It may be turning cooler, but don’t pack away your barbecue just yet. As king of the coals Christian Stevenson tells Kate Whiting, you can grill your grub all year round.
Americans and Brits differ in countless ways: they say tom-ay-to, we say tom-ah-to. And when it comes to cooking outdoors, the Yanks are far more daring.
While we like to think we know our way around a barbecue, we generally just throw a few burgers and sausages on the grill a few times a year when there's a heatwave. But for our North American cousins, barbecuing is a way of life that goes on long after the sun has set on summer.
Christian Stevenson, aka DJ BBQ, is an American on a mission to keep us all barbecuing long into autumn and winter.
“Brits are embracing barbecuing but the supermarkets aren't helping,” he says. “People think, ‘Summer equals BBQ’, but that's not the case. Barbecuing should be 365 [days a year] and the supermarkets need to stock charcoal or wood all year long."
The 46-year-old father-of-three, nicknamed DJ BBQ, is a bundle of energy who’s been living in the UK for 18 years. His background is presenting extreme sports, but he also DJs and barbecues (hence the nickname) at festivals around the country, cooking and mixing tunes for up to 20 hours a time in what he calls ‘catertainment’. He's now making a big impression on Jamie Oliver's Food Tube network, with his larger-than-life personality and star-spangled catsuits earning him thousands of hits.
“My favourite Food Tube videos are the brisket, which is an 18-hour cook, and bacon firebombs. We shot those in November and it was chucking down with rain. Everyone said, ‘What are you doing?’ But even though it’s England and it rains a lot here, this is what I do.”
Stevenson learned to barbecue when he was just eight years old from his dad, who learned from his father before him - and their recipes are among those that feature in his new cookbook, The BBQ Book.
“My grandparents were great cooks, so when my grandfather passed away, my father went to all his siblings and asked for all the recipes, and made a book for everyone in the family of grandma and grandpa’s recipes, so there's a couple of them in there as well.”
Listening to him talk, it's almost impossible not to drool, especially when he describes his favourite dish.
“Whenever I went travelling, my father would have the same recipe waiting for me: two flank or skirt steaks in a big ziplock with a bottle of Italian dressing, something you buy in the grocery store, and you shake it up and throw it in there. The vinegar would tenderise the meat and then he’d get the charcoal cooking and throw a bunch of potatoes in there and he'd grill that piece of meat and slice it, and that, to me, is the taste of coming home,” he says.
“And it’s something everybody always loves. They can't believe that Italian dressing can make that piece of meat taste that perfect, but it's got the oils, the peppers, the vinegars, it's the perfect marinade and it's easy.
“And then I always do more potatoes than I need because the next day, I make home fries, so onions, peppers, chorizo, crack an egg on there, so I've got breakfast with these smokey potatoes.”
His loves barbecuing so much that he sometimes falls out with his wife over it.
“My wife’s a phenomenal cook. So we have arguments. I’m like, ‘I want to do the turkey on the barbecue because I've been brining it for two days’, and she's like, ‘No, I want the smell around the house’, and then we have a big argument, then the oven breaks, and I’m like, ‘See?’”
He’s excited to be spreading the barbecue love through his Food Tube channel and learning more techniques. “I’m enjoying this new world,” he says. “I’ve just spent a week in Portugal visiting all my friends in their restaurants and learning a whole bunch of new recipes.”
And here’s a little bunch of DJ BBQ’s recipes for you to try at home, any time of year...
- SCALLOPS WITH CHILLI GARLIC BUTTER (Serves 2) 12 scallops, trimmed, with the shells 100ml dry white wine 1/2 a bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked For the chilli garlic butter: 2tbsp olive oil 100g salted butter 3 cloves of garlic, peeled 1 fresh red chilli 1tsp freshly-ground black pepper Let’s Cook!
Spread hot coals over the base of your barbecue in a flat and even layer – the scallops are going to be cooked directly on the coals, so it doesn't matter what barbecue technique you use here.
