Barbecuing For Beginners

Barbecue platter

Okay, so you have your barbecue all set up and you know how to use it. But what do you cook on it? Here are some tips on barbecuing for beginners.

If you’ve never cooked on a barbecue before then you’re going to need some guidance. Even those who can cook will find that cooking on a barbecue is quite different from using the stove indoors. But with a bit of practice, you will soon be cooking like a pro!

How Not to Barbecue

My first ever barbecue was about 25 years ago and I was pretty excited about it. We bought a barrel barbecue in the local garden centre, along with some charcoal and firelighters. Then we went to the supermarket to buy the food we needed for our first-ever barbecue.

Once home, I lit the coals and went to prepare some food while I waited for it to heat up. Not being too sure when the barbecue was hot enough, I saw that the coals were glowing red in places so decided that it was ready. I placed some appetisers on the rack – chillies stuffed with garlic and ginger and some prawn kebabs – and sat down to keep an eye on things.

But ten minutes later, the prawns were still not cooked and neither were the stuffed chillies. I added more coals and put the food back on the grill. Eventually, the appetisers were ready, but I was worried about the time it had taken to cook them. It had started to get dark.

I put some burgers and sausages on next, turning them with tongs. The heat was quite fierce by now so the burgers cooked faster than the appetisers. But the sausages weren’t cooked. They were burned on the outside but half-raw in the middle. It took nearly 45 minutes before I considered them safe to eat.

It took a total of 5 hours to cook all the food, including lighting the barbecue and waiting for it to heat up. I could’ve cooked it indoors in a fraction of that time. The barbecue was put away in the garden shed and not used again for a long time. In fact, I once considered using it as a tub for some spring flowers!

Now I know how to cook food on a barbecue, it takes a lot less time and I don’t stress about it. I love barbecued food; the taste and aroma of food cooked on a charcoal grill is something really special. And it’s even better shared with family and friends. In fact, my brother taught me how to cook on a barbecue. His barbecued garlic stuffed mushrooms are legendary.

Here are some of my favourite barbecue ideas, organised by category:

*Rubs and Marinades
*Meat, Fish and Poultry
*Sausages and Burgers
*Side Dishes

There is nothing wrong with buying ready-made sauces and marinades, but making your own is worth a try. The same goes for burgers, spare ribs and kebabs.

It might feel a bit daunting when you first try cooking on a barbecue but trust me when I say it’s easy to learn this skill. A few hints and tips are all you need to get started.

Barbecue Cooking Times

First, though, some information on cooking times. Although please bear in mind these are for guidance only. You do need to check the food yourself to make sure it’s thoroughly cooked, especially with things like pork and chicken.

The time it takes to cook various foods can be shortened by starting them off indoors, under a grill or in the oven. But you only really need to do this with large joints of meat or whole chickens. Smaller, thinner pieces of food are much quicker to cook.

Tomahawk steakBeef: It’s best to sear the steaks on both sides first, on the hottest part of the grill rack, then move them over to medium-hot coals and continue until they’re cooked to your liking. Rump or sirloin steak timings are as follows:

Rare: 3 – 4 minutes on each side
Medium: 5 -6 minutes on each side
Well done: 7 – 8 minutes on each side

For thicker pieces of steak, add a minute on each side to the cooking times above. An easy way to test if the steak is cooked to your liking is to press down on it with your finger. If it feels very soft, it’s rare. Firm with some ‘give’ to it is medium and very firm is well done.

This method will make sure that you will never serve a steak that’s overcooked or raw to your guests. A meat thermometer is useful for larger joints of meat or whole chickens. If you intend to do a lot of cooking on the barbecue – and once you’ve tried it you will be hooked – then a meat thermometer is a good investment.

Large Joints: Allow 18 – 20 minutes per kg, or if you have a meat thermometer handy, it’s done when the internal temperature reaches 65C/150F.

Beef Kebabs: These only take around 5 – 10 minutes to cook, but make sure the meat isn’t too tightly packed onto the skewers and turn them frequently.

Chicken: Cooking chicken on a barbecue can take some time to get right; you want it to be cooked but not dry. A marinade will help with this but pay attention to the timings to avoid dry chicken.

Bbq chickenBoneless Chicken Breasts: Around 175g each, these will take 7 – 8 minutes on each side. But do check that no pink remains inside, undercooked chicken puts you at risk of salmonella 
Boneless Thighs:
Also around 175g each, these cook slightly faster, 4 – 5 minutes for each side
Chicken Breasts on the Bone:
as these are larger and heavier, they will need about 25 minutes, turning often
Drumsticks and Boned Thighs:
These will take around 15 – 20 minutes, turning often
Cook as for drumsticks and boned thighs above
Whole Poussins:
These usually weigh around 450g each and will take 40 – 45 minutes to cook. Or when the temperature on a meat thermometer reaches 85C/185F they are done
Whole Chickens:
Weighing in at around 1.5kg, these should be cooked over indirect heat and take 15 minutes per kg, plus 15 minutes extra, or until the internal temperature reaches 85C/185F on a thermometer
Kebabs: These will take about 10 minutes, turning often

Lamb: The timings given here are for medium-rare meat. If you like it really pink or you prefer it to be well done, decrease or increase the cooking times until it’s cooked to your liking. You can use the test mentioned above for beef to tell whether the lamb is cooked properly or not.

