1. Prep ahead

    Any good barbecue starts with the barbecue itself. Make sure you’ve stocked up on fuel and have allowed enough time to preheat your barbecue before hungry guests arrive. This is also a good time to pop in the oven anything that needs cooking through before it gets finished off on the grill.

    How long the barbecue takes to preheat will depend on the type of barbecue you have:

    Gas barbecues are the quickest to heat up (only 5-10 minutes in most cases), and allow greater temperature control.
    Charcoal barbecues can take between 20 and 30 minutes to heat fully, but are easy to use and often more cost-effective than gas versions.

  2. Sort your tools

    Don’t worry: you don’t need tons of specialist kit to host the perfect barbecue – in fact, you’ve probably already got most of the things you need in your kitchen.

    Tongs: For lifting, turning and transferring food safely onto and off the grill.
    Turner or fish slice: A flat turner or spatula makes it easier to lift delicate items such as fish and vegetables.
    Foil: To keep food warm after cooking, or to wrap potatoes and breads in to cook in the coals.&
    Skewers: Metal or wooden skewers allow you to cook smaller items such as prawns and veg easily, without them falling through the grill. Just remember to soak wooden skewers in cold water for 30 minutes before using to stop them burning.
    Plates, boards and platters: Be sure to have your serving dishes and carving boards close to hand so they’re ready as soon as the food is cooked.
    A sharp knife: Check meats are fully cooked through by slicing into the thickest part – there should be no pink meat showing, and the juices should run clear (alternatively you can use a meat thermometer).
    Napkins: Sticky fingers are inevitable!

  3. Marinate

    Marinades are a simple, versatile way to add bursts of flavour to meat, fish and vegetables. Marinate in a plastic bag or container in the fridge and ensure that all equipment (including your hands!) is washed well after being in contact with raw meat. Discard any leftover marinade that has been in contact with raw meat or fish.

    Have a look at our 5 easy marinades below for some flavour-packed ideas and guide to marinating times.

  4. Know your heat zones

    Different areas of a charcoal barbecue will heat up to different levels, so it’s good to know what to cook where. Bank up the coals towards one side of the grill – this is your main heat zone.

    Directly above the main heat zone: This is where you should cook steak and kebabs, and sear poultry.
    In the main heat zone: Try cooking mussels in an open foil bowl placed directly on the coals.
    To the side of the main heat zone: Wrap jacket potatoes or breads in foil and put in the space next to where the coals are banked up.
    Indirect heat zone: Slow-cook large joints and finish fish and poultry after searing on the grill, away from the main heat.

  5. Prevent sticking

    Stop food sticking to your grill with these simple tips:

    Place delicate items such as fish on a lightly oiled piece of foil that’s just bigger than the fish itself.

    Oil the meat, not the barbecue, and shake off any excess to avoid flare-ups.

    Rub the hot bars with a cut potato before grilling kebabs; the starch forms a barrier that acts like a nonstick coating.

  6. Be balanced

    Hosting a barbecue doesn’t mean you should throw health considerations out of the window. Ensure your spread includes a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, dairy and, most importantly, fruit and veg. The latter are easy to include with fresh salads alongside the grill, or get creative with grilled fruit and veg. Have a look at these top 10 veggie barbecue recipes, or these 10 healthy grills that include lean meats and seafood as well as veggie mains and fruit desserts.

  7. Boost flavour

    Although the smokiness from the barbecue might be all you need, there are some easy ways to add even more flavour while you cook.

    Scatter fresh herbs and spices around the edges of your coals to give your barbecue smoke a lovely aroma. Try cinnamon sticks, whole star anise or bay leaves.

    Use large sprigs of woody herbs, such as thyme or rosemary, as a brush for oils and marinades. If you throw the sprigs onto the coals after cooking, the smoke will help to keep insects at bay.

    If you don’t have time to prepare a full marinade, try a quick dry rub instead. These 5 easy barbecue rubs use herbs and spices you probably have in your cupboard already.

  8. Clean up

    It might be a chore, but getting into the habit of cleaning down the grill after you’ve finished will make it quicker to set up next time. Don’t worry about intense scrubbing, instead scrunch up some foil and rub it along the bars of the grill to get them clean and help keep them rust-free, too.