Ah…the smell of burning wood and roasting meat, wonderful primal pleasures and the sign that summer is here.

Barbecue season is well underway, and there’s no time like the present to deliver some tips to make your barbecues the most successful in the neighborhood. Seven years ago I married my South African husband. I never realized that one of the many benefits of marrying him would be learning how to organize a barbecue like a pro.

Here are 11 BBQ hacks to help you make this year’s barbecues the best ever.

Planning

Now you may say that planning takes the fun out of what should be a spontaneous event, but if you don’t have the basics ready to go you will have put out the fire long before it was even lit.

1. Fuel

Make sure you have the fuel you are going to use ready in advance, this means you can be more spontaneous when the mood takes you. Wood is a great fuel for a BBQ as it adds a smokey flavor to your food as well as creating ambiance. Hardwood gives you better coals. If you can’t get your hands on good barbecue hardwood, charcoal can also make just as successful a fire. Whatever fuel you use, make sure you light a big enough fire. You can always light a second fire a little later and use the second fire to feed the first one.

2. Marinating

All meat tastes better when marinated. This is where the advance planning can come in handy. If you plan and marinate the night before the meat will be more tender and tastier, leaving less up to your cooking skills on the day.

Equipment

Every expert needs their tools of the trade and if you want to be a master BBQ chef, you need to have your tools at the ready.

3. BBQ tongs

I recommend that you invest in two sets of BBQ tongs, one good pair with a good grip to turn the meat. The other pair you can use for moving hot coals into position.

4. Hinged Grids

All BBQs have a grid where you place the food but if you want to reduce the amount of work required to turn multiple pieces of meat at once, a good idea is to use a hinged grid. Not only does it save you time and avoid burning the meat, it is also very good for delicate foods such as fish.

5. Sharp Knife

Don’t forget the essential sharp knife as it may be necessary to trim excess fat from the meat.

Lighting the Fire

6. Timing

The most important aspect of lighting a fire is to make sure you do it in plenty of time. It can take anything from 30 minutes to 1 hour before the fire is ready for cooking, this will depend on the type of coals you have used.

7. Ready for cooking

This is one of the trickier aspects of the BBQ for me, knowing when the coals are ready to start cooking. The lesson I’ve been told is to do the following: if you have a wood fire, when the coals are red hot (with no smoke) you are ready to go. If you have a charcoal fire the coals should be grey and ashy.

8. Controlling the Heat

The easiest way to change the amount of heat reaching your meat or fish is to raise or lower the grid. Most BBQs will have adjustable grid heights. You can also add or remove coals if you need more (or less) heat.

Vegetarian BBQs

I once invited a friend to a barbecue but she was a little offended thinking I had forgotten she was a vegetarian. What she didn’t realize is that I have many vegetarians in my family — and a vegan too. Our house is accustomed to catering to many different diet requirements and preferences. Anything can be cooked on a BBQ.

9. Vegetable Parcels

My favorite is wrapping mushroom and zucchini in foil with garlic, salt and pepper — yum! Anything can be put inside foil and cooked on the fire. Corn on the cob and sweet potatoes also work really well.

10. Vegetable Pots

Another way to cook vegetables is to put them in a cast iron pot directly on the fire. The vegetables can be cooking away while you dedicate all your time to the meat and entertaining your guests.

11. Sandwiches

Sandwiches on the fire? Yes! South Africans call them “Braai Broodjies” — cheese, tomato and onion — the standard edition. These can be put on the BBQ when all the food is cooked; they need to be cooked on low coals and cooked very slowly so that the cheese melts well inside. They can be eaten later on in the evening if the BBQ goes late or kept for lunch or a picnic the next day. Either way, the smokey taste on the bread is delicious.

Final Tip

Barbecues can be a really enjoyable way to eat — eating in the open air always seems to make the food taste better. If you live in a cold country like me, light another fire to stay warm. This will make the barbecue more enjoyable and prolong its duration before you have to run for the warmth of the indoors.

And one BBQ hack for those of you attending a barbecue and the host happens to be a South African: do not interfere with the fire or the meat if you want to have a happy and relaxed host.

(Photo credit: Steak on the Grill via Shutterstock)

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