Overrated and undercooked: why I don't get the hype about barbecues
If there’s one social event guaranteed to leave me feeling antipathetic beforehand and hungry afterwards, it’s a barbecue
There are three things in life I have particularly strong feelings about, and interestingly they all start with the letter B. They are, in ascending order of dislike: beaches, Brighton and barbecues.
When it comes to beaches, it’s the sand, pure and simple. It gets everywhere, I don’t like it. The UK city of Brighton I just don't quite get as a beloved destination despite it having a stony beach, which you’d think would be right in my wheelhouse.
Who doesn’t love to eat while swatting away a fly every three to five seconds?
Then there are barbecues. We have history, barbecues and I. A troubled past. I’m talking Princes in the Tower levels of dark history.
It’s a searing, soaring The Godfather-esque food epic encompassing undercooked chicken, plastic forks that break under a milligram of pressure, limp salads, having nowhere to put your drink, balancing plates on your knees … need I go on?
Who’s working the grill? Can they be trusted with a marinade?
For starters, I’m not a big meat-eater, which does not make me particularly enamoured of barbecues in the first place, given they are primarily for the enjoyment of meat. But when I do eat the stuff, it has to be well-cooked.
Yes, I’m the inspiration for all those recent tweets you’ve seen dragging people who have their steak well done. Which is something I can never get at a barbecue, because barbecues do not allow for food nuance. Everything is cooked one way: burnt on the outside, slightly underdone on the inside.
Then there’s that whole sitting with your plate on your lap thing, knees bent slightly inwards, hunched forward in your chair as not to drip sauce down your white polo shirt. Why, at the merest hint of a barbecue, are tables immediately eschewed in favour of laps? What are we, savages?
And, of course, who doesn’t love to eat while swatting away a fly every three to five seconds?
It also perturbs me that the person stationed at the grill, even if they’ve never so much as looked in the direction of a pair of tongs in their life, inexplicably wields an unprecedented and terrifying amount of power over my dinner. Who is this person? Can they be trusted with a marinade? It’s like handing Goofy the nuclear codes and just hoping for the best.
Blame it on my upbringing
Do my petty barbecue prejudices have anything to do with the fact that I’m British? you may ask.
To which I must answer: 110 per cent, yes.
Barbecues are an outdoor activity and the British have an uncomfortable relationship with the outdoors in the way Australians, Koreans, South Africans and other barbecue-centric nations do not.
If Britain basked in sunshine for the majority of the year as opposed to slowly pickling in a chilly bath of drizzle and cloud cover, then our relationship with the outdoors would be far less fraught and the words, “You’d better take an umbrella just in case,” muttered far less frequently.
The Norwegians also have famously drizzly weather, but they have a lovely word for it: friluftsliv. Open-air living. Shorthand for pulling on some Elon Musk-engineered outerwear and getting ruddy of cheek atop a glacier.
But here’s the thing, the Norwegians do not consider themselves a barbecuing nation (as far as I can tell, please @ me, Norway), whereas for some unfathomable reason, Brits do.
Nothing is more British than popping to the local garage forecourt to pick up a disposable barbecue filled with a sneeze’s worth of charcoal dust that, when lit, will ineffectively toast a small slice of bread half-heartedly over the course of the next three hours.
Sausages will be piled on in gravity-defying pyramids, firelighters will be added by the tonne. A slightly torn beach umbrella will be erected over the unwitting chef as they weather the elements and shout to the others huddled in the kitchen doorway: “Maybe just a couple more hours."
I realise that what I’m describing here sounds like a barbecue scene from a British sitcom, and I’m sure you’ve all been to barbecues with silver service and a hot sauce fountain and Wagyu steaks grilled by chef Nobu himself. But I have only my barbecue memories from the wet island and, as such, will never change my mind about their lack of discernible fun.
Perhaps it is I who is the problem, and not the humble barbecue, who knows.
In my closing arguments, what I’m trying to say is that is that I’ve never eaten anything at a barbecue that wouldn’t have tasted better cooked in the oven.
'So, you don’t want to be invited to my next barbecue?', I hear you ask. Don’t be silly, of course I do. Just seat me at an actual table and start cooking my steak a couple of days beforehand.
Updated: June 10, 2021 12:00 PM