Patrick Stuart weighs up the pros and cons of gas versus charcoal and looks at outstanding options for both schools of thought.
The barbecue is, of course, the domain of us, men. For many it’s the only chance we get to do any cooking, either out of choice or out of fear. So, whilst our dearest other halves busy themselves with menial tasks such as vegetables, salads, starters and desserts, we get down to the serious work and indulge our caveman instincts, beer or glass of wine in hand, and slave over the barbecue.
That much we all know and take for granted but, when it comes to the barbecue, us cavemen are divided into two camps: the charcoal purists and the perhaps more practically-minded gas enthusiasts. I myself am a die-hard charcoal purist and would no sooner have a gas barbecue on my terrace than I would become a vegetarian.
But that said, I have often had to begrudgingly admit, when enjoying meals at the homes of friends from the other camp, a good gas barbecue in the hands of a capable man can produce equally excellent food. And so, if you are in the market for a home barbecue and have not yet made your choice, the first thing to decide upon is gas or charcoal.
Gas, of course, is cleaner, easier to use and more controllable when it comes to regulating heat. Charcoal, however, arguably gives a different flavour, a claim refuted by gas enthusiasts who employ the logic that the real barbecue flavour comes from the meat juices and fat dripping onto the coals, which of course is what happens on a gas barbecue with lava coals.
Starting with charcoal, one of the best options currently on the market is the Big Green Egg, a barbecue every bit as popular with professional chefs (including Michelin-starred restaurants) as with home cooks.
What sets the Egg apart from other styles of barbecue is a combination of the heat retaining quality of the NASA grade ceramic from which it is constructed, the shape that allows for very high temperatures to be reached and a level of controllability previously unheard of with charcoal.
It is equally well suited to flame grilling steaks at extreme temperatures as it is to indirectly roasting a joint of meat (i.e. not directly over the coals) or making pizzas.
But where this barbecue really comes into its own is for slow roasting. It is possible, for instance with a single load of coals, to hold the temperature of the Egg at 100ºC for 12 hours or more.
The Big Green Egg is available in the Algarve from Curiosa (289 391 373; curiosaportugal.com).
When it comes to gas, there are many high quality brands on the market, mostly doing the same thing but with some variations in quality. Here we look at BeefEater, a brand available in the Algarve from Moveison (282 798 101; www.moveison.com), that has been in the barbecue business for over 30 years and has a wide range to suit all needs.
One of the premium models is the Signature SL4000 5 Burner. High quality stainless steel hood, cook-tops and finish ensure durability and good looks whilst the five burners include an integrated wok station delivering over 123,000 BTUs of power and an optional rotisserie. Adding up all the advantages of a gas barbecue such as this one, it is difficult to argue the side of charcoal, even when it comes to the likes of the Big Green Egg. But for me, gas is for the kitchen and my Egg takes pride of place on the terrace.
Photo supplied by Curiosa