Why is the UK so terrible at BBQs?

Made in the UK (Getty/iStock)

Made in the UK (Getty/iStock)

When it comes to food, there are few things I dread more than being invited to a BBQ in the UK. Every summer, when the temperature reaches 23C, people around the country decide it’s time to cook outside and eat burnt burgers with a slice of plastic cheese and a dry sausage.

Oh, and you know what I want on the side with my hot dog? A regular hot dog in a bun and sweaty store-bought coleslaw with some hot but not cooked veggie skewers. While we’re at it, I’d also love a plain chicken breast cooked dry while running away from the wasps and unable to cut it open with plastic cutlery and drop the soggy paper plate in the process.

Actually, the best thing that can be found at most barbecues, at least the ones I go to, are bananas and chocolate cooked in foil as dessert. They are delicious, quite honestly. What’s not to love about oozing melted chocolate over a banana? But then there is not much that can go wrong with it.

Then there is the one friend who grills properly. There will be caramelized onions for the sausages, a fresh salad with homemade dressing, meat from the local butcher cooked to perfection, maybe some marinated pork skewers and even an Italian spiral sausage Tony Soprano would be proud of. These barbecue gods are an anomaly in Britain.

There are nations that can grill incredibly well. The Australians are quite good at it, for example – it’s basically an art form there – and so are the South Africans, where it’s called a “braai”. I recently passed by a Filipino food truck called Bongbong’s Manila Kitchen (near Southbank) that used to be called “BBQ dreamz”, where I ate delicious crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside satay chicken skewers on rice and salad – the perfect the accompaniment to a chilled beer on a hot summer day.

But my favorite is perhaps the American “pitmasters”, especially in the southeastern states. American BBQ has a long history; even George Washington mentions “barbecue” in his writings from 1769. It owes a lot to African Americans who helped develop and popularize the barbecue over generations. Originally, grilling over fire was only used as a way to slowly cook tough cuts of meat – humble beginnings that are still reflected in modern BBQs to this day.

Recently I went to an American-Mexican barbeque in Hackney Wick called Scoundrels. I had a deliciously over-the-top and dirty brisket burger, which was tenderly cooked, ever so slightly red on the inside, and topped with bacon, pickles, chipotle mayo and two types of cheese, served on the sides of a brioche bun. The following week I was in a garden at a family barbecue with an old, recently thawed bun filled with charred meat and a soggy piece of warm lettuce.

I’m not saying that everyone should aim to meet the standards of a pop-up restaurant – after all, cooking over an open fire is one of the most difficult ways to cook – but is it too much to ask that we eat something… well, nice?

And if we have to insist on barbecuing in this country, can we at least all agree not to burn everything?

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