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You could be first British king of the grill

Organisers of the French barbecue championships have challenged British cooks who see themselves as king of the grill to have a go.

29 May 2019
By Brian McCulloch

All the foreign winners of the event so far have been Belgian or German, with no Brits, Americans or Aussies.

The Championnat de France de Barbecue is held each year at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the Camargue coast.

Jean-François Dupont

Chairman Jean-François Dupont (pictured, left) said: “The only entry qualification is for at least half of the team to be resident in France. We would love to see some Brits take part.”

This year’s national finals to be Grill Master de l’Année are on June 29-30 and there will be more than 100 smoking grills in use.

Teams of between one and four members, plus a coach – more than that and it gets a bit crowded around the grill – have two-and-a-half hours to prepare a meal for the tasting committee.

Categories are beef, pork, chicken, lamb, Camargue bull, burgers, fish, vegetables and dessert, with the burger and vegetable categories to be cooked in separate sessions.

Fees are €50 a team for one category, rising to €80 for two and €105 for three categories.

Sponsored teams pay €450 for one category, €550 for two and €650 for three categories.

Meat and fish are supplied by the organisers and all cooking has to be done on the Weber charcoal barbecues provided by the organisers.

Cooking utensils (tongs, spatula and brush), are also provided, along with 5kg of charcoal, firelighters, an apron and an official plate to present the efforts to the judges, who visit each stand at a pre-set time. All other ingredients must be provided by the teams.

Details of the event are at bbqfestival.fr but the judging criteria are particular, with the top one being “esprit barbecue”.

The others include taste, cooking skill, presentation of the dish, originality of the recipe, cleanliness of the workspace and team turnout, with all cooking or smoking to be done on the grill.

Warm-up events have already been held in Montpellier and Alpe d’Huez but there is also the Corse BBQ Camp in Corsica from May 30-June 2 and the Ch’ti BBQ Festival in Lille on June 15-16.

Barbecue brilliance – five top tips for cooking in France

France and Britain have key differences in the way they cook barbecues, says championship committee chairman Jean-François Dupont.

“In France, the tradition is to cook hot and fast, not slow and cool. US/UK-style long cooking and smoking barbecues gives interesting results, but for me the basics should be a hot or very hot grill, meat cooked so it is crispy and caramelised on the outside, and still bloody but hot inside.”

He shared his key advice for barbecue success:

  1. “First, and most importantly, barbecue with people you like and have a good time with. Barbecues are about the only meal hardly ever eaten alone, or just with those close to you. They are moments of good humour and sharing. Remember that.
  2. “Choose what to cook carefully. The food must be adapted to your style of barbecue. For hot and fast, use food which can support that, mainly fatty meat so the fat melts into the piece and gives juice and flavour. I go for entrecôte or a côte de boeuf.
  3. “Aim for taste. You are eating outside, possibly with your fingers, so it is an ideal time to experiment with spices or marinades to uplift the taste buds and mix with the smoke and crispy goodness of the grill. It is a special occasion, worth making an effort.
  4. “Get your fire right before you start to cook. If you are cooking hot and fast or slow and cool, make sure you have mastered the fire and it is exactly how you want it before you start to cook. “I have moved more and more into using charcoal graded into size and now use briquettes, precisely because it helps you get a good even fire.
  5. “Aim for variety and even think of cooking a three-course meal on the barbecue. Once you have the confidence, you can cook all sorts of meat, fish, shellfish, vegetables and fruit. Take time to experiment and think beyond some sorry supermarket merguez. Desserts cooked on the fire can be wonderful.”

Mr Dupont also emphasised safety. “You are outside with a fire – never, ever leave it alone. The worst thing you can do is to light the fire and then go off and have a sieste, it is a recipe for disaster.”

Safety thinking extends to the wood or charcoal and although he loves the flavour of vine cuttings, as used in the south west, he “would not use any from a vineyard which uses lots of pesticides and fungicides. Residues in the wood are transformed into gas and go right into the food.

“It is the same with fruit wood. You can get wonderful flavours but if the wood comes from a commercial orchard, you get what the tree was sprayed with too”.

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