Saturday 3 October 2009

How to BBQ like a Basque

Try shooting magpies in Kelvingrove Park and pretty soon you'll realise there are many things you can get up to in the countryside that tend to be frowned upon in a city. Take for example this interesting article in the Observer Food Monthly about Jay Raynor's visit to BBQ aficionado Bittor 'charcoal is the enemy' Arguinzoniz. Bittor only barbecues and only ever over wood. He claims his method doesn't smoke the food, instead it imparts it with a complimentary essence of the wood. Charcoal, on the other hand, destroys the flavour and brings out expletives, in Bittor that is.

How could I resist? Well, attempting this in Glasgow would end in three fire engines and an ASBO, luckily I was in deepest darkest Wales, where as it happens, some years ago my brother spent a summer labouring for a builder. Convincing himself he could build, he set about constructing a barbecue and laid concrete foundations two feet deep. A few stones appeared on top and for months that's how it stayed until my grandfather, then in his 80s, turned it into a barbecue one afternoon. It's still going strong, frankly with foundations that deep it could probably survive a direct hit. This was my improvised Basque BBQ.

I chose logs from the wood pile based on whether they smelt nice. Think they were oak and applewood, but I've no idea really. The article doesn't give away much about technique. I decided to split the wood into pieces that would burn down quickly but still leave decent chunks of hot smouldering ash.

Ribeye steaks came from George the Butcher in Talgarth, "We slaughter 'em out back", he told me with rather more glee than was strictly necessary. Local grass fed beef hung for a minimum 4 weeks.

They went on when the wood was a smouldering grey and the smoke had died down.

A beautiful smell as the meat juices hit the hot wood.

Had to lower the grill towards the end just to finish them off. Except the grill doesn't lower...

Made some chips as the meat rested.

Now I'm sure this was not a patch on Bittor, but wow, what a revelation. Credit must go to the beef, it was superb meat, but what a great way of cooking it. It really brings out the flavour, it works with the beef, not on top of it... if that makes sense? Delicious, can't wait to try cooking seafood the same way. We drank a bottle of Porcupine Ridge 2008 South African Syrah with it. Currently on offer at £4.99 in Waitrose. Probably the red wine bargain of the year so far.

A word of caution though. Whilst the meat, as Bittor explained, doesn't taste at all smoked, indeed far from it, I did. It impregnated my skin and I smelt like a smouldering log for two days.


  1. Many thanks Douglas. I've done it twice now and there's definitely something in it. Ideally I'd have a charcoal BBQ on the go simultaneously as a control, but that maybe getting a bit Heston.