Barbecue basics

Big Has: how to light a BBQ

Turkish barbecue isn’t about cooking hard and fast; when I was a kid one of the first things my dad taught me was how to build a fire and test the temperature

Pit — Big Has: how to light a BBQ
Photograph by Orlando Gilli

• With the charcoal build a little cone shape. We’re talking charcoal Jenga, stack the pieces about seven inches from the base, putting charcoal on top of each other using a mix of large and small pieces. Doesn’t matter if there are gaps in between pieces, you need them for airflow to get the fire going.

• Once you’ve got a rough cone shape, light a little piece of fire lighter and chuck it into the open whole at the top. Don’t touch it, let it be. The top pieces will catch first and fall onto the charcoal on the bottom. Obviously allow your charcoal to get the red glow all the way through, no one wants seared sausage and food poisoning. Basic science: fuel + ignition + air flow = fire!

• Cooking over live fire is more versatile than people think, you can cook low and slow or raging hot depending where you stack your coals and what part of the grill you’re using.

My old man taught me a basic rule, he stuck his hand out over the fire about 5 inches from the grills and counted to 5.

• If you put your hand over the fire and only get a 1 count, before pulling your hand away in agony, that’s a good temperature for charring veg.

• 2 count will cook fish super-fast and crispy, but we’ll save that
for another day.

• 3-4 count is optimum temperature for red meat and thicker cut steaks, still hot enough to get a good seal without fucking your presentation side.

• When cooking chicken I always go for a 5 count, especially if you’re cooking boring chicken breasts. I was always fascinated by my dad’s hands, weathered and tough. How he could turn pieces of meat with his bare hands. But I get it now, when you’re a barbecue veteran you don’t need tongs.

This article was originally published in Pit issue 05