Cooking Out Not Working Out? Time To Avoid Classic Mistakes
Cooking outdoors is one of the simplest pleasures that there is. It gets us back in touch with our ancestors, makes us feel wild and free - oh, and it tends to taste pretty good as well!
It's supposed to, anyway. That's the reason that so many of us flock to our barbecue at the first sign that the sun is going to be out long enough to sustain it. It's what summer is about, so after a long winter, we seize on the first bright day of spring as a chance to kickstart the year.
It's supposed to be, anyway.
Okay, let's get straight to the point: sometimes cooking outdoors doesn't work so well. It's meant to; that's what all the adverts promise us anyway. So why do you find yourself dealing with half-cooked burgers, sausages that seem to promise food poisoning and salad that is wilting in the heat? Is it you?
It's not you - plenty of people have this problem. Fortunately, all it takes is a few tweaks to how you do things to get the most of the al fresco experience. With summer only a few months away - even though it feels like a lifetime right now - it's the perfect opportunity to brush up on your skills.
Are You... Using A Low Enough Heat?
If you have problems with food not being cooked thoroughly, the idea of low heat being an issue might be surprising. But it can actually be the cause; you're turning the exterior of the meat into charcoal, while the inside goes uncooked. Not only does this taste abysmal, but it's also a ripe environment for food poisoning.
If you lower the heat you're using, then it has more time to seep through to the inside and cook the whole way through. If you are just using flames and charcoal, then you might not have the option to control the heat in this way. It might be worth considering an upgrade on your equipment to something a little more high-tech. If you're not sure where to start looking, then Fire Food Chef's top 5 pellet smokers list should give an idea and asking friends for recommendations will help too.
Are You... Using Enough Varied Seasoning?
Seasoning is more of an art than a basic part of cooking. You probably know that you should use seasoning, but do you really have a taste for why?
Seasoning is not just about throwing around whatever spices you can lay your hands on. For the best result, you need to combine a mixture of sweet and spice. The sweet can come from a honey marinade, though cinnamon is a good alternative if you don't want to use too much sugar.
Cutting across the sweetness of the honey (or cinnamon) should be something sharper. Paprika is a good mild choice, while white or cayenne pepper is a little sharper.
Finally, add in a herb or two for an extra dimension. A marinade with rosemary is perfect for lamb, while beef blends well with almost anything - so feel free to experiment.
It's only when you bring together these three components of seasoning - sweet, spice and herb - that you can create a complete flavor. Without that, you risk your outdoor food tasting like lumps of meat and not much more.
Are You... Using A Holding Area?
When cooking outdoors, you still need to make use of the inside - and particularly the fridge.
One major mistake chefs tend to make is to take all of their ingredients and preparation outside. They make a salad indoors, then take it out with them while they prepare the meat. While this may seem convenient, it has a nasty knock-on effect for the pre-prepared food.
In the heat both of a summer's day and of the cooking, salad begins to wilt very quickly. Any bread you are serving with the meal will start to harden; chilled wine or cocktails with ice will quickly lose their sharp cold crunch.
Until the last possible moment, leave as many items indoors (and preferably refrigerated) until you're ready to serve the entire meal. It might mean a little running around, hectic last moments of preparation, but it can help guarantee the result will be worth it.
So there you go - three simple ways to improve your outdoor chef experience in the upcoming months. And remember: don't worry if it takes awhile to perfect. It's a unique skill, so as long as you're safe, give yourself a break while you take the time to learn.