As we all take our first steps, somewhat shell-shocked, out of lockdown, the great British barbecue has moved centre stage, enabling us to eat and entertain outdoors, without fear of breaching regulations. But it would be foolish to ignore the vagaries of the British weather, and as balmy spring days alternate with freezing wintry relapses, keep your eye on the forecasts, stock up with warm blankets, or better still provide some form of outdoor heating.
- Remember that comfortable informality requires forethought, and you should plan carefully to ensure that your guests are able to relax, eat well and enjoy each other’s company.
- Ensure that the barbecue is lit and ready before guests arrive. Panic-stricken recourse to paraffin can be discouraging, especially when guests are hungry.
- Make sure that everything is prepared before the start of the event: you should arrange the seating, serving table, cutlery and crockery well in advance.
- Provide enough comfortable seats for your guests; juggling food and drink while standing or perching on a rickety chair will diminish your guests’ enjoyment. If possible, provide a table, so that guests don’t have to balance plates on their laps. Make sure there is plenty of shade; if you are fortunate enough to have good weather, the sun may be hazardous.
- Provide plentiful supplies of ice-cold water; it will keep your guests hydrated, and may prolong the supply of beer and wine. If the weather is inauspicious, prepare thermos flasks of hot tea and coffee.
- Be aware of your neighbours; barbecues are highly aromatic and, depending on wind direction and cooking ability, neighbours may find themselves suffocated by acrid black smoke or tantalising smells. Try and site your barbecue as far away from the house as possible or at least ensure that the barbecue is upwind of near neighbours.
- A barbecue is an informal gathering, so encourage your guests to help themselves to bread, salads and drinks. Accept offers of help from your guests – either with cooking, serving drinks or handing food round.
- Above all, don’t make an exhibition of the cooking. Comedy aprons, chef’s hats and swaggering machismo as the meat hits the grill are obtrusive and self-centred. Your guests have come to eat and socialise, and should not feel coerced into applauding a one-man show.