Outdoor cooking is a winner for me on so many levels. When life feels frantic and rushed, I find stepping outside — where I can bring ingredients to life over warm barbecue coals with, hopefully, the sun on my back — incredibly relaxing.
And, of course, we all know how food seems to taste better when it's been cooked and then eaten out in the fresh air.
Better still, barbecuing can also be an economical way to cook. For a start, keeping the oven switched off will save you money on electricity.
But this is also a great way of making cheap ingredients — including produce you will already have lurking at the back of your kitchen cupboards — shine. We've all got jars of sauces and marinades we haven't got round to using yet. Get them opened. They will make life easy and help reduce waste while adding tons of flavour, which will help you make the most out of cheaper cuts of meat and less expensive types of fish than you might normally think to buy.
Then there's those tins of grains and pulses you've never quite known what to do with. These make brilliant bases for salads to serve as sides; so much cheaper than shop-bought pasta salads, they add great flavour and texture and are good for you.
One of the problems when people shop for a barbecue is they often gravitate towards salmon fillets, rib-eye steaks and chicken breasts then baulk at the cost when they get to the till, and get stuck with the idea that this is an expensive way to cook and it puts them off.
But barbecuing needn't break the bank. Quite the opposite. I'm a big fan of using chicken thighs and wings, which have much better flavour than breast yet can be a third of the price. Sardines are cheap and cheerful, and the star ingredient of so many of my own barbecues.
Pork is generally the cheapest meat to buy, and again, tastes amazing soaked in a delicious marinade and then cooked over hot coals. Pork fillet, cut into cubes, makes kebabs that I find much tastier than any made with chicken.
When it comes to beef, if you have access to a butcher, ask them for beef onglet — this is a cheaper cut which tastes very similar to rib eye.
Beyond the economics, I love the flexibility of cooking this way. It's accessible to everyone — whether you're making dinner for a family, or, like I often do, just for yourself. Through summer, I barbecue at home most evenings.
It's portable, too. You can pick up disposable barbecues cheaply from most supermarkets but they can pose a fire hazard so handle carefully. If it's something you want to do regularly, a good quality portable grill (Lakeland's Cobb range is on offer, from £129.99, down from £169.99, lakeland.co.uk) would be a good long-term investment and more environmentally friendly.
The next time you have people over — or when you just want to make a pleasant evening out of preparing a meal at home — keep the oven switched off and fire up some barbecue coals instead.
It's a fun way of taking cooking back to basics, while potentially saving some money, too.
FOR THE MARINADE:
In a bowl add the sriracha sauce, a pinch of smoked paprika, a squeeze of honey (the less you add, the spicier your wings will be – for milder flavour add more so the sweetness balances out the heat), soy sauce, a pinch each of chilli, garlic and onion powder plus salt and pepper.
Add the chicken wings and mix together, before covering and leaving to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
When you’re ready to cook, place them on the grill, turning regularly as the sauce can burn quite easily. They should take around 20 minutes.
On a metal tray, lightly oil the sardines (this will help to avoid the skin ripping on the barbecue grill).
Take the heads of garlic, oil and season them, then wrap them in foil and place in the hot coals of the barbecue for 20 minutes. Once they are soft to touch, remove them from the heat and pop out the cloves.
Mix the mayonnaise with a dash of water and a pinch of salt, then add the cooked garlic and blend together until smooth.
Once your barbecue is showing white ash, place the sardines on to the grill. Cook for roughly 3-4 minutes each side, according to size.
Cut a wedge of sourdough, drizzle with oil and then rub with the remains of the empty garlic skin before toasting on the BBQ grill.
Place the sardines on the toast, whack on the mayonnaise and serve with a lemon wedge.
KEEP THOSE COALS ALIGHT
Successful barbecuing comes down to getting your food on the grill at the right time. If you try to cook while the coals are flaming, then the end result will be horribly burnt as opposed to pleasantly charred.
Patience is key. You know you're at optimum temperature when the coals take on a white glow and you can see white ash begin to form. The challenge is then to maintain this temperature. If you can hold your hand over the heat for more than a few seconds, it's losing heat. Add more coals but make sure you mix them in rather than pile them at one side so that you can cook evenly across the whole grill.
SNAP UP THOSE SHORT SHELF-LIFE GOODIES
food that's being reduced for quick clearance is the first place I look when I'm shopping for a barbecue because I will be cooking it that evening.
Grab whatever's going — be that cheap-as-chips pork belly or more expensive steaks or lamb cuts, which should be at bargain prices if you've found them in the short shelf-life cabinet. You often find aubergines and other vegetables here too, along with bags of salad.
If these look limp and sorry, it doesn't matter. I take out any leaves that have gone soggy. The rest get rinsed and refreshed in cold water so they perk back up.
The Too Good To Go app is also brilliant: cafes, restaurants and supermarkets use it to avoid food waste, and you can get great barbecue food astonishingly cheap.
Marinade whatever meat or vegetables you've picked up and get cooking. If you're stuck for ideas, try Google for inspiration. Social media is great for picking up recipes; type in the ingredients you have and someone is bound to have worked some magic with them and then posted the pictures online to prove it.
Split the carrots in half and cut the cauliflower into large florets, then blanch in boiling water for around seven minutes – you want them al dente, so still with some bite.
Drain, then mix them in a bowl with a dash of olive oil, plus the cumin and coriander seeds, and a pinch each of turmeric and ginger.
Season to taste.
Thinly slice the onion and add to the drained tin of barley.
Lay your carrots and cauliflower across your barbecue grill for a few minutes to char.
If you’re worried about them dropping into the coals, use foil.
Now add them to the barley and onion, mix in a bag of salad leaves.
In a separate bowl, juice half the orange, add a splash of olive oil, then use to dress your salad.
Finally, sprinkle chilli flakes to taste.