Our Top Tips for the Barbecue Master

There are plenty of opinions on the right way to cook your barbie and far be it for us to tell you how to cook your steak, but read on for our tips on getting the best from your equipment and some ideas that might just boost your grilling repertoire.

Cooking System Comparison - or, charcoal vs gas barbecues 

Charcoal Barbecue

  • There’s a full range of prices
  • Gets very hot
  • Needs to be manually lit
  • Long preheat time
  • Cleaning is more complicated due to ashes
  • Smoky flavour every time you cook
  • Tough to keep a constant temperature
  • You get to play with real fire

Gas Barbecue

  • Typically pricier than charcoal, though inexpensive models are available
  • A more complicated grill means more parts that can break
  • Easy to clean
  • Has the option of smoky flavour or not, with use of wood chips in a smoker box
  • Convenient
  • Simple to use

Clockwise from top left: Burgers are great on the grill or hotplate - add your cheese in situ for the perfect melt; flare-ups are expected but not encouraged, flame-grilled is more a marketing term than a cooking method; BBQs in the park, a kiwi tradition; safety first, enough said; resting your meat before slicing it means juices are reabsorbed rather than dripping all over the plate

Lighting and getting the heat up

Always have the lid open when lighting, in case of faulty gas or flare ups caused by leftover grease. Never add lighter fuel to an already-lit charcoal grill; it can cause flare-ups that stretch more than a metre. If your gas barbecue doesn’t start immediately, wait a while for the gas to dissipate before trying again.

Charcoal barbecues need to be hand-lit. Lighter fluid can cause a seriously bad taste (and who-knows-what kind of toxins!) on your food, so using a twisted piece of newspaper as a lighter can be a really good option. It will also give some extra length to avoid burning yourself. Charcoal barbecues can take 30 minutes or longer to preheat. Once lit, wait for the flames to die down, and check the colour of the coals. They should glow red underneath and be white on the top.

Gas barbecues take about 15-20 minutes to preheat, depending on the model.

An easy way to test the heat is with your hand. Hold your hand about 12cm above the grill and see how long you can hold it there comfortably (ie. without screaming).

• 6 seconds = low heat

• 4 seconds = medium heat

• 2 seconds = good and hot

Seafood is great to barbecue! Above, from left: Prawns are so quick to cook, they are perfect on kebabs; fish fillets laid on a base of fresh herbs will protect the fish from breaking easily and taste out of this world!; Pipis on the BBQ, a kiwi rite of passage.


  • Always pre-heat your Barbecue.
  • A barbecue needs a lid. It locks in flavour, keeps the temperature constant and can be used as an extra technique.
  • Stay with the BBQ. Although BBQing is seen as a relaxed way to cook, you really do need to stay with it and pay close attention to your food as it cooks.
  • Give thicker food at least 20 minutes out of the fridge to lose its chill and to be approaching room temperature. If the food (especially chicken) is too cold in the centre, the outside may well burn before the inside is cooked.
  • Conversely, don’t leave meat unrefrigerated for more than an hour, to avoid the growth of bad bacteria.
  • With steak, some cooks prefer to grill it from cold, so that when the cool meat hits the searing grill, it forms the perfect crust without cooking too much through the centre.
  • Rest meat after cooking, to give the juices a chance to reabsorb, and for the meat fibres to relax.
  • To avoid losing juices during turning, always flip your meat or vegetables using tongs or a spatula, rather than a fork. According to Jamie Oliver, the one bit of kit you simply must have is a decent pair of tongs – they give you the most control, and reduce the chances of dropping anything between the grills.
  • Try to limit the flips!
  • Don’t be tempted to press down on burgers or chicken (or anything) with a spatula while they're grilling. This squeezes out the juices and once they’re gone … they’re gone! If you’re bored and need something to do with your hands, try weeding the garden or whittling up some corn holders.
  • To infuse grilled foods with herb essence, toss herbs directly onto the charcoal while you’re grilling. Or, if you’re using a gas grill, soak the herbs in water and place them on the grate before putting your food on top of them - so good!
  • Save basting for last. That way the sugars in your marinade or sauce won’t have time to caramelise and burn. On that note, citrus and sugars are more likely to burn, so you may want to consider that when brewing up your delicious marinade.
  • Use a dutch oven or a container with a lid when transporting your cooked meats inside. It will help keep your food moist, juicy, and warm until it’s time to chow down.
  • From a general safety point of view, remember that children, pets and barbecues don’t mix and make sure you keep your babies, furry or otherwise well away from anything hot.

