Fire up that grill: Experts on how  to make your winter BBQ the talk of the town

Winters are here, and the sudden drop in temperature calls for setting tables outside, getting into holiday grilling mode, and ensuring you have a great time with friends and family over food and drinks. 

Restaurateur Sameer Uttamsingh has been making barbecues at his South Mumbai residence for over 15 years now. During winters, he hosts at least four to five barbecues. 

He tells Slurrp, “Barbecue parties are very interactive and the cooking becomes a part of the experience. Since we have a very big terrace, we usually have large parties for 20-30 people and it’s fun to cook for everyone and customise the food the way they want it.”

Khar resident Jerusha Ratnam, who has been hosting barbeque parties for about 12 years now, started small with around six people. 

She tells us, “When I started hosting these, I was in my twenties when most weekend plans were about hitting the hottest club. I wanted to do something different, more intimate, and share my love for food with everyone. We start late November every year, or whenever it feels cold enough to be comfortably out in the open. We grill with family 3-4 times as long as the weather permits. And we host a Christmas Eve barbecue every year.”

Chef Rohan D’Souza’s team caters to barbeque parties for select clientele and feels it is a more personalised format of home catering where people can watch what is being cooked.

“Barbeque is about slow, live cooking and so the number of guests invited would impact the infrastructure set up. Ensure to host a barbeque party in a large, open space like a terrace or a patio as it allows for better interaction with the guests,” he adds.

Here are tips to get you started on the BBQ journey:

Food, food, food

Uttamsingh tells us, “Make sure there’s a wide variety of food at the party, mostly stuff that cooks quick, play good music and have plenty of chilled beers. 

Chef D’Souza says, “Depending on the grill menu, a choice of dips, dressings and sides are served. Keep sufficient marinated food since the numbers almost always overshoot by 15 percent more than estimated.”

Start from scratch

Uttamsingh is very hands-on and does everything from scratch. “All the sauces and marinades are made using my recipes. Meats are usually marinated overnight to garner more flavour and cook better.” At bigger parties, Chef D’Souza does the backend preps at his base kitchen where meat and vegetables are marinated a day in advance. 

“It’s the secret to flavour and tenderness of the foods. However, don’t pre-cook the food, since doing so makes it dry when the final cooking method is in process. We even prep for the sauces and sides beforehand. The final touches are done at the venue.” 

Similarly, Ratnam says, “Depending on how many people are invited, I’ll probably prepare a whole bunch of things the day before. If I'm marinating the meat, then I'll ensure it gets to marinate overnight. If I'm not marinating, I make sure I get fresh meat a few hours before.”

Set it right

Chef D’Souza recommends to set up well in advance. You might have to adjust the positioning of the grills, and bear in mind the time taken to light the coals. Ratnam agrees. “One of the key things would be planning and figuring out when do you get the coals started so you can put the meats on before people start getting hungry,” he says. 

Don’t forget the vegetarians!

Ratnam says, “Barbecuing doesn't have to be all about meat. Grill vegetables and fruits as well. For his vegetarian friends, Uttamsingh loves grilling big portobello mushrooms with stuffing, vegetables  and cottage cheese skewers and grilled halloumi. Sides are a combination of leafy salads, baked potatoes and garlic bread. 

Apparatus perfect!

Uttamsingh trusts Weber for great grills and accessories. His toolkit has silicon mats, silicon brushes, probe thermometer, olive oil spray cans, an apron, oven mitts and tongs! And of course, a cold beer. Since Chef D’Souza requires commercial equipment to cater to larger parties; most of these robata grills are designed and customised as per his requirement. In his toolkit, you’ll find coal, wood chips, grill brushes, tongs, ice boxes, hot boxes, and trays. Previously, Ratnam preferred a specific barbecue equipment website but it shut down now. Her most recent one is from Amazon. “You have to know exactly what you want and what features you're looking for to make selection easy,” she adds. In her toolkit, there are lots of tongs, skewers, basting brushes, knives, spatulas and also a meat thermometer.

Big hits

Uttamsingh’s super spicy chicken lollipops have always been the show stopper. He tells us, “It’s a combination of a few different chilli sauces with varying spice levels, Worcestershire sauce, honey and lots of love. Marinate the chicken overnight, and it’s ready to grill. Once the chicken is on the grill, keep basting it with the sauce till it gets a crispy char. The result is a sticky, sweet and spicy, very moreish chicken.” Chef D’Souza’s hits are tiger prawns and lobster barbecued to perfection.

Ratnam’s beef burgers from their barbecue burger bar are a big hit. "We serve burger patties off the grill with lettuces, veggies, toppings like jalapeños and olives and at least a couple of different sauces so guests can put the burgers together the way they like. It makes it a bit interactive as well, as opposed to one person just manning the grill all night long,” says Ratnam.  

The two sides that Ratnam makes is baked potatoes, wrapped in foil and thrown directly on the coals under the grill and blue cheese butter, especially if she is grilling beef.

“It's really simple—blue cheese, butter, garlic powder and your choice of herbs. As for the potatoes, keep cooking through as you cook the meat. But they take a while, so get them started early. Or if you want to cut down on time in the grill, bake them in the oven for half an hour beforehand. I usually serve them simply with butter salt and pepper. Or amp it up with bacon bits and sour cream,” she adds.

Have fun

Uttamsingh says, “Always plan ahead. Create the perfect vibe with the right people, great music and flowing drinks. Don’t forget to have fun while grilling your food, because barbeques are all about having fun! Chef D’Souza warns to not overdo grilling in one go. Watchful batch-by batch cooking is key to serving the food hot and fresh as possible and having some fun too. Ratnam suggests, “Allow others to grill as well. It should create a more interactive atmosphere.”

Backend tips

Ratnam swears by her basting brush. “Just use the leftover marinade in the vessel to brush onto the meat as it is cooking. It helps prevent the meat from drying out and amps up the flavour.”

Chef D’Souza warns, “Make sure the coal is not damp as that can affect the cooking. Ensure that the barbeque grills hold constant heat all through the event. The timing of changing the coal plays a key factor. Also, since the heat and fumes can spoil the marinated food, it is important to keep these in the refrigerator or iceboxes until ready to be grilled. For bigger parties, it’s important to have a substantial workspace to set up and dispatch food.”