Stephen Jardine: Barbecues in Scotland are tough to swallow

Barbecues in the Scottish summer are often a washout, says Stephen Jardine
Barbecues in the Scottish summer are often a washout, says Stephen Jardine
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Eating outside in the garden is an alien concept in this country, says Stephen Jardine

About this time of year, it always happens. For three months the barbecues have been standing proud and gleaming on display in garden centres and DIY stores all over Scotland. Then suddenly, the moment passes and they all go on sale. Being Scottish, we know that is not the time to buy them. Being Scottish, we know their price reduction reflects long range secret weather information.

All we require is a “Half-Price BBQ” sign to be certain six weeks of torrential rain are heading our way. Not that I’m bothered. The barbecue has always seemed an alien concept here in Scotland.

A couple of years ago my friend Markos struck lucky and invited us to eat on a sizzling day in July. All afternoon he and the barbecue kept turning out delicious kebabs, 
mouth-watering steaks and fabulous marinated fish. It was sensational but it was the one and only time I ever remember that happening in Scotland.

Normally any type of pre-planning and organisation dooms the barbeque to failure. I’ve invited people at 4pm and bought food at 5pm only for a chill westerly and a touch of drizzle to have replaced the sun by 7pm.

A friend of mine is unperturbed by that. He has a gas barbecue under an awning in his garden and boasts of being able to cook outside at any time, in any weather. However, it feels less like a joyful celebration of outdoor cooking and more like a perverse determination not to be beaten regardless of the elements.

Let’s face it, barbecues are one of life’s great disappointments. They always seem a good idea, recreating memories of great al fresco eating on sunny foreign holidays.

Jamie Oliver doesn’t help. With his griddled vegetables and feta with tabbouleh and suya goat kebabs cooked on charcoal in a sun-dappled Sussex garden, he lifts the bar on outdoor eating to the point where we can hardly see it. The food looks and sounds amazing but of course none of us is actually eating that. In the real world, we are struggling to decide if the chicken is too burnt or too raw and hoping we have enough ketchup to mask the taste of lighter fuel on the sausages.

For some reason, the type of man who feels it is beneath him to tackle mundane daily cooking in the kitchen also believes he is some kind of guru if the food is taken outdoors and cooked in a bucket over lukewarm charcoal on a dull day. These men won’t be able to tell hollandaise from horseradish but they will have specific opinions on the best marinades for lamb and the precise temperature required to achieve crackling on pork.

Cooking a beast on an open fire may have impressed fellow cavemen back in the Stone Age but in 2017 a man in an apron desperately trying to cook a sausage on a wire rack outside his lovely functioning kitchen is just plain weird.

That is the problem with the barbecue. All the best things about it emanate from the kitchen, not from the sooty grill. So why don’t we cut out the Neanderthal middle man and cook inside but eat outside? That sounds like the recipe for a happy summer.