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Back Garden Bliss

OK while the weather holds, this is too good not to share.

A couple of people picked up on the reference to beer brined chicken in my Garrett Oliver post.  Now your barbecue has seen some sausage and burger action, it’s time to raise it to the next level.

The following recipe is adapted from this book, which has changed my life:

It looks like a novelty book.  It looks like it should be rubbish.  But it contains secrets, such joyful secrets.

The problem with bbq food is that it gets burnt and dry.  Now this might be common knowledge in the States, where barbecuing gets taken much more seriously, but we tend not to know it over here because bbq weather is so rare – the secret to moist, flavoursome barbecue meet is brining.  Marinade the meat in a herby, spicy solution with lots of salt and brown sugar, which tenderises and keeps it moist.

If you just did that, it would be pretty good.  But you can go further – once your meat is marinaded, about half an hour before putting it on the grill, just as the coals are flaming and you’re waiting for them burn down into embers, dry off your chicken/lamb/pork/beef and coat it in a salty, sugary rub.  This caramelises very quickly, giving you a tasty burnt layer on the outside but protecting the meat inside and locking in the moisture and flavour.

With these principles you can’t go wrong.  The following recipe is the one form the book that I’ve cooked six times in the last few weeks, but with the principle established, you can mess around with different seasonings.

First you do the brine:

Half cup of firmly packed brown sugar
Half cup sea salt
1 cup hot water
1 tsp chopped/grated lemon zest
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 bay leaves
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bottles beer – I think anything works, but something quite fruity and mid-brown has worked best for me.

Dissolve the sugar and salt in the water, then add everything else. Marinade the chicken for as long as you can – four or five hours is perfect.

Then you’ve got the rub:

2tsp fennel seeds (it says ground but I use them whole)
Pinch of chilli flakes to taste
2 tsp chopped lemon zest
1 tsp brown sugar
3 tsp salt

Drain the marinade off the chicken, coat in the rub, stick it on the barbie!  Simple.

As I mentioned in the previous post, it’s a heavenly beer match waiting to happen.  Because of the variety of spicy flavours in there I’ve found an American IPA/pale ale – not a hop bomb of varnish-like bitterness but something with some nice resinous, spicy notes, such as Sierra nevada Pale Ale or Norrebro’s Bombay Pale Ale – goes amazingly – the latter is one of the most swoonsome matches I’ve ever tasted

And to follow? Well, while we’re outside, me and the Beer Widow went camping last weekend.  We had a campfire every night (No firelighters.  First night – paper and about five matches.  Second night – just kindling from the forest floor and three matches.  Final night – forest kindling and one match!)  I’d got a hunch from tasting whisky barrel-aged beers while judging the International Beer Challenge, which I wanted to check out – and I was right.  When you’re sitting around a campfire, as the moon rises and nearby campers launch lanterns into the darkening sky, you can play with beer and fire matching.  Something like an Ola Dubh 30 or 40 year old is the perfect accompaniment – the smoke from the air mingles in your nostrils and brings out nuances in the beer, and at the finish, as you swallow, you can taste the embers of the fire on your tongue.  One of the most remarkable, multi-sensory tasting experiences I’ve ever had.
Now where are those matches?




Looks good, will give it a go but what about the marinade? I put some mushrooms in a Trappist one the other day and reduced it, fantastic.
As for camping/glamping— when you’re shared a tent with a drunk, snoring and farting mate halfway up a Welsh mountain then I’m afraid a life on the canvas holds no attraction.

Velky Al

nice new layout, though of course I have to say that as I have been using the same background for a couple of months now.

Does make you thirsty!


Sounds outstanding. Never tried anything like this, but will now. Do you think it would work on a griddle as well as outside on a BBQ?


Velky Al

Having a wife from South Carolina, you soon discover there is a world of difference between proper barbecue and just plain old grilling out, and of course that barbecue sauces can be mustard based, vinegar based or tomato based.

They take it quite seriously:



BBQ really should not get dry but it depends on your set up. I have a basic Weber dome charcoal BBQ and mainly do lower temp indirect heat smoking. Get a cheaper big cut of pork shoulder or but with all the fat and bone you can leave in and smoke it for six hours over a small fire with the dome on. Sometimes it is soft enough to spread with a fork.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

I had a go with beer can chicken recently, it was a boggo can of a barely attenuated, fast-fermented, maize-enriched ‘lager’ (trade descriptions types over here please), but it didn’t matter, the chicken was as moist as moist can be without becoming rather vulgar and tasted darn good, I think the bbq is out on Saturday now you’ve lit my fire, my bible is The Thrill of the Grill, which I picked up in Boston in 96.

Pete Brown

ATJ – the brine is the marinade, you ninny.

Stu, I'd recommend chicken but the principle of the brine and rub works with any meat – just adjust spices to Indian or Morroccan or whatever as preferred. The nice thing about chicken – and this is something I've always been nervous of – is that you can cook thighs/legs/drumstick on the bone, and cook them through to the middle without them going dry. In my past, it's usually been a choice between one or the other!

Thanks Alan and Velky – any of our North American friends got any further secrets they're willing to divulge?

Chunk – you can always cook the meat on a griddle and it will be absolutely fine, but you only get that smoky, charred crust just right on a coal-fired barbie

Gary Gillman

Pete, I believe in par-boiling. There is no substitute for the long smoking Alan mentioned, but with much less time, a good result can be obtained by simmering pork or beef ribs in water – good opportunity to mix with or substitute beer – to half cook it and then finish on the grill. This works well too with chicken, and some cuts of lamb. An added advantage is some of the fat leaches off in the simmering.

You need to season well when this is done. I don't mind the commercial barbeque sauces, and you can tweak them. I use a ferociously strong Island Scotch bonnets sauce to liven them up or just add various spices and things per my whim.

Good burgers of course need just good meat and seasoning – and hamburger buns. Can't have a burger outdoors without a soft bun.

As for drink. Any good beer works for me. Any one. The only proviso is it must be cold for al fresco dining. (And I say this as one who often drinks beer room temperature or just under). Why this is I am not sure, but its truth has been proven to me many times. And some whisky never goes amiss.

An unfiltered cigarette, the old Canadian Player's Plain End, say, or Macdonald's Export "A", would be the capper. It ain't gonna happen at this stage (20 years off the weed), but memory has its own reward… And in truth, the beer is much better today than 30 years ago in North America, so the good old days is now, too.



I must try this, it sounds great. Coincidentally, there is a similar recipe in the latest Beer Advocate magazine – it must be the start of chicken-brining season.


Got to take issue with one significant part of this: "OK while the weather holds"

It has been a rotten July weather wise in the grim North. Barbecue? No chance.

The method sounds good though.

Pete Brown

Tandy, July is certainly no June down in that London but we're in the garden every night and I've had four barbecues plus a very sunburny camping weekend. I blame the ConDems and the north/south divide.

ATJ from one ninny to another, oh I see, you were talking about what to do with the marinade when you've taken the chicken out. Good point re reduction – might get pretty salty and bitter, but worth a go to see.


I've only just got in on the beer and food matching, beer and fire matching can wait I think! But at least I know what's going on the BBQ over the festival now.


Admittedly, the downside of smoking your own BBQ are the long hours tending the fire and the entire soaking of your being in the smoke and the reality that you will drink and drink over those hours leaving you soused at the dinner table. However, the upside of smoking your own BBQ are the long hours tending the fire and the entire soaking of your being in the smoke and the reality that you will drink and drink over those hours leaving you soused at the dinner table.


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