There’s nothing more evocative than the smokey waft of charcoal on a sunny afternoon. But with a mind-boggling choice of barbecues on the market — from a £10 Asda offering to a £1,000 ceramic gadget favoured by Heston Blumenthal — will the quality of your equipment really put more sizzle in your sausage this weekend?
Amanda Cable tried four chargrilled favourites — sausages, burgers, vegetable kebabs and chicken wings — on ten barbecues and celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli gave his taste verdict. So did the most expensive barbecue produce the perfect banger? Our results might surprise you . . .
THE CELEBRITY CHEF CHOICETHE BIG GREEN EGGPRICE: Around £1,000 for the larger sizesSTOCKIST: Biggreenegg.co.ukA Ceramic barbeque based on a 3,000-year-old Japanese Kamado cooking pot, favoured by Heston Blumenthal. It has a handy table, too.AMANDA SAYS: This barbeque with space-age looks comes in five sizes, the XL is capable of roasting five chickens at once.There’s no need to assemble anything – just light your charcoal, close the dome and it’s hot enough in 12 minutes.A draught door at the bottom allows precise temperature control; opening it gets the coals even hotter. The Egg can cook the perfect burger in just ten minutes.JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: A delicious smokey scent hits you first. The texture of the sausage and chicken was gorgeous, the burger had restaurant-ready grill marks and the kebab was perfectly cooked with a bit of bite. Like cooking on an Aga in your garden.RATING: 10/10BEST FOR: Cooks wanting the ‘wow!’ factor or those with money (rather than meat) to burn.
WEBER ONE-TOUCH PREMIUM BARBEQUEPRICE: £199.99STOCKIST: Lakeland.co.ukThis barbecue has a built-in thermostat in its lid and a nice wide grill. AMANDA SAYS: It took an hour to screw it all together, but it’s lightweight and easy to move once it’s up. A good height, it stops your back from breaking, with a wide grill that gives you plenty of space to work on. The clever design means you can add extra charcoal through the side without having to lift your food off the heat. Good air circulation in the dome meant food was not dripping with grease. And it retained heat well — we were able to cook for two hours. JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: The burger and chicken were tender, the sausage burnt and caramelised (which I liked), but the veggie kebab lacked bite. The food tasted great without cooking unevenly or being over-charred. RATING: 7/10 BEST FOR: Anyone with a lot of mouths to cater for.
SMOKEY JOEPRICE: £59.99STOCKIST: Lakeland.co.ukA duck-egg blue, perfect for pretty patio gardens. AMANDA SAYS: You can’t cook a lot at once on this dinky thing, but it lit well, was ready to cook in 30 minutes and, despite its small size, retained heat as well as models three times the price.JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: Good heat retention meant strong grill marks, which made food look appetising. The vegetables cooked well, the burger was tender and moist and the chicken and sausage nice and crisp. A great little cooker. RATING: 8/10BEST FOR: A fashionista who wants their barbecue to complement their clematis.
BBQ BUCKETPRICE: £15STOCKIST: John LewisAs the name suggests, a bucket that comes with tiny fold‑out legs to lift it off the ground. AMANDA SAYS: This one is just 27cm (10½ in) in diameter and has no heat controls. The first flames fizzled out because there is no air flow, so it had to be relit. OK for a sausage or two, but don’t plan anything more ambitious. JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: An overwhelming taste of charring — all four items were burned on one side and slightly undercooked on the other, which means hot spots.RATING: 1/10 BEST FOR: Festival-goers or anyone more interested in drinking than eating.
COBB BARBEQUE COOKING SYSTEMPRICE: £99.99STOCKIST: Lakeland.co.ukThis steel canister resembles a pressure cooker. It sits on the ground and promises to cook for three hours. AMANDA SAYS: This takes just seconds to put together and is raring to go minutes after lighting. You can also fill the surrounding ‘moat’ with wine, beer, water or stock to infuse your food with more flavour. JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: The sausage and burger in particular were tasty without being too dry. The vegetable kebab had a lovely bite to it. RATING: 9/10BEST FOR: You can carry it, so perfect for those on the go.
