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Cooking On Gas: But Is It The Best Way To Barbecue?

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Cooking On Gas: But Is It The Best Way To Barbecue?

Cooking On Gas: But Is It The Best Way To Barbecue?
May 27
14:55 2019

Alex Buchanan, Editor and BBQ Antichef

Last summer, unimpressed with my own fillet and skillet skills, I frequently ventured into the garden to experiment a bit more with the combination of raw meat, charcoal and fire. Given the unusually warm weather, I had considerable opportunity to hone the fine art of grilling al fresco. However, no amount of practice made me any better; chops charred, burgers were FUBAR and in the interests of food safety over tenderness and taste, chicken blackened beyond recognisable form – so much so that it often ended up as a candidate for carbon dating.  And so, with spring having sprung and summer on the horizon, I thought it was time for a visit to the home of proper barbecuing tips, techniques, education and equipment, namely the Weber Academy at the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine. Here’s what I discovered about the virtues of barbecuing… properly.

So here’s a question; how many of you lot out there – hoteliers, restaurateurs, guesthouse pros – even a few chefs! – would admit that your own personal barbecuing skills leave a certain something to be desired? It’s a tough one to call and with that in mind, I signed up for a couple of Weber Grilling courses at the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine (ESFW), the long-established, CIS Excellence Award-nominated cook school based in the grounds of Newliston House on the western outskirts of the capital. Offering a series of classes aimed at helping ‘students’ – i.e embarrassed middle-aged types who had all just realised how long it had taken them to admit they needed professional help – the school has teamed up with American barbecue manufacturer, Weber, to offer tutorials aimed at enhancing the skills of occasional cooks.

Entitled Barbecue Classics, the first class I attended took place on a Sunday in glorious sunshine at converted former stables block which acts as home to the cook school. I’m still not sure why I expected the entire class to be conducted inside the actual cook school itself – who barbecues inside? – but when I arrived at 10am there was a barrage of the latest Weber cooking platforms lined up outside the main doors. Rain or no rain, we’d be cooking outside.

Fortunately, the sun was attempting to crack its way through the clouds and so after an initial introduction over coffee around the main table upstairs, we split into groups at four large prep tables. Tasked with different disciplines including the preparation of fresh burger meat, making a marinade and sitting a whole chicken on a beer can for what we later discovered was a recipe called, er, Beer-Can Chicken, we all wore the same uncomfortable expression of members of a group who should, by this stage in their lives, know better.

Thirty minutes later we were standing outside the stables with our ingredients. The Weber range is comprehensive, with gas, electric and charcoal units of all sizes and for all purposes and user abilities; there is even a fun-size example on offer that could quite easily suit a single person cooking alone, although this rather defeats the social aspect of the entire exercise. Burger for one?

Chef John is a mine of information on all aspects of the barbecuing process

Talking among my classmates – predominately male, although strongly represented by two or three women who had clearly come equipped with far more of a clue as to what they wanted to achieve from the overall experience – it became clear that we were there to hone, rather than germinate, our skills. The majority – including I myself – seemed to know the basics of cooking over a flame but merely wanted to learn a bit more about how to enhance our abilities. For me, the main aim was to host a party of people without worrying who might choke to death on a rogue sausage or be sent home with food poisoning from pink chicken. It seemed a reasonable ambition.

After a tour of the different domestic Weber barbecues available, John, our excellent chef-guide, offered tips on how best to light the damn things. Having suffered for years trying set fire to paper, furniture, liquids, incendiary gels and even, on one occasion, half a bottle of whisky, it was a relief to discover the existence of special tower-like implements that had been specially designed to nurture the hot coals and coax out the heat before they burn themselves out completely. For most of us, this came as a welcome revelation, as did the equally rewarding discovery that sausages and burgers could be prevented from sticking to the grill by – get this – applying cooking oil to them first. WHO KNEW! Clearly none of us did, as we all gaped open-mouthed at this most imaginative solution to the problem of shredded meats being scraped off a grill pan. Oil, eh. Wow.

Similarly, through the frequent use of Weber food probes we learned the relative attributes of consuming perfectly cooked meats. Friendly, relaxed and apparently infinitely knowledgeable about all things charred, chef John opened our eyes to techniques that most of us had never previously considered, including the concept of direct and indirect grilling.

Taking us on a tour of several of his signature dishes, including classic homemade beefburgers and the aforementioned, ingeniously simple Beer-Can Chicken, he allowed us to experiment among ourselves and rewarded us with hints on how to get the best out of our ingredients. Afterwards, when everything had been cooked (and checked), we stood around in the sunshine chatting, eating and reflecting on everything we’d learned in the past three hours. It made a nice change to eat barbecued food that you know is safe, isn’t still alive and doesn’t taste like a lump of coal.

And that’s the point of this particular class; it’s there to improve existing basic barbecuing skills, not to make you a master of the grill. For that you need to attend one of ESFW’s more detailed tutorials.

My next one – American Barbeque – is coming up in August, and from it I intend to take with me the ability to not only navigate the minefield of grilling skills, but to actually impress people with them, too. I’ve a long way to go in that regard, but with ESFW’s help I should get there eventually.

Weber Grill Academy classes take place at The Edinburgh School of Food and Wine, Newliston House, by Edinburgh. Click here for available classes and dates:

ESFW’s Ian Pirrie is nominated in the shortlist of Hospitality Educator of the Year at the 15th anniversary CIS Excellence Awards, which take place on Thursday 30th May at the Doubletree by Hilton Glasgow Central. To view the full shortlist and to book tickets, visit



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Catering Scotland

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