Hopefully the sun will shine for the start of National Barbecue Week

Monday is the start of National Barbecue Week and hopefully the arrival of some suitable weather.

In recent years we’ve really embraced cooking outdoors. Many garden centres now have dedicated areas selling grills and all manner of paraphernalia associated with cooking over coal. A few years ago I had acquired a smoker just before Christmas. It looked like R2D2 out of Star Wars and had the capacity of smoking a large turkey and ham simultaneously.

I stopped in every garden centre from Belfast to Ballymena asking for charcoal and was met with looks like I had asked for a unicorn. Eventually someone suggested a shop in Ahoghill, the sensible kind that sells everything, and I got my coal. They were trendsetters because now most shops and garden centres sell charcoal all year round. A splash of rain shouldn’t deter us from a bit of outside grilling.

We’ve moved on from a few perfunctory sausages and burgers and now cook fish, larger joints of meat, vegetables and even fruit on the grill. Barbecues have become even more sophisticated in their engineering allowing complete control of coal heat. Recently I received an email on how to cook a complete Sunday roast over hot coals. Steaks on the barbecue can be a bit of a luxury now with food price increases but it’s still possible to enjoy red meat by focussing on cheaper cuts. Beef ribs, also known as Jacob’s ladder, are now readily available. In the recipe here they’re poached in an aromatic stock until tender, cooled and then grilled. The poaching liquor is boiled to reduce to a syrupy consistency that’s then used to baste and glaze the ribs. You end up with sticky, tender as the night ribs. Here they’re accompanied by a beetroot rice pilau. A full beef meal at a fraction of the cost of steaks.

Hamburgers cooking on barbeque grill with flames

Neck of lamb is the cut traditionally used to make a classic Irish Stew. You can buy neck of lamb fillets in most butchers now and, after being marinated, are great for the barbecue. They’re reasonably priced and have all the flavour and more of more expensive cuts of lamb. In the recipe this week they’re given the Greek treatment – marinated in lemon, oil, garlic and oregano and grilled. On the side there are recipes for a minty feta dip, flatbreads, and a butterbean salad. All the flavours of the Aegean in your own garden....