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It’s Alfresco Time

There is something about food cooking on a barbeque. It’s a bit like toast or fried onion – the aroma wafts across vast distances, teasing you and drawing you closer. It hardly seems to matter what you’re cooking on a barbeque. It can be as plain as toast or the best culinary delights you can muster – the aroma will still draw you in.

To me, barbeque aromas herald the start of summer … outdoor social gatherings, the coming together of friends and family, impromptu get-togethers, fun and laughter. Whether you refer to them as “barbies” as they do in Australia, BBQ’s as we term them here in NZ, “cookouts” like the North Americans, or “braais” as the South Africans do, it’s all centred on cooking in the outdoors. Some will spell it “barbeque”, others “barbecue” and, when all else fails, the abbreviated “BBQ” gets the message across.

There is some dispute over where the name came from. I’ve heard the theory that it’s derived from the word “barbacoa, a word used by a Caribbean tribe called the Arawaks to describe the wooden frame that held their food over an open fire while it cooked … they just happen to be cannibals, but we won’t go into that!

There’s certainly no shortage of outdoor cooking appliances, from the cheap and portable to the extremely flashy and expensive. Each summer the latest models of barbeques seem to get more elaborate.

Two of my male colleagues have a competition going between them to get the barbeque with the most knobs – stupid, eh! But barbeques and men go together, just like men and their sheds or men and their boats. I’m sure it’s got something to do with their hunter-gatherer instinct. I am constantly amused by the vast numbers of men who become “summertime” chefs … real Gordon Ramsey’s from November to the end of March … then it’s back to instant hibernation and the kitchen is once again off limits. One of my male friends is a minefield of information on what the new barbeques do and what the coolest new attachments are; but give him an oven, and he doesn’t know where the little clock is!

When it comes to purchasing a barbeque, a lot comes down to personal preference as there are so many types. It’s important to select something that suits your needs. Consider how many people you regularly cook for, the type of meals you envisage cooking and where you are likely to do most of your outdoor cooking … these are the deciding factors.

There are three main types of fuel – charcoal, wood or gas. The charcoal provides a few varieties to choose from. The self-igniting charcoal type is simply lumpwood charcoal or briquettes which are treated with a flammable substance that catches fire easily. This form of fuel is cost-effective as the briquettes burn for a long time with the minimum of smell and smoke. The best wood to use is hardwood as it burns slowly with a pleasant aroma. Softwoods, on the other hand, tend to burn too fast and give off sparks and smoke, making them unsuitable for most barbeques. Woodchips and herbs can be added to the fire to impart different aromas to the food, and the briquettes can be soaked to make them last longer.

Let’s start at the very top of the wish list, with the renowned American brand DCS (which incidentally is owned by Fisher and
Paykel).

The 48” Professional Grill’s fact sheet reads like this: Available for built-in application or with optional stainless steel grill cart, smart beam grill, Grease Management system, 9-volt battery ignition, double sided cast stainless steel grilling grates, ceramic radiant technology, 3 or 4 – 25,000 BTU (amount of heat generated), U-shaped, stainless steel burners, available with or without integrated sealed double sided burners, dedicated infrared rotisserie burner, heavy duty rotisserie motor with stainless steel rod and forks, smoker tray with dedicated 3,500 BTU burner and removable stainless steel warming rack …Yep, that should cover all my requirements, but I may need to extend my deck!

Customer feedback told DCS that consumers wanted a barbeque that made it easier for guests to integrate with the cook, so the DCS by Fisher & Paykel Liberty Collection was developed.

The collection is mobile, and the free-standing units can be arranged in any configuration to fit any outdoor space. What’s great about this system is that there are no bulky hoods to look over; the units are all one  level and stacked side by side at about the height and width of a kitchen bench. Optional extras include attachable side shelves that extend the cooking and serving areas; they can also be used as a bar leaner. And you no longer need to take a trip to the kitchen to fill a pot with water – simply add the Dual Side Burner/Sink unit to your combination, either hard plumbed or portable.

There’s even a barbeque for those on the run … yes, Coleman have the “RoadTrip Grill”, a portable unit with 20,000 BTUs for hotter, faster cooking, especially in cold weather. With removable mix and match surfaces, it’s fast and easy to set up, and can be used on the stand (included) or on a tabletop.

