a rusty grill very soon. Oil helps to repel water and moisture (which contribute to the formation of rust), so adding it to your grill reduces the risk.
Along with cleaning after use, oiling your BBQ is so essential; rust is a sign of deterioration of the metal, which can lead to flakes getting into your food. As well as being harmful if ingested, cooking on a rusty grill is bound to affect the taste!
So next time you plan on using the BBQ, remember to give it a good oiling! Vegetable oil works well as it has a high smoke point, meaning it doesn't burn easily.
3. Not letting the meat rest
"Letting your meat or fish rest for at least 10 minutes after barbecuing will allow the juices inside to redistribute evenly," says Peter.
"As juices move towards the centre while cooking, cutting the meat immediately after you've taken it off the BBQ could cause the juices to come flowing out onto your chopping board, and you'll be left with a dry piece of meat that is lacking in flavour," says Peter.
4. Using strong cleaning products
Many cleaning products contain chemicals that can be corrosive to the metal surface of your BBQ, causing rust over time. Using harsh chemicals on your grill can also leave a nasty taste on your food, so natural alternatives or warm soapy water may be best. But more on that later!
BBQ safety tips
Barbecuing involves fire, heat, and gas, which can be super dangerous if not handled properly! Thankfully, you can take precautions to minimise the risk of accidents.
1. Keep the lid closed when turning on the gas
When you're firing up your BBQ, remember to keep the lid open at first; turning on the gas with it closed could put you at risk of injury!
Peter explains: "When turning on the gas, make sure your BBQ lid is open to keep the air flowing. Having it closed can cause a dangerous gas build-up, leading to an intense burst of flames."
The flames could also damage your grill, melting the control knobs or even wrecking your BBQ altogether!
2. Never leave your BBQ unattended
Whether you're going to get a drink or chat with friends, it might be tempting to step away from your BBQ for a minute, but it's just not worth the risk. Fires can start almost suddenly, so leaving your grill unattended could be a recipe for disaster. Once it's lit, make sure you keep an eye on your BBQ at all times!
3. Ensure the BBQ is cool before you move it
Remember that even though your BBQ is off, it will still be dangerously hot. That's why you should always wait until it's completely cool before you try to move it.
Wait at least an hour or two after cooking before attempting to move it, but every grill is different, and some may need more time to cool. You could use a thermometer to test how hot it is — once your BBQ is at room temperature (21°C to 24°C), it should be ok to touch.
4. Wear heat-resistant gloves
Heat-resistant gloves are a must when it comes to barbecuing. They’ll protect your hands from the heat and help you handle hot dishes and utensils without getting burned. Your hands will thank you!
Plus, they’ll give you a better grip and control over your BBQ tools, so you can focus on flipping those burgers with ease.
Recommended BBQ recipes
Beef & Chimichurri Sauce
When it comes to grilling beef, there's nothing quite like the perfect pairing of a juicy steak and a tangy Chimichurri sauce!
Peter says: "Skirt beef is a lean meat that is relatively thin, meaning it can be cooked evenly on the BBQ however you like, whether that's rare or well done. It's also an affordable cut, perfect for those looking to grill on a budget. Just remember to season with plenty of salt and black pepper before cooking and rest well before carving to allow the tasty juices to reabsorb into the meat."
"Chimichurri is the perfect complement to beef. The acidic vinegar helps cut through the richness of the beef, and herbs like parsley add a fresh flavour that pairs well with the smokiness of the grill."
Here's our Chimichurri sauce recipe for you to try out — it's super easy and can be made in minutes!
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 6 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 handfuls of flat-leaf parsley
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
Chicken Caesar Salad
With the high heat of the grill that caramelises the skin, creating delicious crusts that lock in the juices, the depth of flavour you get when barbecuing chicken can’t be achieved through other cooking methods. But how do you achieve this level of deliciousness?
Peter gives us his top tip: “Cooking at 75 degrees is the key to creating chicken that is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.”
“Skinless chicken thighs without the bone are better suited to the heat of the BBQ, as they won’t dry out as much. You can skewer them or marinade in salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, and a good splash of olive oil for a beautiful taste.”
“If you want to cook chicken breast, it’s best to butterfly, as this will allow it to cook evenly, preventing any undercooked meat. And for the same reason, a whole chicken should be spatchcocked when barbecuing, removing the backbone and flattening it out.”
Barbecued chicken has a smoky taste, so when combined with Caesar salad's fresh and tangy flavour, it's a match made in heaven.
Here's our Caesar salad dressing recipe!
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 salted anchovies
- 1 lemon
- 4 tbsp mayonnaise
- 50g parmesan cheese
In a small bowl, combine the minced garlic and anchovies, mixing well
Add the lemon juice and use with a balloon whisk until well combined
Add the mayonnaise and grated parmesan and whisk again
Taste the dressing and add salt and pepper as needed
If it's too thick, thin it out with a splash of water or milk
It's now ready to use! Simply drizzle over your salad and toss. Or, to speed things up, you could use a salad spinner: add your fresh salad to the bowl, pour over your dressing via the aperture, and spin to coat the leaves.
