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How has what we cook on the barbecue changed in the last decade?

I love cooking on the barbecue. The fire, smells, heat and good produce, washed down with an ice-cold beverage on a hot day, is bliss. It is part of the Great British summer. 

When I think back to childhood, our rare BBQ times involve poor quality sausages and burgers, often singed, a splodge of ketchup inside a cheap-tasteless floury white bun and little else.

Upon moving into our current home, a generous joint moving in present from our family was a Weber gas BBQ. It’s safe to say I’ve moved on from those bleak BBQ days into a more competent outdoor chef as a result.

And it appears I’m not alone. Now many firing up the BBQ have become more adventurous, both with ingredients they cook with and styles.

Skew 'n' shroom: Vegetables are now are far more frequent sight on our BBQs, according to data from Waitrose

Skew ‘n’ shroom: Vegetables are now are far more frequent sight on our BBQs, according to data from Waitrose

We are seeing more high quality meat products designed to be BBQ’d with spices and flavours galore, veggie goodies that can convert (some) meat lovers and people even slow cooking on them. 

Exactly how has the over-flame cooking changed in the last decade? Consumer Trends looks at how our BBQ eating (and drinking) habits have changed.

Gas vs coal: A fiery debate

Lockdown, combined with the good weather of April, May and June, saw a surge in people buying new barbecues and cooking outdoors.

Tesco research in early July suggested that half of people cooked a meal on their BBQ during those three months.

A quarter of this figure have cooked outdoors three or four times each month, while 7 per cent have had as many as seven a month.

The big reason stated is that cooking on the grill filled a void left by restaurants closing.

Gemma Giles, from the supermarket giant, said: ‘Barbecues have become central to our lives in lockdown.’

When it comes to BBQ cooking, purists will tell you that charcoal cooking is far better. 

In fact, my father-in-law who is BBQ mad – he once cooked the Christmas turkey on his – has ditched his gas barbie and gone back to the charcoal, including slow cooking.

However, I disagree that gas isn’t king. I love it for a number of reasons. Firstly, just to be outside cooking is magic and the quicker you can get out there, the better. No barriers.

In the summers before working from home, I often came home from the commute and fired it straight up. There is no waiting for charcoal to heat, while dials mean you can easily control the temperature.

There is minimal washing up – a quick scrub before cooking, with a build up of previous cooks underneath adding flavour – and I have perfected how to cook on it, to ensure BBQ smokiness, those beautiful grill lines and not burn the food.

Others will disagree, but I would definitely cook on it far less without that ease of turn on, turn off. 

As I write this, its a 35 degree day working from home and lunch has consisted of a marinated chicken breast thrown on the grill – I’ll miss it when I return to the office.

BBQ fan: I love my Weber Spirit barbecue (my model pictured) - other brands are available and I'm sure just as good

BBQ fan: I love my Weber Spirit barbecue (my model pictured) - other brands are available and I'm sure just as good

BBQ fan: I love my Weber Spirit barbecue (my model pictured) – other brands are available and I’m sure just as good

What’s now going on our BBQs?

For many, BBQs are a special occasion for gatherings – to have families and friends round and now, in 2020, the expectation is to have better produce.

For others, like me, if the weather is good, no matter which day of the week, I’m sticking it on to make the most of it – and that includes meat, fish, veggie substitutes and vegetables.  

Zoe Simons, senior innovation chef – someone who is responsible for some of the new products that come to market – at Waitrose, tells me: ‘Over the past ten years the simple barbecue has really evolved.

In addition to vegetarian and vegan burger and sausage alternatives, there’s also been a rise in whole vegetables being cooked on the barbecue, from cauliflower steaks, broccoli, asparagus and courgettes to sweet potatoes and peppers.

Zoe Simons – senior innovation chef at Waitrose 

‘Nowadays it’s not just about a quick get-together with a simple sausage and burger, it’s much more of an occasion where family and friends can come together and enjoy a variety of different foods and flavours and showcase their cooking skills and food expertise.’

