Hot and fast or low and slow? Sirloin, ribeye or short rib? Cleaver or boning knife? Fruit wood or hickory? And what exactly are hot links? Deputy Editor Amanda David heads to the London Barbecue School to grill the grill masters.
BBQ chef Ben Forte led the Master of Smoke masterclass day, demonstrating the Masterbuilt Gravity grills. Ingeniously, they have a hopper at the side of the grill (with an ash tray at the bottom) where you add the charcoal or briquettes, light and then just let gravity continue to feed the fire as you cook. You can also control the heat; set your desired temperature on a digital control panel and an internal fan will regulate the air flow over the coals and so the temperature. It's pretty impressive - all the smoky wonderfulness of a proper barbecue, with controls even a BBQ newbie could use.
Meat Matters brought along some outstanding cuts of aged dairy beef for the day. When Oliver Woolnough explains that his business mantra is 'Provenance, Integrity, Obsession', he's not exaggerating: his total commitment and passion about every aspect of the produce is evident when he speaks and his excitement is truly inspirational.
Oliver's colleague Aled gave a butchery demonstration using a number of beautiful knives from a selection that I.O.Shen had brought along to show us, making the whole thing look deceptively effortless. It was fascinating to watch and something I would really like to learn more about, including the use of different knives at different stages. The quality of the meat was unbelievable; they had put some beef short rib in a smoker first thing that morning to cook it low and slow and the aromas were already making me very hungry.
Temperature probes allow you to monitor the internal temperature of the meat from the digital display at the base of the grill - or from the beer garden of your local pub, via an app on your phone. This, and the glass door of the model below, means that you don't have to keep opening the grill to check on progress, resulting in a loss of heat - because, as they say in the trade, if you're looking, then you ain't cooking!
We also had a sausage-making demonstration from Lap-fai Lee, @oishinboy on Instagram, who made us Texas hot links with cheese and jalapeños. Spiced with chilli and garlic, and using flavour-packed trim from Aled's butchery display as well as minced pork, the ingredients that I hadn't expected were milk powder to bind the mixture and retain moisture, and a pinch of curing salt to give them that frankfurter-style texture. I don't even want to tell you how deep a rabbit hole I fell down when I got home and started looking into this, but I am now the only person I know with a vertical sausage stuffer on my Christmas list.
Then it was time for all of us to grab a steak and get cooking. We went with a reverse sear technique to allow time for the flavour from the smoke to permeate the meat before forming that gorgeous caramelised crust. Ben talked through the various woods you could use, explaining that fruit woods would be more suited for use with lighter meat and poultry, as woods such as hickory could overpower the natural flavour of the meat.
Alastair Instone, our host at the London Barbecue School, was tirelessly working in the background to make sure everything ran smoothly. The school is tucked away under the railway arches in Peckham (there are excellent directions on their website) and I have added my name to their mailing list to hear about classes next year. Such an interesting - and delicious - day, many thanks to all involved.
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Deputy Editor, Chatting Food London: Amanda David
Freelance food writer, copywriter and blogger Amanda David is dedicated to sharing news about London’s restaurants, bars, events and general wonderfulness. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.
She has also just launched a new website, A Cook's Bookshelf, reviewing cookbooks old and new, with side-by-side photographs of recipe illustrations next to her home-cooked version.
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