Fish can be delicious when cooked on the BBQ, giving it a beautifully smoked flavour and crispy texture!
Peter gives us his tips for deliciously barbecued fish: "If you want to BBQ fish, I would go for a more robust piece than a delicate white one to avoid it falling apart. Try cooking up some fresh mackerel or sardines. You really can't go wrong with a wedge of lemon and a little sea salt on these types of fish! But remember, try to buy and cook it the same day for maximum freshness," says Peter.
"Monkfish with a little Indian-style spice mix is delicious on the grill. Just ensure you start cooking on the hot part of the BBQ and then move over to a cooler part to finish cooking before resting. This will create a nice and tender dish.
If you do want to cook a white fish, like sea bass, on the BBQ, I would suggest cooking it whole and stuffing the cavity with slices of lemon, fresh fennel, and butter. You could try using a grilling basket or cast iron grill pan on the BBQ, as this will hold your fish in place while it cooks, preventing it from sticking. Once cooked, serve in the centre of the table and let people help themselves."
Veggies are the perfect addition to any meal; many taste delicious cooked on the grill!
Peter says: “Corn on the cob is always a favourite! The high heat caramelises the natural sugars, giving them a sweet and nutty flavour. Once cooked, try serving with melted flavoured butter with lime, chilli, and coriander.”
Try our BBQ corn on the cob with chilli butter out for yourself!
There are tons of other veggies that are tasty on the BBQ too.
- Butternut squash — Similar to corn, the BBQ can bring out the natural sweetness of butternut squash. Peter recommends, “cook slices of butternut squash that are two centimetres thick on the grill until tender. Then serve with fresh mint, crumbed feta and a scattering of nigella seeds.”
- Sweet potatoes — “Sweet potatoes cook well on the BBQ whole. After cooking, simply cut them up on a chopping board and top with lime, sour cream, and chopped coriander for a delicious alternative to baked potatoes,” says Peter.
- Red peppers — “A popular barbequed veggie: red peppers grill nicely on a medium grill until soft,” says Peter. “When removed from the heat, carefully slice with a sharp knife. I recommend serving in a dressing of sherry vinegar, olive oil, and a little flat-leaf parsley.”
- Red onions — Peter says, “red onions cut in half and grilled cut side down until soft on the BBQ are amazing served with sausages or pulled pork!”
While you don’t technically need side dishes when barbecuing, they enhance the flavours and textures of your main BBQ dish and offer a variety of options for your guests.
Peter recommends BBQ potato salad: “BBQ potato salad is a delicious side dish that complements many types of grilled meat.”
“All you need to do is boil some potatoes until tender and let them cool. Then, slice them into medium-sized chunks and place cut-side down on the grill, cooking until golden. Place them in a mixing bowl with a little red wine vinegar, wholegrain mustard and olive oil for a delicious side.”
“If you fancy a dessert on the BBQ, bananas are always popular. Try serving with a nice miso caramel and vanilla ice cream.”
To make these on the BBQ, cut them in half lengthwise, add a sprinkle of brown sugar and wrap in foil, grilling on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes until soft and caramelised. Unwrap and serve with your favourite toppings!
“Wedges of pineapple are also tasty grilled, served with a splash of white rum and mango sorbet. The combination of warm juice, pineapple and cold, creamy sorbet makes for a refreshing dessert. Perfect after a BBQ!”
Or if you’re finished barbecuing, and you just want something tasty afterwards, why not try a raspberry and prosecco jelly topped with mascarpone cream? Or, our peach bellini and bellini ice lollies recipe is perfect for a hot day!
To really impress your guests, try making our raspberry gin jam cocktail recipe at your next BBQ.
- 1 tbsp raspberry jam
- Half a lemon
- 2 shots of gin
- Tonic water
- Fresh raspberries
Combine the raspberry jam, gin and the juice of ½ lemon in a preserving jar.
Shake the jar until the raspberry jam is completely dissolved
Fill a glass drinks jar with ice
Strain the jam cocktail over the ice
Fill the glass with tonic water and garnish with fresh raspberries
How to achieve a BBQ taste in the oven
While nothing beats the smoky taste of meat cooked on a grill, sometimes we don't have access to one, or the weather just doesn't cooperate. But don't worry; you can still achieve that delicious BBQ taste in the comfort of your own kitchen using just your oven!
1. Use a blowtorch
Peter says: "A blowtorch is great for getting that scorched flavour without having to use the BBQ. Gently cook your meat, fish, or veggies as normal before scorching it to give it that charred flavour."
"You could try blowtorching a stick of rosemary and, just as it starts to smoke, placing it on your meat or vegetables. Then cover with foil and leave for a couple of minutes. You'll be left with a smokey BBQ flavour!"
2. Use smoked rape seed oil
"Smoked rapeseed oil can add a BBQ taste to your dishes, just by adding a drizzle before serving," says Peter. "You could also try incorporating other smoked ingredients like sea salt, paprika, and garlic for an extra burst of flavour. These simple additions can elevate your dish to the next level and give it that irresistible BBQ taste."
