Blazing hot barbeque

This summer, Franka Philip will have something tasty sizzling on the grill

  • Photograph by Shirley Bahadur

Hot and exciting – that’s the kind of summer we’re hoping for in London this year. There’ll be so much to do in the city, with the Olympics and Paralympics on, as well as Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica’s fiftieth independence celebrations and Notting Hill Carnival. Fun, laughter and food will be on the agenda.

Since we weren’t lucky enough to get tickets for the Olympics, my friends and I are planning an epic barbecue for the day of the 100m final, and we intend to knock back a few when our sprint hero Usain Bolt flattens the competition.

I love barbecues; they’re special communal events that bring family, friends and a few gatecrashers together to enjoy food, drink and great vibes. And since we’re doing it in true Caribbean style, our do will definitely turn into a raucous party once everyone’s had a few drinks and the music gets pumping.

It’s great if all you have to do is turn up at someone’s barbecue with a bottle of rum and eat to your heart’s content – but when you’re the one planning it, that’s a different situation.

My writer friend Queen Macoomeh says, “Back home, when you decide to throw a barbecue, all you have to do is tell one person. The rest will hear about it. Every chicken in the fowlcoob get nervous, because meat have to season and go in the fridge from Wednesday …You stay up whole day Friday chopping vegetables and onions and chive to make beef patties to put on one of the three grills you borrowed.”

For years, the way I prepared barbecue was to partially cook the meat – usually by gently poaching – before putting it on the grill and slathering it with barbecue sauce at different points during the cooking process. I thought that was what everyone did, until I tasted the beef brisket from a barbecue truck in London that lots of food lovers were raving about.

It was unlike any barbecue I’d ever tasted: the meat was moist and succulent, and there was a smokiness that permeated it from the first bite to the last. I discovered the cooks on the truck were using traditional barbecue methods from the American south, and I wanted the barbecue that I made to taste like that.

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By a brilliant coincidence, I found a book at home that I’d never read called Peace, Love and Barbecue. I can’t remember how I came to own it, but it’s like a bible of the American barbecue tradition.

Peace, Love and Barbecue defines barbecue as “a succulent slab of meat that is smoked over charcoal and wood at a medium-low temperature hovering around the boiling point of water in a moist environment for an extended period until it is perfectly tender and juicy”.

People everywhere in the world cook some form of barbecue. The Kiwis have the hangi, Argentineans love the asado, and while the Americans seem to be leading the barbecue stakes, I would argue that Jamaica’s jerk is the world’s most famous form of barbecue.

Food writer Virginia Burke explained in her book Eat Caribbean that traditional jerk is prepared by cooking “highly seasoned meat over a fire-pit of pimento wood, whereupon the food remains tender…”

So for our epic barbecue, we’re going to try and reproduce the fire-pit by using a large barbecue grill, with vents at the top and bottom, to enable us to maintain a medium-low temperature generated by the burning charcoal.

To get that wonderful smokiness, we’re going to use hickory wood, which produces a rich and strong flavour that goes well with pork, beef and poultry. Pimento wood would be ideal for that great Caribbean flavour, but unfortunately, it isn’t available here.

In Peace, Love and Barbecue, author Mike Mills stresses that hickory, pimento or any other wood is meant to provide the smoky flavour, not add to the heat provided by the charcoals. It’s important to soak the hickory, so that when it’s added to the charcoal, it will smoulder and create the smoke that gives the meat that rich, smoky flavour.

The epic summer barbecue isn’t going to be the kind where people rock up and throw some sausages on the grill. Whole chickens, pork shoulder, beef brisket and ribs are perfect for this long, slow cooking; that way, the fat is distributed through the meat (especially the pork and beef brisket) means that after a few hours of cooking and basting with barbecue sauce, the final result will be tender and succulent.

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Of course, one of the key elements of a successful barbecue is the preparation of the meat, especially seasoning and marinating it. A dry rub with herbs and spices like cayenne pepper, allspice, paprika, garlic powder, and celery powder is perfect, and the meat will be ready for the grill after a night in the fridge.

And the sauce? I never fuss about barbecue sauce. I buy a good-quality one and use it as a foundation for creating different flavours to go with different cuts of meat. I like a jerk-inspired sauce, so I add Scotch-bonnet pepper sauce, thyme, nutmeg, white vinegar, mustard and allspice. For the people who prefer it sweeter, honey and some fresh grated ginger go into the mix.

Imagine the setting: plates piled high with a selection of barbecue meat and creamy potato salad, macaroni pie or vegetable rice, and some coleslaw on the side. Don’t forget the cold beers, rum punch, coconut water and the sounds of sweet soca and reggae music on a sunny summer day of Caribbean triumph.

With our luck, it’ll probably be a rainy day and Usain might false-start – but who cares, the food and the vibe will be so sweet, no one will really give a damn.

Eat Caribbean Virginia Burke (Simon and Schuster)
Peace, Love and Barbecue: Recipes, secrets, tall tales and outright lies Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe  (Rodale Books)