Two charred wedges of cabbage on a wooden background

Live fire and BBQ expert Genevieve Taylor gives us the ultimate lowdown on cooking over flames, with tips for choosing charcoal, creating different grilling zones, plus why building a wood-fired oven is worth your time!

What is the basic equipment you need to BBQ at home?

You can pretty much barbecue on anything, in any space. A basic for me is a grill with a lid. I like to compare it to an oven - you wouldn’t turn your oven on and then try and cook with the door open. Using a lid traps in the heat and avoids any heat being wasted. A kettle BBQ is a perfect starting place because they have a lid and a good sized cooking area.

How much space do you need to BBQ?

You can barbecue in a small space and if you buy certain BBQs you can even take it with you when you travel. I love my Thuros tabletop BBQ because it doesn’t get too hot underneath. Instead of buying disposable BBQs (which often contain chemicals and are bad for the environment) it’s worth investing in a Thuros tabletop BBQ because you’re able to control the heat and use it repeatedly. The grilling area is large enough to cook for a family of four, too!

How important is the charcoal you use?

Very important! I spend a lot of time talking about choosing the right charcoal. I think people spend a lot of time deciding on which BBQ to buy, and then just buy any old charcoal to go on it. I tell people to think of charcoal as an ingredient and spend time sourcing it carefully. You wouldn’t spend ages sourcing great quality meat to then cook it badly, so treat charcoal in the same way.

A lot of mass-produced charcoal is packed with chemicals (which is necessary to suppress its flammability when it’s traveling thousands of miles), however this then affects the flavour of the food you’re cooking on it.

I'm a very big advocate of people sourcing sustainable British charcoal. The act of making charcoal is a very ancient art that evolved in the bronze age. It’s very interconnected to woodland management and it’s a really positive thing for conservation and biodiversity. Making charcoal is one of the ways that people can make money from woods and therefore keep them thriving.

What are the pros of barbecuing compared to grilling in an indoor oven?

I love cooking over flames, not just for the flavour, but for the entire outdoor experience. This in turn, makes everything taste better. When cooking on a BBQ you get different layers of flavour, especially the smoky hit when using wood chips.

I understand that if you have a small space, not everyone wants to invest in a BBQ which is why a lot of recipes in my book (Charred: The complete guide to vegetarian grilling and barbecue) are suitable for cooking in a griddle pan on a hob. As long as you get the pan super-hot you will be able to achieve similar results.

Try Genevieve’s veg-focussed BBQ recipes here:

  1. Yakitori Tofu, Pineapple & Red Pepper
  2. Tofu, Mushroom & Sesame Burgers with Kimchi
The Ultimate BBQ Guide

Do you have any top tips for cooking on a BBQ?

I think the main thing that people are perhaps surprised about is that vegetables take longer to cook than you imagine. Soft vegetables like aubergines, peppers and tomatoes aren’t as time consuming, but dense root vegetables do take a while to grill.

Due to the chemical reaction that takes place between the sugars and acids, you can’t just chuck them over a flame and expect them to be done. One of the key principles I try and teach people about is how to set up the BBQ so you can create different zones for vegetables, meat and fish.

The Ultimate BBQ Guide

You want to have a half and half grill, with charcoal under one side of the grill and then nothing on the other half. This gives you the option to cook directly over the flame, or indirectly. Again, imagine you’re cooking on a hob and you have a dial for turning the heat up and down. If you’re cooking indirectly, it’s a lower heat.

There are no strict rules for the kind of heat you cook meat, fish and vegetables over. I think there is value in all of it being placed in all different places. Chicken, for example, I would always cook indirectly because I want to cook it through and caramelise slowly. I would cook slightly off the heat for most ingredients and really take my time over the cooking, with the exception of fish which needs a really high temperature.

I’ve started a fire cooking school in Bristol with the aim of teaching people about how to cook over flames. I want people to learn those little fundamental skills about controlling the heat, how to raise and lower temperatures by creating different zones and how to choose different fuels because this has the biggest effect on the final dish you eat.

What do you need to do wood-fired cooking at home?

If you really want to get into wood-fired cooking, a full size oven that’s really well-insulated is important. It’s hugely versatile! If you just want to cook pizza, then portable pizza ovens are great at grilling fast, but the benefit of investing time (and money) in a larger oven is that you can cook everything in it, from pizzas to pavlovas in it. 

If you wanted to use it to bake a loaf of bread, you would heat the oven up and wait for the flame to die down before placing the dough in. That way you have the super high heat temperature and the flavour, but not the direct flame which would burn the loaf.

Another way you can use a wood-fired oven is by cooking food in it overnight, especially for larger cuts of meat. The meat can be cooking slowly overnight and then ready for the next day!

Read our top tips for an American BBQ.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Latest Articles & Recipes

  • How To Clean Pestle And Mortar

    How To Clean Pestle And Mortar

  • How To Use Pestle And Mortar

    How To Use Pestle And Mortar

  • How To Make Perfect Poached Eggs In A Saucepan

    How To Make Perfect Poached Eggs In A Saucepan