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The best way to light a barbecue

how to light bbq
How to light a BBQBetsie Van der Meer - Getty Images

We can all agree that there's nothing like getting out into the garden for a barbecue when the weather allows!

If you're planning a get together or an al fresco family dinner, you might think that once you've planned your menu and done the food shop you're pretty much there. But if you're anything like us, getting the barbeque lit can often be the greatest challenge!

If you need help, don't panic - we've put together this guide to help you fire up the grill in no time.

Make sure your barbecue is stable

For obvious safety reasons, always check your barbecue is standing sturdily on a flat surface and has no wobbly legs before you fire it up.

Give some thought to your fuel

The best type of fuel to use on your barbecue will depend on what you're cooking and how long you want to cook for. "Charcoal briquettes are uniform in size and burn at an even temperature for longer periods so they’re perfect if you’re cooking for large crowds or roasting a whole joint of meat," explained an expert from Weber.

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"Lumpwood charcoal, on the other hand, lights quicker, burns hotter and and delivers a subtle smoky flavour. You'll get up to one hour of cooking time from lumpwood charcoal so it's suited to grilling smaller cuts of meat or vegetables that take no longer than 15-20 minutes to cook."

how to light bbq
Morsa Images - Getty Images

When you're choosing charcoal to use on your BBQ, spare a thought for the environment. The vast majority of the charcoal we use in this country is imported, and some of the biggest exporters of charcoal are located in parts of the world where deforestation is an issue. Deforestation not only destroys habitats, it also contributes to climate change.

Look for charcoal that's FSC-certified – the logo should be displayed on the pack. Alternatively, look for charcoal with the Grown in Britain logo, such as the Herts Wood Fuel Stag British Charcoal range; this shows that the wood used in the production of the charcoal has been produced in a way that complies with UK forestry standards.

Get the timing right

Before you start cooking, allow some time to get your barbecue to the correct temperature. If there are still flames licking the charcoal, you can risk burning the outside of your food while the inside can remain dangerously undercooked.

You'll know when your barbecue is ready to cook on because the flames will have died down and the charcoal will be glowing red with an ashy grey coating.

Consider using a chimney fire starter

You can do things the traditional way, by placing scrunched up newspaper balls in the bottom of the barbecue, then topping this with dry twigs or kindling, then piling your charcoal on top.

However, using a chimney barbecue starter to light and burn your charcoal can help get things going faster.

"The cylindrical shape of the starter means the charcoal lights quickly and evenly as the flames funnel up due to the chimney effect," our Weber expert told us. "Once the flames start licking through the top — usually in around 20 minutes — they’re ready to pour the contents into your barbecue."

Using a chimney starter can also help measure out the correct amount of charcoal for what you're cooking. Weber recommends filling 1/3 of a chimney starter with charcoal for a low heat of 90-160°C, filling half a chimney starter for an ideal roasting temperature of 180°C-230°C, or using a full chimney starter for a high heat of 230°C-290°C if you want to sear steaks.

Place your charcoal carefully

If your barbecue doesn't have a lid and you want an even temperature across the cooking surface of the barbecue grill, spread out your coals. For a hotter middle area for searing, and a cooler temperature around the edges for slower cooking right through your food, leave the charcoal piled up in the centre of the barbecue.

If your barbecue has a lid, this will help regulate the temperature inside anyway, so where your charcoal ends up is less of an issue.


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