Good quality charcoal
When firing the charcoal coals, make sure to use only charcoal or briquettes free from harmful residues. The same applies to any firelighters used. It is possible to buy organic, non-toxic firelighters in different forms, such as liquids, cubes or bars. Please never use alcohol or petrol - in addition to the sickening vapors, they may cause a flash-fire when lighting!
When barbecuing, we should be especially careful when cooking meat with a high fat content. The fats drip down onto the glowing charcoal during the cooking process and produce highly toxic and carcinogenic substances as they burn. These polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons rise in the smoke and envelop the food, which is cooking above. If the food is barbecued for so long that a black crust forms on the meat, even more toxins will be present on the food. Therefore it is important to cut away any burnt parts as opposed to eating them! The healthiest meat to barbecue is therefore also the leanest. Lean meats, such as beef, lamb fillet or poultry are well suited to outdoor cooking. It is also important to take the meat out of the fridge beforehand and allowing it to reach room temperature before it hits the barbecue. This will reduce the cooking time and lessen the risk of burning.
What not to cook
Smoked or cured meats should never be put on the barbecue. These meats contain nitrites, which get converted to nitrosamines when cooked at high temperatures. These substances are strongly suspected of being carcinogenic. In addition to smoked meats, some sausages are also smoked and will contain nitrites, so it is worth reading the label.
If you want to grill marinated meats, they should be allowed to drain first before going on the grill. This way, less of the oily marinade will run onto the burning coals during cooking, which will drastically reducing burning and smoking. It is often advised that herbs are added to the meat after it has been cooked. This may apply to delicate herbs, however rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme are relatively robust. Pressing these herbs well into the meat will help to protect them during cooking. The same is true of ground spices. On a different note: rosemary branches actually make excellent aromatic skewers. To make the skewers, the needles should be removed from the branch, leaving just a sprig at the tip. Herbs and whole spices can also be placed into the abdominal cavities of fish.
No fire-fighting tricks!
Should the charcoal catch light from the dripping fats and oils, please do not try to extinguish it with beer, wine or anything similar. This will produce steam and smoke which are not good for the food or the guests. It would be better to take the rest of the food off the grill for a while or to move it to a higher position, further away from the flames.
Foil, parcels and baskets
The easiest way to prevent the fat and liquid from reaching the embers, is to cover the grill plate with a layer of aluminum foil. Extra strong foil is the most suitable as it less prone to tearing. If the edges of the foil are bent upwards, this can make a suitable container for smaller items, such as prawns. Vegetables can be completely wrapped in foil parcels before going on the grill and will cook in their own steam. The obvious candidates are potatoes, but even out of the ordinary vegetables, such as beetroot or radish can be cooked in this way, perhaps with some delicate herbs, or a marinade, to give them extra flavour. Specially designed barbecue trays, made from aluminium foil, have lowered grooves that collect the oil and any liquid preventing them from dripping down onto the hot coals. These trays are ideal for delicate and very moist foods, but are also ideal for foods that require a longer cooking time, as they help to protect the food from burning. Whole fish are best cooked in grill baskets. With these baskets the fish is slotted into well-oiled racks, often in the shape of a fish. Just be sure to check that the fish baskets fit the size of your home barbecue before buying.
Colorful, healthy and extra classy: grilled vegetables
Vegetables develop beautifully rich flavours on the barbecue. Varying the vibrant colours of peppers, mushrooms, courgettes and cherry tomatoes, they can be threaded together to create rainbow skewers. Using aluminium trays, asparagus tastes fantastic on the barbecue, either on its own or in a marinade. Aubergine, fennel, squash (cut into slices or thick sticks), spring onions or corn-on-the-cob (pre-cooked) also taste great on the grill. To prevent sticking, simply brush with a little oil before cooking and season.
Following these simple tips, will guarantee you a healthy barbecue season.