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Expert tips to help you avoid burning your barbecue

Get that smoky flavour, without burning your burgers or incinerating your steaks, with these top barbecue tips and techniques.

  1. Start at room temperature

    To help food cook evenly from the inside out, remove meat and fish from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to bring it up to room temperature. This particularly helps thicker joints like a whole chicken or large steaks as they can easily burn on the outside if you have to wait for the fridge-cold middle to cook through.

    Start at room temperature
  2. Manage the heat

    Light charcoal barbecues about an hour before you want to start cooking. Give the flames time to catch and get going, then leave for at least 30 minutes until the coals are grey-white and the smoke has died down. This will give you an even heat for cooking rather than unpredictable flames or overpowering smokiness.

    It’s also a good idea to create two cooking areas. Carefully pile up coals on one side to make a higher heat area for searing meat at the start. Keep the other side with fewer coals for a lower heat zone where you can cook more delicate fish and veg, or slow-cook larger cuts once browned on the outside.

  3. Use skewers

    Easy finger foods like kebabs and skewers are a great idea for a barbecue: they can be prepared ahead and don’t take long to cook. Metal skewers conduct heat so help items cook from the inside out. Try it with these baked potatoes – just remember that the skewers will be hot so handle with gloves or oven mitts.

    Wooden skewers are often thinner so good for delicate foods like fish and seafood. Soak the skewers in cold water for at least 10 minutes before threading so that they don’t catch on the barbecue. Give it a go with these super-simple 3-ingredient jerk salmon and pineapple kebabs or some Spanish-style smoky skewers.

    Use skewers
  4. Cook cleverly

    Try and cook similar items together so you’re not struggling with turning and checking too many things at once. Turn foods once and cook for the same amount of time on both sides – it’s easier to manage and stops them drying out too much from constant handling, pushing and pressing.

  5. Make use of the oven

    For larger pieces or any foods you're worried about cooking through (such as pork sausages or chicken), start in the oven and just finish off on the grill – you’ll still get that same smoky flavour and charred exterior but with the confidence that it is fully cooked. Plus, you'll be free to spend more time with your guests rather than standing over the grill. This slow-cooked beef brisket is a great example of where the oven can save you time and effort for a real crowd-pleasing barbecue.

    Make use of the oven
  6. Ditch the drip

    Marinades are a great way to give your barbecue foods extra flavour, but if the oils or sugars drip too much onto the hot coals they can cause flames, which may burn the food. Shake off any excess marinade before adding to the grill – you can still add a burst of freshness once cooked with a squeeze of lemon or lime, a scattering of chopped herbs or an extra drizzle of honey for that sticky-sweet finish. Have a look at these summer marinade recipes for a start.

    Ditch the drip
  7. Reach for the foil

    Tin foil is a great barbecue tool as it protects the outside of delicate foods from burning, keeps loose items (like potatoes or vegetables) together, helps distribute the heat evenly and traps in moisture and flavour. Wrapped up parcels, such as these spicy chipotle corn on the cobs or buttery garlic bread, can be cooked either directly in the coals or on the grill itself. You could even make a fun barbecued dessert with these fruity ice cream cones.

    Reach for the foil
  8. Break up bigger pieces

    Thicker cuts and whole joints can be tricky to cook through on the barbecue, so help them cook quicker and more evenly by opening them up and flattening them out first to make a thinner piece of meat. Follow our handy step-by-step guide to butterflying chicken breasts or spatchock your chicken for the barbecue. You could also do this with lamb legs and thick steaks, cut up vegetables into thinner ‘steaks’ rather than cooking whole (try a delicious cauliflower 'steak' for a change!), or cut up tough meats into bite-sized pieces to cook on skewers.

    Break up bigger pieces