• Master the flames with these tips from grill experts (Paul Hermann via Unsplash)
Turn off the oven this summer and fire up the BBQ/fire pitt/ smoker! This season's hottest cooking trend is easier than you think.
9 Jan 2017 - 12:16 PM  UPDATED 7 Nov 2018 - 2:21 PM

What are your must-have tools when cooking with fire?

Sean Donovan, Town Hall Hotel - Fitzroy, VIC

The grill I use now cost about $75 from Bunnings. It’s not gas, so you’ve got to allocate a bit of time. If I was to recommend one, I would recommend a Weber-style grill. Even the smaller version with a  lid - they’re really terrific for cooking with wood, as you can get them really hot.

The charcoal I use is made from bamboo – it burns at quite a high heat. Essentially, I use charcoal for the heat and I use red gum for the flavour. It takes a while to get the red gum to burn because it’s usually a bit thicker. I try to get my wood supplier to split it down much as they can without it becoming kindling itself.

I also always have long and short tongs on hand, plus paper towels, a sharp knife and a couple of thick tea towels. Cooling racks are also essential, so that the meat doesn’t sit in its own juices.

Lennox Hastie, Firedoor – Sydney, NSW

Invest in good quality hardwoods. A lot of the woods I use are from fruit trees - I’ve got a mulberry tree and a peach tree in the backyard. I also use apple wood and grapevines, depending on what I'm grilling. There’s a great supplier of firewood based in NSW called Blackheath Firewood – they deliver throughout Australia.

If you are using any chemicals or firelighters, it’s important to keep it as natural as possible to ensure a clean flavour.

Grill plates are great –  I use one with rounded bars, but you can also use a cast iron flat top. That means you don’t have to wait for your fire to be burnt down to coals. Suspended fishracks are also fantastic for grilling whole fish, spatchcocks or chickens; you have a greater amount of control and the meat is then much easier to manipulate.

Everyone has a favourite pair of tongs, but I use a finer pair of tweezers for a lot of the shells we put on and off the grill. And I find a pronged carving fork is my right-hand man by the grill.

Kevin Bludso, Bludso’s BBQ – Melbourne, VIC

We let the wood do all the work, so that’s the key for your smoker. In the US, we use hickory wood for smoking, but here in Australia, we use iron bark, which is the closest we can find to that American oak flavour.

Can you share any smoking hacks?

Sean Donovan, Town Hall Hotel - Fitzroy, VIC

For cold-smoked meat, poultry or fish, take an egg carton (preferably a large one with space for two dozen eggs) and scatter hickory chips or any flavour you would like to impart (apple, mesquite, pecan, mallee, peach, etc). Simply light one corner of the egg carton and blow out the flame immediately so the cardboard smoulders and burns the chips, creating smoke without heat. A BBQ with a lid and air vents is required for this process.

You can also use tea to smoke fish or poultry. Simply make a pouch of tin foil and fill it with sugar, rice and tea. Place the pouch in the bottom of a pot and heat it. The sugar will caramelise, creating heat, while the rice will stop it from burning too quickly, and the tea will heat up creating flavour and smoke. Place a colander or steamer tray over the pouch to elevate whatever you are trying to smoke and cover with a lid or tin foil.

What should be we cooking?

Kevin Bludso, Bludso’s BBQ - Melbourne, VIC

I love to barbecue meaty ribs with a good fat marble on it, or briskets. ‘Slow and low’ is our cooking process: slow at a low temperature. We generally cook our briskets for 15 hours at 240 degrees Fahrenheit in a BBQ pit. This lets the smoke do all the work.

Sean Donovan, Town Hall Hotel - Fitzroy, VIC

My favourite steak cut to cook over fire is a whole flatiron steak from the oyster blade. It is usually about a foot long, grills beautifully and is easy to slice and present. Essential to cooking beef is buying good beef. I make sure when I’m grilling premium cuts that they’re at least three or four centimetres thick, so they’ve got time on the barbecue to create a nice charred crust without overcooking. Pork T-bones also work well.

When do you know your fire is ready?

Sean Donovan, Town Hall Hotel - Fitzroy, VIC

I’m just always trying to choose the moment when the fire is ready; it’s when the wood’s caught fire and burnt down and the charcoal is at right temp, so there’s no unpleasant gases coming off that can taint flavour of the meat. If you’re cooking with charcoals, they need to turn white from black.

Do you have any go-to rubs or marinades?

Kevin Bludso, Bludso’s BBQ – Melbourne, VIC

The base for a good marinade is pretty much the same everywhere. Start with water and some type of tomato base, like ketchup or tomato paste, then add molasses and vinegar. Then you can add what you like.

Sean Donovan, Town Hall Hotel - Fitzroy, VIC

Honey and peppercorns work well together, and so does sweet ginger and soy. Chilli rubs or herb rubs are another good one. You can also serve meats with compound butter, like a garlic butter, or a peppercorn butter, or anchovy and lemon juice.

What about sides?

Kevin Bludso, Bludso's BBQ

You definitely need sides, but I wouldn’t usually cook these on the ‘Q. Baked beans and potato salad are the staples, but I get down with the Collard greens as well. I use my mum’s recipe, which incorporates smoked turkey necks to enhance the flavour. 

Sean Donovan, Town Hall Hotel - Fitzroy, VIC

Celeriac remoulade is a really good accompaniment to beef ('remoulade' is a fancy French word for a mayonnaise-based condiment) with the introduction of a really hot mustard. Treat it as a condiment and not a dish. The celeriac will give it texture and the mustard will give it heat.

Lead image by Paul Hermann on Unsplash


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