Few would disagree, nothing beats a BBQ on a summer's day! Whether it’s with family or friends (or both), there’s something about being together, in the sunshine, eating food that makes people universally happy.
Even in its simplest, last-minute form (which is often the way given the degree of weather dependency), the BBQ still boasts an indulgence factor that is seemingly impossible to replicate indoors. Such is the appeal and anticipation of cooking al fresco, that even a torrential downpour is rarely a deterrent for the most hardy, umbrella-wielding BBQ enthusiast.
Raising the bar(BQ)
With the likes of instagram having propelled the popularity of food in recent years, the bar has been raised just as much for BBQ food as it has for all other types of cuisine. In fact, today's ever-more extravagant cook-ups are now a far cry from the comparatively 'beige' spreads that we happily sat down to a few years ago. But how do we translate those mouth-watering social media 'feeds' into real-life flame grilled feasts this National BBQ Week?
Meat mix up
Burgers and sausages are a BBQ staple, but with so many new potential variations on bangers and patties, who can resist breaking the BBQ habit of a lifetime? Peruse the food halls of Marks and Spencer's and you'll not be short of inspiration. From Pulled Pork (pictured above) to Aberdeen Angus burgers, and lentil and beetroot to sweetcorn and chickpea. Gone are the days of bland veggie burgers (hurrah!), as the growing meat-free movement and increasingly popular Flexitarian lifestyle has seen to it that our supermarkets are now catering beyond the Desperate Dan stereotype. It is also a knock-on effect of our growing health-consciousness that the likes of butternut squash and paprika sausages have made a welcome, long-overdue appearance this summer.
Bits on the side
Once upon a time, a tomato and lettuce salad might have sufficed to provide diners with touch of token greenery on their plates. Fast forward to the present day and salads have come on leaps and bounds. With endless variations when it comes to basic ingredients and dressings, the salad has become a centre piece in itself. Combining the best bits of 'cold' and 'cooked' - our spread (pictured below) features a spinach, mozzarella, tomato, cucumber, avocado and warm asparagus salad. The trend for mixing fruits with vegetables and salad ingredients shows no sign of letting up this summer, with the likes of mango and mange tout and kale and cranberry now regularly caught fraternizing together.
Dips are the ultimate way to mix up the taste and texture of basic BBQ ingredients. Far from sitting with the sundries as the reserve of crisps or crudités, the dip has moved up to the main meal ranks to become an accompaniment in its own right. Ever more adventurous experimentation by the leagues of 'foodie' influencers has led to colours, textures and flavours that we could only once have dreamt of having dolloped on our burger buns. If you're opting for ready-made, why not try Moorish's Garlic & Aioli Dip, Tracklements Smoked Chipotle Salsa, Pulse original lentil houmous or Where the River Bends Paprika pepper and smoked paprika dip, all available from Ocado.
Keep it local
There is much to be said for buying local, particularly when it comes to wine. English wines are a widely under appreciated delicacy, which once sampled you'll almost certainly wish you discovered sooner. Chapel Down's Bacchus was a brilliant find - wonderfully fruity and extremely drinkable, with a distinctive elderflower taste which was just perfect for a summer's day.
Presentation is key when it comes to hosting a summer BBQ, and even the most charred of food looks wonderfully appealing as part of a brightly presented spread. This doesn't require much in the way of investment, just some simple improvisation. We reused some Pots & Co ramekins for olives and dips, accessorised with some plastic fantastic finds in Waitrose - namely the drinks dispenser and side plates.
The long game
Sunday’s have long been notorious with roast lunches - a routine which once came and went with the cold weather. With the extensive cooking capabilities of today's BBQs, the tradition is now enduring into the summer months, making the garden as acceptable a backdrop to a roast lunch as a roaring fire.