They say the point of history is to teach us the lessons of the past, but when it comes to barbecues we never learn, do we?
Perhaps there was a place for them when summers were always balmy and the average kitchen consisted of some formica units and a cooker you needed matches to light.
Back then you’d be forgiven for wanting to escape the peeling linoleum and faint smell of gas to embrace the simple joy of cooking outside in the sunshine. Except no one did. Growing up in Dumfries, we never, ever ate outside. Alongside speaking to people from Stranraer, it may actually have been banned. Fast forward to today and we’ve become a nation obsessed with al fresco food. It starts in January when the baubles and tinsel are cleared to make way for the latest barbecue paraphernalia. That then sits untouched until Easter when a brief period of sunshine sparks a frenzy of panic buying.
By June the rain has started and everything related to outdoor eating gets heavily discounted as the realisation dawns, well that’s it for another year. But like lemmings, we keep on coming back for more.
When I say we, I’m talking about us men. When was the last time you saw a woman in a comedy apron holding court at the barbecue with a can of beer in one hand and fancy tongs in the other? There is something about cooking outdoors that brings out the worst in men. Those who struggle to microwave a ready meal suddenly think they are Heston Blumenthal.
Then there’s the food itself. What we eat has changed so much in recent years, except when it comes to barbecues. Jamie Oliver may raise our expectations with butterflied harissa lamb grilled over charcoal infused with rosemary in the Sussex sunshine but we know the reality in Scotland is different.
Here barbecue food usually means burgers as overcooked as the chicken is undercooked, infused with lighter fluid and served by big Terry as twighlight falls over Tranent. Why do we do it? Nowadays some domestic kitchens are better equipped than a restaurant. They have gleaming surfaces and every gadget you can imagine including ovens with touch screens and even cameras inside to monitor cooking progress. Yet a few rays of weak sunshine are enough to send the whole family outside to gather round a metal bucket filled with fire as if to recreate some early prehistoric mealtime. At this point, someone always says “Doesn’t food always tastes better outside?” No, it doesn’t, how could it? The reality is that food always tastes colder and slightly damper outside but nobody ever says
that due to the great conspiracy that barbecues in Scotland are great.
Just think about it. Cooking in the kitchen involves hygiene and careful temperature control. Cooking outside exposes food to the elements, your rusty barbecue and heat either too weak to kill germs or as strong as the surface temperature of the planet where Donald Trump holidays to achieve his orange appearance.
So let’s agree it’s fine to eat outside in warm weather, but that’s why sandwiches were invented and cooking belongs in the kitchen.