Setting up a barbecue is not unlike organising a party. You need to think about location, equipment and menu as well as the guest list. Don’t make yourself crazy and try to wing it. Make a list and ask for help. Or read on.
While the venue for a barbecue is less important than the menu or the guest list, it can help set the tone for the entire affair. A private beach or backyard tells your guests it’s ok to let loose, and they’ll be running around. Rooftops and Wadi Degla inform us that we’re adults; horseplay is at a minimum but there will be music and great conversation. Desert barbecues are not for everyone and require a special bit of planning, since you’re cut off from civilisation and don’t have a plan B if your ice has melted or you need more coal.
Tools of the Trade
Get yourself a nice grill. Things to look for are stability and space. You want enough space so that you can accommodate more than a few pieces of meat, and also so that you can manipulate the coals underneath by stacking them from an area of high heat down to an area of low heat. This allows flexibility when cooking and ensures even cooking throughout the meat. Cairo’s hypermarkets have very impressive selections of barbecue grills, both gas and coal powered; but unless you’ve got a great backyard spread (swimming pool included), you’re better off getting the modest coal-powered versions.
You only ever need two pairs of tongs; one for the coals, and the other for the meat. Both tongs should have rubber handles to insulate your precious soft hands from the intense heat of the grill. Ebiary in Zamalek has an excellent selection of kitchen utensils, and you would be wise to check them out for any accessories you may need for the barbecue.
Every barbecue needs foil trays and paper foil to keep the food warm once it’s done cooking. Coal can be purchased at any local spice merchant. Stay away from the self-lit coal; this stuff will add a gasoline note to whatever you’re cooking. It’s a slower method, but light the coals on a gas flame (if available) and use those coals to light the other coals. General rule of thumb is about one kilo of coal for three people; you may have some leftover, but you can use the dying embers to dance around like savages. Obviously, plates, spoons and forks are needed; but you don’t really need to hear that, do you?
Vegetarians rightfully feel very out of place at barbecues– while everyone else is chewing on a rib of beef and playing Frisbee, veggie-lovers are sitting in a lonely corner next to a guitarist (there always is one) singing ’Wonderwall‘ with a plate of bean salad in their laps. Be sure to take into account the meal preferences of your guests; since it will inform your menu planning.
And it has to be said: using a barbecue as a way to hook up/hit on/break up can be tricky. Don’t play cupid, stupid and stick to the plan: people, meat, fire and not necessarily in that order.
Ribs, chicken legs, hot dogs and hamburgers are by far the most popular and reliable things to barbecue. Barbecuing relies on a slow cooking process; so be sure to give the meat enough time to cook; nothing takes two minutes on the grill. Metro markets and even some butchers actually have barbecue-ready meats for sale; these are pre-marinated and can taste pretty good.
Chicken is a bit tricky: in the rush to get food out, most novices toss a raw leg onto a burning hot grill and once it’s charred call out ’Chicken’s done!’ Novice, meet your new friend, salmonella. A neat trick to get around this requires a little forethought and planning. Before the barbecue actually commences, put all your chicken legs into a deep pan, and cover with barbecue sauce. Cover with foil and put in an 180C-oven for an hour. Now when you’re barbecuing it, there is no question as to whether it’s cooked or not. Just give it a nice crispy char and serve it up.
Sides and desserts are very simple to make on a barbecue. Almost any cairo360user vegetable can be wrapped in foil and tossed into the coals, and retrieved 15 to 20 minutes later with great effect. Onions and potatoes are the most popular options. Desserts are pretty easy; certain fruits lend themselves wonderfully to barbecuing; just choose firm fruits that won’t break down too much from the heat of the grill. Slightly under-ripe mangos, peaches and pineapples are perfect. Right before putting them onto the grill, just dust them with some cinnamon or mint and cook until you get those wonderful grill marks.
When the grill has died down, sit back, rub your belly and bask in the adulation a great grill master deserves. You sir, are a living legend.