Like Christmas, eating out of doors seems to happen earlier each year. Blame TV chefs and fossil fuels. And so the trend in outside cooking over the past decade has been one of relentless improvement.
When the typical British garden was treated to — at most — three gloriously sunny days per year, you could get away with inadequate equipment. But with ever–hotter summers, even the most modest inner-city garden is expected to be transformed from May to October into a culinary idyll with tasteful accessories. Our palates are more sophisticated, too. Now that we’re all connoisseurs of the ‘artisanal’ hamburger, those Pepto-Bismol pink sausages, plucked from the freezer cabinet of the local corner shop, will no longer suffice. In the post-Ottolenghi landscape, vegetables must display ambition beyond a bag of undressed leaves and supermarket coleslaw.
The barbecue grill remains at the heart of things, as is the key decision: gas or charcoal? Bores amass on both sides. It is easier to control the temperature of gas, and so to avoid turning your lamb chops into an art material. Advocates of charcoal praise the deeper, smokier flavour it imparts, and the possibility of smoking your meats. Since its British launch in 2010, the charcoal-burning Big Green Egg (from £599) has proved as popular here as in America. It has hatched plenty of imitators, but stick to the original. When you get bored with steak and ribs, the oven can also run up a mean pizza.
For gas enthusiasts, look no further than the Landmann 6.1 (£1,499), a six-burner beauty with a digital thermometer, plenty of storage space and a system to alert you when the tank is nearly out.
If you simply can’t make the gas-charcoal decision, hybrids are available: see the Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire Grill (£13,000), the ‘Rolls-Royce of grills’, which lets you switch fuels at the pull of a drawer.
While you’re in a high-tech frame of mind, pick up a Smartchef wifi-enabled smoker (£200). Simply add wood chips, turn it on — and wait for the app to tell you when your meat’s perfectly done.
Once you’ve chosen your recipes, perhaps from Neil Rankin’s Low & Slow (£19.99) or Tom Adams’s Pitt Cue Co. — The Cookbook (£17), you’ll want superior tools. Press burgers with an aluminium Sagaform press (£13), flip them with a 13-piece Landmann tool set, or for the full barbecue king look, an Original Grillslinger (£39.99). Dress the meats with sauces from World of Zing (£27.95).
As you monitor the sizzle, your guests need entertaining. Outdoor speakers often look ugly, but the Bose 151 (£229) brings stereo in a sleek package. Create a mid–century modern feel with a Saarinen oval table (£2,838), and Bertoia side chairs (£900).
Present your meat on a solid block of Himalayan salt (from £12.50, souschef.co.uk), or classic Falcon crockery (from £7, Heal’s), slice the meat with an Oscar steak and pizza knife from Villeroy & Boch (£47.50 for six), and decant the ice-cold Chablis in a Tom Dixon plum cooler (£140). When the guests have gone, let Grillbot (£107), a robotic brush, take care of the very worst part of cooking outside. Simply place it on the grill and leave it to do its thing. Now that’s technology to be welcomed by even the most unreconstructed meat-and-fire-loving caveman.
Above (left to right): Big Green Egg, from £599 – biggreenegg.co.uk; Hamburger press, £13 – sagaform.com; Falcon Deep Plates, from £7 – heals.com