Start by making the chilli garlic butter, which you can do on the barbecue or over a medium heat on the hob - basically, the longer those flavours get to hang out together, the better. Place the oil and butter in a pan to melt. Meanwhile, finely chop the garlic and chilli (keep the seeds in if you like the heat), then add to the pan with the black pepper. Give it a good stir, let all the ingredients party, then set aside.
Place the shells with the scallops inside them on a platter, then add a dash of white wine to each one. Using tongs, place each shell directly on the grey coals, carefully positioning them so they can't tip over. Cover with the lid like an outdoor oven and cook for four to six minutes, or until cooked through, turning the scallops halfway with tongs. Carefully remove the shells to a serving platter and drizzle about one tablespoon of the melted chilli garlic butter over each golden scallop. Roughly chop and scatter over the parsley leaves, then serve right away.
- MEGA STUFFED SWEET POTATOES (Serves 4) 4 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean Olive oil Sea salt 8 rashers of higher welfare smoked streaky bacon (optional) 125g Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese 4 spring onions, trimmed 1-2 fresh red chillies To serve: Soured cream Let’s Cook!
Set up your barbecue with coals on opposite sides to make two heat walls. Cover with the lid and allow to heat up like an outdoor oven - you want a temperature of around 175C/345F.
Rub the sweet potatoes all over with a drizzle of oil and a good pinch of salt. Place on the middle of the barbecue, cover with the lid and bake for around one hour, or until soft in the middle and crisp on the outside. Meanwhile, fry the bacon (if using) in a pan over a high heat (you can do this on the hob) until golden and crisp, then set aside for later.
Split the potatoes open, crumble in the bacon (if using) and grate over the cheese. Return to the indirect heat on the barbecue for a further five to 10 minutes with the lid on, or until the cheese has melted. Finely slice the spring onions and chilli, then sprinkle them over the potatoes. Serve with spoonfuls of soured cream and devour.
- RAD RUM RIBS (Serves 8) 1.5kg baby back ribs, membrane removed Sea salt For the paste: 5tbsp maple syrup 2tsp chipotle chilli paste 1tbsp ground ginger 1tbsp Worcestershire sauce 11/2tsp sweet paprika 11/2tsp ground cumin 1tsp Chinese five-spice 1/2tsp ground nutmeg For the rad rum BBQ sauce: 4cm piece of ginger, peeled 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled 125ml tomato ketchup 60ml dark rum 1tbsp Worcestershire sauce 3tbsp cider vinegar 1tsp Dijon mustard 1/2tsp dried chilli flakes 50g soft dark brown sugar Let’s Cook!
Combine the paste ingredients and two teaspoons of salt in a bowl. Pat the ribs dry with kitchen paper, then place in a tray and rub all over with the paste. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least six hours, or preferably overnight.
When you want to cook, remove the ribs from the fridge, shake off any excess marinade and allow to come up to room temperature.
Meanwhile, set up your barbecue so half the base is covered in charcoal and the other side is empty - you want a medium indirect heat. Place a drip tray inside the barbecue on the indirect side. Cover with the lid and allow to heat up like an outdoor oven - you want a temperature of around 180C/350F.
Rip off just over an arm's length of extra-strong tin foil, stack up the ribs in the centre and tightly wrap. Place the foil parcel over indirect heat on the barbecue, cover with the lid and cook for around two hours, or until the meat is tender and starts to fall away from the bone, remembering to replenish with hot coals every 45 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, finely grate the ginger and garlic into a small pan on the hob. Add the rest of the BBQ sauce ingredients and 80ml of water. Simmer over a medium heat for around 20 minutes, or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Season to taste and set aside.
Remove the ribs from the foil and brush all over with the BBQ sauce and any cooking juices. Return to the indirect heat for another 30-40 minutes with the lid on, or until tender and golden, basting well every 10 minutes or so. Remove to a board to rest for five minutes, then carve. Enjoy, 'cause these ribs rule!
- The BBQ Book by DJ BBQ is a Jamie Oliver Food Tube book, published by Penguin, priced £7.99. Check out DJ BBQ's video on Jamie's Food Tube channel