Lamb chops
Chops: These will take about 6 – 7 minutes on each side
Weighing on average 175g, these will take 4 – 5 minutes on each side
Larger Joints: Allow 20 minutes per kg and cook over indirect heat, or until the internal temperature reaches 60C/140F
These take 15 – 20 minutes, turning often

Pork: This is another meat that needs careful cooking; as with chicken, there is a risk of salmonella and other nasty bugs if it’s not cooked thoroughly. There are some chefs who say that pork is fine when it’s served pink but personally, I wouldn’t risk it. You want your guests to have a good time, not get food poisoning.

Pork chops
Boneless Steaks: About 7 – 8 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness
Again depending on the thickness, about 8 – 10 minutes on each side
Pork Fillets:
About 25 minutes, turning often
Whole Joints:
Allow 25 – 30 minutes per kg plus 25 minutes extra, or until the internal temperature reaches 75C/170F
12- 15 minutes, turning often
Allow 8 – 10 minutes, turning often. Cut a sausage in half to check that it’s cooked right through before serving them to your guests

Fish and Shellfish: This was always my dad’s favourite thing to cook on the barbecue, especially whole mackerel or herring. He liked to stuff the fish with herbs and chillies soaked in vinegar. The smell coming off the fish as it cooked was amazing.

Bbq fishBut unlike chicken and pork, fish is easily overcooked. This can happen very quickly on a barbecue, resulting in dried-out, tasteless fish. Keep an eye on it and be ready to lift it off the rack as soon as it’s cooked.

Fish Steaks: Weighing around 200 – 225g, these will take 4- 5 minutes on each side
Around 75 – 100g each, these will take no more than 2 – 3 minutes on each side. Keep an eye on them; this is not a good time to go and grab another beer or visit the bathroom
Whole Fish: 12 – 15 minutes on each side, or until the internal temperature reaches 50C/125F
Raw Prawns:
These take less than 2 minutes on each side. They’re done when they’ve turned pink

I hope that’s given you some guidelines for cooking various foods. Now we can get into the categories for different foods and how to cook them on the barbecue.

Dry Rubs

Dry rubs (sometimes called recados) are a blend of herbs and seasoning, quick to make, that are rubbed onto raw meat and poultry before cooking. The food can be left to absorb the flavours for a few hours or cooked straight away. This method of flavouring meat and fish is popular in the USA, especially in the Southern states. The dry rub not only adds flavour but also an appetising crust to the food.

Marinades and Glazes

Marinades can be made from all kinds of ingredients; citrus, soy, sugar, garlic, and herbs. They all bring a wonderful depth of flavour and help to keep the food moist during cooking.

Glazes are sugar-based and give a lovely sticky, shiny finish to food. Use them during the last few minutes of cooking so that the sugar doesn’t burn.

Barbecue Sauces

As barbecued food is cooked over dry heat a sauce is a welcome addition, whether it’s brushed onto the food before serving or served on the side for dipping. A really good barbecue sauce is always popular. It goes with anything. The good thing about making your own barbecue sauce is that you can have it as spicy or as sweet as you like.

Any leftover sauce will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. So don’t think you’ve made too much.

Meat, Fish and Poultry

These can all benefit from being cooked on the barbecue. The smoke from the hot coals imparts a wonderful flavour that you just don’t get from cooking food indoors. Just make sure that you keep these items in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them, especially if it’s a hot, sunny day.

What you can cook on a barbecue depends on what type of barbecue you have. If you want to cook whole chickens and joints of meat, a covered, kettle-style barbecue is your best choice. But if your tastes run to steaks and burgers, an open grill-type barbecue, such as a barrel barbecue, are ideal. Barrel barbecues are faster to heat up than some of the other designs., such as a Hibachi or pedestal barbecue.

For more information on which type of barbecue to choose, please visit outdoor cooking ideas

Sausages and Burgers

In my opinion, you can’t have a barbecue without some burgers or hot dogs – especially if there are children present. You can buy ready-made burgers if you like, but why not have a go at making your own?

Burgers are very easy to make; they have few ingredients and are made and cooked in minutes. The flavour is so much better than the ones you buy in the shops, even the more expensive Aberdeen Angus-type burgers. They’re also healthier, as they don’t contain any additives.

An important point to remember when making burgers is to always chill them for 30 minutes and brush them with a little oil before you start to cook them. Chilling firms up the burgers so that they don’t break up during cooking.