3. Use a high-quality grill pan
"A good-quality grill pan is essential for creating BBQ flavour in the oven because it helps to replicate the high heat and char that you would get from a BBQ grill," explains Peter. "The grill pan allows you to sear and cook your food quickly and evenly while creating distinctive grill marks associated with BBQ cooking."
How to clean the BBQ
Cleaning your BBQ regularly is essential to keep it in good condition and avoid any potential health hazards that come with leftover food and grease build-up.
Whether you're deep-cleaning your kitchen and want to do the BBQ while you're at it, or just want to know how to refresh your grill after use, we've got some tips for you!
Let the BBQ cool down — The most crucial step: wait for your BBQ to cool completely before cleaning so you don't burn yourself.
Scrub the grates — Remove and gently rub them with a grill brush to remove any leftover food.
Clean the burners — If your BBQ has burners, remove them and also scrub them clean.
Wipe down the interior — Using a damp cloth or sponge, wipe down the interior of the BBQ, including the sides, lid, and bottom.
Clean the exterior — Use washing-up liquid and warm water to clean the outside of the BBQ, including the handles and knobs. Avoid using abrasive cleaners, as this could damage the finish.
Dry and reassemble — Dry everything down using an old towel before reassembling all the parts, ensuring everything is back in place.
Cover the BBQ — Covering your grill will protect it, keeping it clean for your next BBQ.
Sometimes, the grates may need a little extra scrubbing to remove burnt food, but this can take a lot of time and effort. Thankfully, baking soda could be the solution: when mixed with water, it creates a mildly abrasive paste that can help break down and lift stains.
Mix half a cup of baking soda and a couple of tablespoons of water to create a paste. Then, spread on tough stains and leave for 10 to 15 minutes to let it work its magic. Rub clean with a damp cloth, making sure it's all removed, and you're done! If burnt areas are extra hard to remove, try leaving the baking soda on for longer or even overnight.
Solutions for common al fresco dining problems
Whether you’re having a picnic in the park or a BBQ in your garden, eating alfresco can be fun — especially if you’ve got the weather for it! While eating outdoors can be an enjoyable experience, there are some potential downsides to consider and plan for.
How to keep flies away from your food
Flies swarming around your food is one of the most common problems when it comes to eating outdoors.
One way to protect your delicious spread from pesky insects is to use metal mesh food covers. Not only do they keep flies away, but they also help prevent any dirt or leaves from falling into your food. Nobody wants to be munching on a salad only to find a twig in their mouth!
You could also try leaving a lemon cut in half beside your food to keep flies at bay; they hate the smell!
How to keep food from spoiling
If you’re heading on a picnic, food coolers will help keep your dishes fresh on your travels. You won’t have to worry about rushing to eat your food before it goes bad, and instead, you can take the time to enjoy your meal in the great outdoors.
Peter says: “Food storage items are a must if you’re at the bottom of the garden all day. I recommend using a cool box for all your food to prevent it from drying out and spoiling.”
And, of course, a drinks cooler is a must if you’re having a BBQ in the garden!
How to prevent food from leaking
Good quality food storage containers with tight seals will keep food secure, preventing leaks — something that’s especially important if you’re travelling to eat. Look for lightweight and easy-to-carry containers, so you can bring them wherever you go.
Reusable containers are also the perfect option for someone trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle; you won’t have to rely on single-use plastics like clingfilm.
To help you pick out the perfect one for your needs, read our guide on how to choose the best meal-prep container.
Recommended BBQ products
Best for smoking food: Homemade Stainless Steel Smoking Oven
If you love the delicious flavour of freshly smoked meat, fish, or veggies, this smoking oven is ideal for your kitchen.
As well as being able to smoke your favourite foods to perfection right on your stovetop, it can also be used outdoors on your BBQ!
Best for turning food on the BBQ: MasterClass 28cm Food Tongs
Peter says: “A good, long pair of tongs are really important for barbequing. They allow you to safely and easily handle food over hot flames without getting too close to the heat.”
Best for checking the temperature of the BBQ: Taylor Pro Digital Infrared Thermometer
An infrared thermometer is a game-changer for any BBQ enthusiast, offering a safer way to get an accurate temperature reading without getting too close to the grill.
All you need to do is squeeze the trigger for an instant reading, helping you understand if the grill is hot enough for cooking.
Best for cooking on the BBQ: KitchenCraft Deluxe Cast Iron Ribbed Grill Pan
Perfect for searing steaks, frying fish, and chargrilling chicken and vegetables, this ribbed-base pan lifts meat away from juices and oils, adding a healthier touch to your meal.
Peter explains why this pan is great for the BBQ: “This cast iron pan is ideal for barbecuing, as it can take heat and fire. After cleaning, just ensure you wipe the insides with a little oil with a kitchen towel, as this will keep it from rusting. The oil creates a barrier, preventing moisture from coming into contact with the metal, therefore reducing the risk of rust formation.”
Enjoy outdoor dining with CookServeEnjoy
Whether you’re having the family round for a BBQ or having a picnic in the park, having the correct tools and equipment can make cooking and eating outdoors much more enjoyable.