Portable barbeques for the beach and boat are very popular. The “Cookout” by Australian company Southern Stainless covers this area nicely. Established in 1982 when Phillip Brown saw a void in the boating industry, their marine grade stainless gas barbeque takes up little space and can be mounted easily on a boat’s stern. If mobile homes are your preferred means of leisure transportation, then the barbeque can be secured onto mounts attached to the vehicle. The best marine barbeque accessory has to be within this series – the attachable bait board and rod holder or separate bait cutting board would be very handy.

Weber is a brand synonymous with good times outdoors. They are distinctive and stylish in design and, for the uber cool barbeque chef there is the funky Weber Ranch Kettle. This is a charcoal barbeque and, of course, only available in “designer black”. Some of the features here are a porcelain-enamelled bowl and lid, heavy duty plated steel cooking grate, tuck-away lid holder and removable ash catcher. And it comes with a Weber cookbook.

The “Full Monty” Barbeque (yes that’s its name!) from Smokin BBQ’s is quite an innovation. This combination barbeque and smoker has three chambers for wood burning smoking. The smoker system uses a very simple process. You start your wood fire in the fire box chamber. On top of this chamber sits a grill, used for grilling food by direct heat. Once the first chamber has a base of hot embers, you add either pre-soaked wet wood or a few pieces of barked wood and shut the lid and air intake vent down, enabling the wood to smoulder instead of burn. The smoke rises and is forced into the hot smoking chamber where the food is cooked and smoked by indirect heat. Because there are no flames, the meat is seared, allowing it to be infused with the smoke for a beautiful flavour. By the time the smoke has passed from the fire through the hot chamber to the vertical cold smoking chamber, all the heat has dissipated. To cold smoke in this chamber requires anything form 6-18 hours, depending on what you are smoking.

Broady’s have outdoor pizza’s covered with their outside garden oven. It is a charming character oven that I’m sure would produce good food just by merely looking good, but apparently it can turn out fabulous breads, pizzas and pastries. Broady’s even boast that the oven excels itself with slow roasted tomatoes or in fact anything roasted, or even casseroles and stewed fruit pudding.

There is nothing nicer than enjoying a meal alfresco beside a roaring fire, even in summer. Many homes are now designed with a loggia, a covered area adjoining the home, used as an extension of the home. I think these are a great idea, as the outdoors can be enjoyed for a longer period of time and even in inclement weather. A roaring fire alongside the barbecue will keep family and friends gathered around the chef, keeping any chills off the immediate air and providing great atmosphere.

The Fire Place Ltd represents the Heat and Glo brand who claim to have the world’s first gas fireplace specifically designed for outdoor use. It is durable and manufactured from 304 grade stainless steel construction to withstand the harshest of elements. What’s particularly great about this fireplace is that no chimney is required as it vents through the front grill.

If you find that a roaring fire creates the atmosphere but isn’t putting out enough heat, there are other options. How about a permanently wired in ceiling heater? Outdoor Concepts, the alfresco specialists, represent Infratube Premium Infrared Heaters by Infratech. The Infratube heater incorporates a specially designed electric quartz heating element that produces safe infrared energy. Radiant energy is only absorbed by solid objects and is not wasted heating the air. If mobile heating is more suitable for you, there is a large selection of portable patio heaters. Outdoor Concepts also stock a very compact heater called the “Gas Mate Area Heater”, available in stainless steel or gunmetal grey, and producing 10 watts of heat just where you want it. Radiant heat at chest level – great for under umbrellas, or where outdoor roof height is a problem.

Braziers are a popular way to generate heat and are available in either charcoal or gas. Auckland company Living Flame have an interesting table top Stone Gas Brazier which would be very nice to sit around on cool spring, summer and autumn nights.

Top of my outdoor accessory wish list this summer would have to be a gas flare. Reminiscent of the Olympic flame, they bring ambience to any outdoor area, and Living Flame’s are very stylish. Flares bring a different element to the night light, sending out a soft, flickering golden glow while throwing moving shadows and light around the outdoor area.

We certainly lack very little when it comes to choice for cooking and heating the outdoors. The selection is immense. Now I know I really need a loggia. I’m just not sure how my neighbours will feel when I tack one onto my apartment!