Lead image: Lotus Grill Barbecue, £144.00 at Cuckooland
The sunny weather is upon us and that can only mean one thing - it's barbecue time!
However, it takes more than a spot of sunshine to make a successful barbecue. GourmetMeatClub.co.uk's expert butcher Gary England shares his top tips, whether you're hosting or a guest, to get your barbecue spot on.
1 Make your own
Friends and family will always appreciate any extra effort that you've put into making dishes for the barbecue. For instance, you could marinate the chicken with your favourite herbs and spices, or make the burgers by hand. This will put your own unique spin on proceedings - and as an added bonus, will allow you to impress everyone with your cooking skills.
2 Accommodate everyone
Whether it's specific dietary requirements or people not eating meat, you should make sure you've checked with your guests ahead of time and ensure there's enough food options for them to enjoy. If necessary, you can keep special dishes to one side, to make sure they will not get mixed up with regular options. You should also check if food needs cooking on a separate part of the grill.
3 Plan for the best but prepare for the worse
The weather forecast may say it will be sunny, but you can never be too sure. Rain clouds could appear at any moment, but if you plan accordingly, it shouldn't mean the party has to end. Make sure you always have a back-up plan, whether it's a gazebo or shelter for guests to sit in, or room indoors should the weather really turn. You can always decorate your indoor area with a tiki theme, ensuring the summer theme lives on, even if the rain is pouring outside.
4 Bring your own
If you're a guest, don't turn up empty handed. Barbecues should be fun and relaxing, and provide a chance to soak up the sunshine and enjoy company. However, for hosts it can mean you have hours of preparation and face a hefty food bill. You should show your gratitude by ensuring you turn up with either something for the barbecue, drinks or a gift for the host. Even better - all three!
5 Remember the condiments
For many people, a burger isn't a burger without ketchup. However, why not also offer brown sauce, mustard, or a relish? An interesting condiment selection can make a barbecue for foodie guests, so make sure you give them plenty of options.
6 Variety is key
A survey conducted by GourmetMeatClub.co.uk asked 2,000 people what their favourite barbecue dish was. It found 34 per cent favoured quality burgers, while 20 per cent preferred sausages. But that doesn't mean that's all that should be on offer - barbecue weather happens so rarely that you should make the most of it when it comes around. Chicken kebabs and steak both got a vote from eight per cent of people, while one in 20 said they would opt for lamb, if it was an option.
7 Cook safely
Cooking on a barbecue is not without it's difficulties. Food can often look burnt on the outside but will still be raw in the middle. For the sake of you and your guests' health, you should make sure the food is properly cooked before serving it. If you're using coals, make sure the flames have died down so they will not burn the outside, and be sure to move the meat around the grill - it can be difficult to regulate a consistent heat otherwise. If you remain unsure, you can use a meat thermometer to check the temperature on the inside - it's better to be safe than sorry.