Learning the art of BBQ at The School of Artisan Food
‘Queen of the Coals’ has always been a title I’ve coveted in our house. And a day at The School of Artisan Food (get 10% off their courses here) discovering the tricks and tips of cooking using fire and smoke was a great place to start.
The Welbeck Estate near Worksop in Nottinghamshire set up the School to teach all aspects of artisan food production. It offers courses in bread-making, cheese-making, charcuterie, butchery, brewing, preserving and baking. Total beginners, children and semi-professionals are all catered for, and you can also come here to learn how to launch your own food business. The School is housed in the fire stables in the heart of the Estate, and driving through the well-kept grounds to the impressively converted buildings was the perfect start to the day.
Brilliant father-and-son team Chris and Thomas Moorby run the Fire & Smoke course, covering ingredients, techniques and best-practice rather than hard-and-fast barbecuing rules. Using their extensive knowledge gained as a butcher (Chris) and chef (Thomas), they expertly introduced us to barbecuing and smoking. We cooked everything from sausages to beer-can chicken, short rib, mackerel and even chocolate brownies.
The day is hands-on and sleeves-up, with about eight delegates working together. Food preparation takes place in the professional kitchens, with Thomas and Chris demonstrating. People then work in pairs to produce their own. Finally, we smoked and barbecued in the courtyard.
We began the day making our own Chimichurri and BBQ sauces – a dash of rum in the latter proved a great success. The course follows the same agenda you’d use at home, so once sauces are made and stored in the cooler, it’s on to low- and slow-cooking. A short rib soaked in brine for a few hours went into the hot smoker while we got on with more dishes.
We minced belly pork and bacon, mixed them with salt and wine, passed it through the sausage-maker and into a sausage casing before coiling it into Chorizo Parrillero, an Argentinian speciality. The satisfaction of making your own sausages from scratch is immense. Don’t have a sausage maker at home? No problem – Chris shared a great tip using clingfilm and boiling water. We spatchcocked chickens, gutted fresh mackerel, sandwiched mozzarella and BBQ sauce between aubergine slices, and prepared a mammoth tomahawk steak. Using an array of herbs and spices, we concocted our own dry-rubs for the chicken and discussed ways to marinade meats.
As well as becoming more confident and competent with meat and seasonings, I learned an abundance of useful techniques. We discovered how to avoid burning the garlic and identified the best cuts of beef for different dishes. Chris and Thomas also taught us how to achieve different flavours by mixing fuel types, how best to arrange coals on the BBQ, and the methodical way to cook different dishes so they are all ready at the same time.
To conclude, we barbecued all the dishes and tucked in communally, sitting in the sun in the courtyard, the smells of smoky beef and freshly cooked mackerel mingling with the wafts of fresh bread coming from the bakery school.
The day is run in a professional, friendly and fun way – there is no snobbery about the types of barbecue or fuel used, and emphasis is on trial and error rather than rigid rules and recipes (this approach convinced me that Amaretto has no place in BBQ sauce!) I left feeling more competent about this way of cooking, with greater confidence to try more dishes and an appreciation that barbecuing is not purely about quick cooking or meat-only dishes.
Am I now Queen of the Coals? The next barbecue will decide, but I’m certainly a lot closer to the title.