Cleaning your barbecue

Preheat first, then scrub with a stiff wire brush or a piece of crumpled-up foil. To remove all of the grit, place a half cut onion on the end of a fork and rub onto the hot grill. When it’s time for cooking, dip a folded paper towel in oil and apply to the bars of the grate. This helps to ensure your meat won’t stick to the grill AND you’ll get awesome-looking grill marks.

Cooking vegetables on the BBQ

Vegetables on the barbecue should not be limited to sliced onion! Grilled vegetables make such a fast and healthy addition to your gilled feast. Here are some examples of veges that work well on the barbecue:

SLICED:  courgette / zucchini (slice lengthways), capsicum / peppers, onion, aubergine / eggplant, tomato (halves), tofu, potato / sweet potato, cauliflower steaks (cut a 1cm slice through the centre of a whole cauli and cook on the hotplate, really, really tasty)

WHOLE: asparagus, capsicum, corn, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms (gills-up will keep the juices in), potato (foil wrapped)

There’s no need to add anything to your veges, simply dry-grill straight on the bars. The key to getting those great grill marks is to not shift the vegetables too frequently once they've been placed on the hot grill.

Hard or large veges can be partially precooked in the microwave or steamed, but if you slice them thinly, you may be surprised at how quickly they cook from raw. These work best on the hotplate section of your barbecue.

Corn is a star on the barbie. Baste in butter mixed with salt & pepper, herbs, chilli, all-purpose seasoning, whatever takes your fancy. Or leave intact with the husk, cook directly on the grill for 10-15 minutes. When done, cut through the husk only, 1 cm from the base. Then you’ll be able to pull the whole husk off from the silk end, leaving you with a pristine cob, steam-cooked in its own casing.

According to Jamie Oliver, if there’s one tool you need at the barbecue it’s a decent pair of tongs; the classic meat & veg made so simple

Tips and ideas for meat

Burgers and Steak Sandwiches - cook your meat and your bread on the barbecue

Fish - leave skin on to prevent falling apart, cook while wrapped in foil or layer on top of herbs as in our picture

Kebabs - prawn, chicken, teriyaki beef, fajitas (chicken tossed in taco seasoning, capsicum & onion),

Any pork and chicken items are the highest risk food generally cooked on the BBQ and you need to check that they are thoroughly cooked. Also make sure they are consumed immediately. If you leave them outside on a nice day for more than 30 minutes you are running a risk of giving someone food poisoning!

Five top tips for marinating

Marinate overnight whenever possible for maximum flavour (unless stated otherwise in the recipe).

Extra virgin olive oil is great, but you should never use it in marinades. It burns and smokes on contact with the barbecue. Use light olive oil, or vegetable oil instead and save the extra virgin bottles for your salads and sauces.

When marinating, always cover food tightly and use non-reactive containers such as glass, or stainless steel.

Before placing on the barbecue grill, rub or shake off any excess marinade, particularly if there is any oil in it, to prevent burning or flaring and the consequent smoky bitter flavour.

Never put cooked meat back onto the same dish you used for marinating. Always use a clean serving dish or plate.

Tips for smoking

For great smoky flavour, soak some wood chips (food-grade wood chips only) in water for a while, then throw them onto your charcoal. Keep the chips and coals over to one side and cook your food on the other side so that you’re cooking with indirect heat - and keep the lid closed. This will increase cooking times quite a bit, but it will be worth it.

If you’re using gas, wrap your chips in foil and perforate the foil with a fork. Turn one side of your grill to high and leave the other off. Place the wood chips on the hot side. When they begin to smoke, turn the burners down to low. Then place the meat on the unlit side of the grill.

If using a smoker, minimise the amount of times you open it, so as not to lose precious heat. As the old adage says, “if you’re looking, it ain’t cooking”.

We hope you've learned something to improve on your BBQ skills. Go on, take it to the backyard tonight!

Back to articles