No smoke without fire: how to barbecue low and slow


The difference between barbecue cooking and regular home cooking is that the focus is less on convenience and more on fun. This is the main reason I steer clear of gas. There is nothing inherently wrong with gas, it’s just a bit boring. When you’re cooking with coal and wood, things are less predictable. You have to man the fire and watch your meat to make sure it doesn’t burn. There is a primal pleasure in live fire cooking.

How much to spend on a barbecue depends on what you want to cook. If you want to smoke meat for hours on end a Big Green Egg is hard to beat. But if you are more likely to stick to steaks and burgers and things that smoke in a few hours, a standard kettle barbecue is fine. I’d recommend a cast-iron grate for the steaks and a cast-iron pan to sear burgers.

If you don’t want to spend much money, go DIY. This could mean building a brick pit and using scrap from a builder’s yard. All you need is an area in which to build a small coal fire, and a place to sit the meat close to the flame to get colour – and also further away to slow-cook the meat. Buy a good probe thermometer. For smoking it’s almost an essential.


Ox cheek is now available in some supermarkets. It’s a slow-cooking dream because it has all the fatty qualities of larger slow-cooked meat such as shin or fatty brisket, but it is small enough that you can cook it quickly (5-6 hours at 120C).

Asado de tira is a thin cross-sectional cut from the short rib and is a great quick-cook steak for grilling. British short ribs aren’t as large as the American varieties so this cut suits our beef better (2-3 minutes on a grill).


Lamb ribs are among the best cuts available for slow cooking. Like ox cheek they are smaller than normal ribs but have a high fat ratio, so they cook quicker (5-7 hours at 120C).

Thin-cut lamb chops, like the ones you find in Indian grill restaurants, are great to feed guests who are getting hungry and impatient at a barbecue. Try cooking them hot and fast on the grill, and have a bowl of your favourite spices and seasonings at the ready to coat them in as they come off the grill. Think also about making a thick and heavy ginger and garlic curry sauce to go on after cooking (2-3 minutes on a grill).


Pig wings or pork hocks are affordable and cook on the barbecue brilliantly. There are few cuts left on animals that are still good value and taste so good. Get your butcher to remove the skin and season with salt and pepper or your favourite rub. Cook for 6-7 hours or until soft and tender. Eat like Obelix (6-8 hours at 120C).

Pork shoulder steaks are far more interesting and marbled than loin chops. Cook them fast to a nice medium, and slice. They go great with chimichurri sauce or a dollop of good mustard (6-8 minutes on a grill).

Chicken and duck

Chicken is perfect for a barbecue: go whole. Open up the cavity and spread the legs as much as possible to enable heat to cook the bird evenly. Cook for about an hour and 20 minutes at 120C. Make sure it is cooked through, then eat it straightaway or let it cool then grill it hard to get some good char, or roast it in a hot oven for crispy skin. Duck is much the same, but I’d remove the legs and cook the crown separately. The legs need longer to cook unless you don’t mind well-done breast meat. In my opinion, if you’re going to overcook the breast, take it further so it’s like Chinese crispy duck. In between this stage and medium it lacks character.


Vegetables are a dream on the grill. Don’t be scared to get some heavy black colour on the outside. This is bitter for meat but it tastes great on vegetables. Buy what’s fresh, in season and looks good, and throw everything on the grill until it is soft inside. If it gets too black, take it off to one side. Halve some lemons, caramelise the insides on the grill and dress the veg with this juice, some good olive oil and lots of fresh herbs.


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