PRICE: £29STOCKIST: John LewisFunky red, lightweight kettle barbecue. AMANDA SAYS: Lack of air vents made it difficult to control the heat and the flames flared up much more than others we tried. I had to move the food around to make sure it cooked evenly. The burger took 20 minutes. JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: I didn’t taste any wonderful smokey effect, so the air can’t have been circulating well inside. The burger and sausage cooked fine, but the chicken and vegetables were charred on the outside while tough on the inside.RATING: 4/10BEST FOR: Those more worried about looks than taste.
BLOOMA HANANG 4-BURNER GAS BARBEQUEPRICE: £299STOCKIST: B&QA large gas barbecue with push button ignition, a warming rack and adjustable air vents. AMANDA SAYS:This looks much more like the traditional, macho-style BBQ that unleashes the inner cook in my husband. It’s solid and simple to use: turn a dial, push a button and the flames are lit and ready to go. No filling up with charcoal, no driving to get wood . . . it’s all very easy. Be warned, though, it doesn’t come with a gas canister, so remember to get one. JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: To me, the essence of a barbecue is the smell of smoke and the taste of charcoal. Gas might be quick and convenient, and this cooked all four items perfectly evenly, but I may as well have prepared them inside in an oven. Disappointing.RATING: 5/10BEST FOR: Men who don their aprons once a year when the sun comes out.
GADGETS GALOREBLOOMA KINLEY KETTLE CHARCOAL TROLLEYPRICE: £129STOCKIST: B&QThis barbecue on wheels has more extras than a Swiss army knife. It has an adjustable-height grill, built-in chopping board, warming rack, bun tray and utensil hooks. AMANDA SAYS: The love-child of a Seventies-style hostess trolley and a barbecue, this has enough gadgets to keep any Boy Scout happy, but it took two of us four hours to construct it. The grill is big, with plenty of room to cook everything at once, but it wobbled worryingly when we moved it. JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: The sausage and burger shrank a lot, probably because this doesn’t allow air to circulate as well as its rivals, which means the meat loses moisture. The chicken was slightly overcooked, while the sausage cooked unevenly. RATING: 2/10BEST FOR: Gadget geeks.
CHAMPION CHEAPOASDA PICNIC BOX BBQPRICE: £10STOCKIST: AsdaA simple, stainless steel firebox with a grill on top, which folds into a portable unit, complete with carry handle. AMANDA SAYS: Just click out the legs, slide in the lid, fill with charcoal briquettes and it’s ready to go — no need for a screwdriver. There’s even an ingenious tray for keeping cooked food warm underneath. With a 31cm (12in) wide grill it cooks far more at once than any disposable BBQ.JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: Beautifully crisp chicken, caramelised sausage skin, perfectly cooked vegetable kebabs and a moist beefburger — I can’t believe these came from a £10 barbecue.RATING: 10/10 BEST FOR: Thrifty lovers of perfectly barbecued food.
OUTDOOR WOOD-FIRED OVENPRICE: £799.99STOCKIST: Lakeland.co.ukAn alternative to a traditional barbecue, this tall closed oven uses wood instead of charcoal, with smoke flavouring the food.AMANDA SAYS: This took two of us 45 minutes to put together. It’s expensive, but looks wonderful. Simple to use (fill with wood from the garden centre), it was ready to go half an hour after we lit the flames. The grill was nice and tall, and everything cooked quickly. JEAN-CHRISTOPHE’S VERDICT: The wonderful woody aroma hit me halfway through the sausage. The chicken and burger were evenly coloured, crisp on the inside and moist on the outside, and the veg cooked well without charring.RATING: 9/10BEST FOR: Anyone who hankers after cooking on a camp fire.
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