Burning Thoughts

More warm weather forecast in France this weekend, so definitely time to fire up the BBQ. Come early Sunday afternoon, the air will be thick with the gorgeous aroma of grilling meat.

John King 1

So, what do the French shove on their barbies?

Standard is pork chops and sausages – chipolatas and the spicy North African sausage – the Merguez. I’ve seen that you can now actually buy these in the UK supermarkets; there are even some UK butchers who will make them up for you. Merguez – due to their North African origin, contain no pork. Lamb or beef are standard fillings, and they make a good change from the traditional chipolata.

The French are not actually a great sausage culture. They don’t have the same variety of sausages that you get in the UK. Apart from the aforementioned French sausage types, I can only think of two (or three) other national sausages.

The Chipolata with herbs (normally provençal herbs)

The Saucisse de Toulouse – a very thick pork sausage which is not unlike a Cumberland Ring

The Andouillette – which is a tripe sausage. It smells heavenly when cooking but, when cut and smelled at close quarters, the « inside » odour is not unlike a sweaty jockstrap. Eat your andouillette with parsimony; they can give you painful indigestion.

Other standard BBQ fare – meat skewers – beef, pork, lamb or chicken on wooden skewers.

A standard supermarket BBQ pack will contain all of the above.

If your BBQ watchword is quality rather than quantity, take a trip to your local butcher’s. He will make you up a BBQ pack with a couple of days notice – though you’ll be paying at least twice the supermarket price.

I can’t really remember what the Brits eat at BBQs. I have memories of beef burgers, sausages and chicken. Why do people try to roast whole chickens on BBQs? It takes ages. By the time the chicken is ready to eat, all your guests are ready to go home.

Something to drink?

This being France, you might have thought that we would all be downing litres of vintage wine with our burned offerings. Sorry to disappoint you folks, but even in France, we now have the « bag in a box » or wine box. However awful the contents, I suppose the wine box does have one advantage over the traditional bottle –  you have inexhaustible and very accessible, tabletop supply of supermarket plonk, no fumbling round with corkscrews and no trips to the bottle bank the next day.

And now to BBQ types

We’ve got gas powered, electric and the traditional charcoal type. Gas BBQs have the advantage that they don’t use charcoal, but they are always enormous affairs and you need somewhere to store them. As for electric – do you really fancy taking all that flex out into the garden? Finally charcoal ???

Well, every summer, articles appear in the press telling us that BBQ charcoal is treated with cancer-giving chemicals that make it burn more easily.  The stuff is also difficult. I know that you should put dry wood and twigs and stuff on top to get a fire going, then bung the charcoal in after, but that always takes ages, so, like everyone else, I squirt fire lighting chemicals on the charcoal to get it burning quicker.

There are those who use the BBQ as an excuse to get rid of all their old wastepaper – newspapers or those annoying leaflets/flyers/brochures that clog up your letterbox.  Hey shove them on the barbie and burn them up to get the charcoal burning. That’s bad.  I suppose the worst is when you get a smoker to light the barbie, and they throw their cigarette butts into the flames. And sometimes you get a combination of all three – firelighters, wastepaper and cigarette butts – yum yum.

I abandoned BBQs a few years ago.

Several reasons

  • The logistics of getting everything into the garden. I don’t have a kitchen that opens on to the garden; they are in fact at opposite ends of my property. Getting everything outside for a BBQ is frankly a logistic pain in the arse, and if I forget everything, it means constant running back and forth. Of course once you’ve got everything outside, at some point you’ve got to bring it all in again – et another logistical bum ache.
  • I’ve never actually managed to have a BBQ, where I sit down with guests and we all eat at the same time. Yes I know this is a BBQ, and we are all supposed to be wandering around, clutching hunks of freshly burned flesh, crammed into buns and wrapped in paper napkins. This is France though. We like to sit down to eat together and not wandering around like lost souls on a station concourse. 
  • Setting up and taking down. Yep, it would sure as hell be far simpler to fire up the barbie, shove on a few sausages, then sit round and get drunk on cheap wine as you watch them burn, BUT HEY – this is a social occasion – people need tables and chairs. They need cutlery and plates. They need side dishes to accompany their sizzling flesh – it’s all preparation. I reckon that a decent BBQ is nearly a full 2-day logistical operation. A day to prepare everything, with the next day given over to the process of cleaning up the BBQ (and yes, I have tried the disposable BBQs that they sell in some supermarkets. They are mostly crap )*
  • Finally, I abandoned BBQs because the « chef » literally does spend his entire evening « slaving over a hot stove » and he (or she) (though as we know, cooking at the BBQ is a male preserve – a chance to show virility and cooking skills). No sooner have you finished grilling up one set of chops and sausages than you have to start on another … and does anyone want to help you cook? Hell No. Why would you volunteer to slave over a hot BBQ, breathing in charcoal fumes and come away smelling like someone who had spent all day in a small room filled with chain smokers?  

Of course. I do like a good BBQ, especially when someone else does it. My recommendations for decent BBQ wine and flesh?  Try some duck filets washed down with a nice syrah (shiraz) rosé – and don’t forget the baked potatoes with sour cream and chives.

*Actually, I’ve got a serious problem with the image of  those disposable BBQs. I suppose it comes from seeing gangs of drunken adults, burning up on the things either in parks or on the beach. They’ve just got no class. of course, here is an argument  for the provision of proper public BBQ areas, we have quite a few in my town round the local lake. Sensilble idea.