I don’t recommend that you make your own sausages, however. But buy the best you can afford to avoid them bursting open during cooking. If you’re going to use canned frankfurters, empty the sausages and the brine into a saucepan and heat them up in the pan, either on the grill or on the hob indoors.

Fish and Shellfish

BBQ sea breamFish cooked on a barbecue is just delicious. It takes on a whole new flavour from the smoke, especially if you throw some aromatic herbs like rosemary onto the coals before cooking. Fish takes only minutes to cook, so keep an eye on it. The difference between perfectly-cooked fish and overcooked, dry fish is a matter of seconds in some cases.

The Vegetarian Barbecue

I feel that sometimes, vegetarians miss out on barbecues because there’s very little that they can eat. If you have vegetarian friends or family members make sure that you have some veggie-friendly foods for them. Vegetables cooked on a barbecue take on a smoky sweetness that is just delicious.

Mediterranean vegetables such as peppers, courgettes and aubergines are all great cooked on the grill. But vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and asparagus work well too. I’ve tried some fantastic vegetarian food cooked on the barbecue and I haven’t felt as if I’m missing out.

Side Dishes

There are so many different and delicious side dishes that you can serve at your barbecue, you will be spoiled for choice. Here is a selection of my favourites but feel free to choose some of your own.

Potato Salad: This combination of new potatoes, mayonnaise and spring onions is always popular. And it goes with anything
Another favourite. Crisp cabbage, carrots and onions in a tangy dressing. Great spooned onto jacket potatoes or as a topping for a burger
Barbecue Beans: Slow-cooked beans with bacon and/or sausage in a rich sauce are good enough to eat on their own. Great with sausages and spare ribs
Roasted vegetables: Vegetables are transformed by cooking over hot coals. They can be cooked directly on the grill rack, or wrapped in foil parcels and cooked on the coals. 
Stuffed Peppers:
Red and yellow peppers work best, green peppers can be slightly bitter. Peppers can be stuffed with other roasted vegetables, couscous, rice, or a meat filling
Corn on the Cob:
Corn on the cob is a must-have for any barbecue. The sweetness of the corn is enhanced and once it’s smothered in butter, you can have fun eating it while trying not to burn your mouth or drip butter down your clothes
Salads used to be considered pretty boring; limp lettuce, underripe tomatoes and grated carrots. But salads have come a long way and they’re good enough to eat on their own, as well as being an accompaniment to barbecued food.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this article. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

For some great recipes visit best barbecue recipes ever

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4 thoughts on “Barbecuing For Beginners”

  1. Enjoyed the article Barbecuing for Beginners as I’m an aficionada myself. I learned how to grill 20 years ago, I always would throw the charcoal in spray on the lighter fluid then immediately light, LOL. I would have to repeat that process constantly scratching my head wondering why my charcoal took so long to catch fire then hold it, frustrating. Then the funniest thing happened and I don’t see how my friends never caught on I was a BBQ hack but any ways I go over my cousins, and he wants to grill I was not trying to have no parts of being the griller so I passed the buck to him, he calmly went over to the grill put the charcoal in then doused it with a good amount of lighter fluid all over then proceeded to take a seat smoke a couple of cigarettes, by the end of his second he went over and lit it eureka! we sat till the coals turned white and we were in there.

    I liked the meat thermometer suggestion, the marinades ingredient section, as well as the different meat cooking references especially for the steak. Great beginner’s article.

    • Hi Jacob, I’m really glad that you enjoyed the article. Your story made me smile! The main thing is, you got there in the end, thanks to your cousin. A meat thermometer is very handy, it allows for precision and saves you from having to guess or keep testing if the food is cooked or not. 

      Marinades and rubs make such a difference to the taste of food. They’re easy to make and the smell alone will make you hungry! Do try them, you will be very happy with the taste I’m sure

  2. Many very helpful tips you have here, Karen, thanks.

    I’m not really good at barbecuing. I can totally relate to you when you first tried barbecuing. The foods I barbecued are either burned or raw. In fact, I was embarrassed to serve them to my friends. 

    My problem is that I can’t seem to get the correct timing for each kind of barbecue food. That’s why I enjoyed your article so much because you gave specific barbecue cooking times.

    For those like me who solely rely on recipe books or Youtube cooking videos, a timer is a must-have. I want to know the specific cooking timings for every recipe that I will experiment on. And then I have to try several times before succeeding, I figured it will be the same with barbecuing. I may not perfect it the first time but I am confident that soon I will master it. 

    Thanks again, Karen.

    • Hi Alice, I’m glad you enjoyed the article and learned from it. You have a great attitude! Some people will try a thing once and if it doesn’t work for them, they give up. You will persevere and be successful. 

      One easy way to tell if meat is cooked is to do a face test. If it feels like your cheek, the meat is rare, if it feels like your chin, it’s medium, and if it feels like your forehead, it’s well done. This can apply to all different meats but if it’s pork it must feel firm, like your forehead. 

      This might sound whacky but it works! You will never have a problem cooking meat to everyone’s liking if you use this method


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