‘We’ve seen the flavours of barbecue foods have changed with the latest foodie trends, for example we’re seeing an introduction of more fusion flavours and influences from other cuisines

‘There is also a much wider variety of food being cooked on the barbecue to cater for a variety of different tastes and diets as we become more experimental with dishes and flavours.

‘It’s now common to include fish, vegetable and vegan options on the grill – as we add more variety and vegetable dishes to our diets.

‘In addition to vegetarian and vegan burger and sausage alternatives, there’s also been a rise in whole vegetables being cooked on the barbecue, from cauliflower steaks, broccoli, asparagus and courgettes to sweet potatoes and peppers.’

If you’re looking for some further inspiration, I stumbled across a new cookery television show earlier in the week on the Food Network: Tom Kerridge Barbecues – and the first episode is re-airing tonight at 7pm.

Vegan BBQs all the rage – along with skewers

Waitrose has reported that sales of vegan and veggie barbecue food are up by 80 per cent annually. This is a huge surge and indicates a real year of change for the BBQ.

The only vegetable you’d likely see on the grill a decade ago is corn on the cob. 

Waitrose says that in the hot weather, sales of corn on the cob were up 163 per cent, showing it is still a stalwart of the veggie barbie scene. 

But other popular choices for the BBQ now include broccoli, courgettes and flat mushrooms, according to Waitrose, all seeing triple-digit sales growth.  

Our meatless favourites

My wife doesn’t each much meat, so when I barbecue, it will always have a vegetarian element to it.

In terms of sausage and burger substitutes, we find Linda McCartney red onion sausages (defrosted) the best, and burger wise: Beyond Burger, sold at Tesco and Gro, sold at Co-op.

A common sight on our BBQ is also halloumi (I find you need to cut it in quite thick chunks), sliced courgette in chinese five spice, whole peppers, padron peppers and flat mushrooms, with just a little cheese on top. 

Meanwhile, online searches for ‘vegan BBQ’ on Waitrose increased by 26 per cent in the last month, the supermarket tells me.

The middle-class supermarket favourite even has a specialist vegan buyer, Charlotte McCarthy.

She says: ‘We expect this year to be our biggest for vegan and vegetarian barbecue food yet, as home-cooks seek to incorporate more flavours and options to liven-up their summer dining.

‘The growing appetite for meat-free dishes is reflected in recent sales, as shoppers look to explore the wide variety of vegan and veggie options this barbecue season.’ 

She says that two of the meat-free substitute BBQ best sellers so far this year are vegan mushroom and leek bangers, up 157 per cent and vegan Spanish style whirls, up 80 per cent.  

Waitrose says skewers and fusion dishes are now also a real mainstay on a 2020 BBQs compared to 2010. 

Popular, so far this summer, are skewers that blend global cuisine and street food, such as corn dogs, Turkish kebabs and Yakitori chicken. 

Two of its most popular products this year have been harissa and date lamb kebabs and teriyaki salmon kebabs.

In terms of fusion meat, its black pepper and soy flat iron steak has been a best-seller in 2020, as well as mango and coconut chicken breast steaks. 

It seems a new wave of BBQ aficionados have been awoken during the coronavirus pandemic.

Skewers: BBQs in 2020 are far more likely to have a skewer on than 2010, Waitrose says

Skewers: BBQs in 2020 are far more likely to have a skewer on than 2010, Waitrose says

Skewers: BBQs in 2020 are far more likely to have a skewer on than 2010, Waitrose says

Low and slow BBQ cooking on the rise

Inspired by television shows, cookery books and viral online videos, there has also been a new trend emerge – low and slow cooking, along with smoking over a fire.

The key to this is keeping the lid on and using your bbq as a form of oven rather than a red hot grill. 

Zoe tells me: ‘In recent years we’ve seen a trend for cooking over fire and smoking, to give food a real depth of flavour – so it’s not just the food that has evolved but also our techniques.

‘The different wood, coals and methods we use to cook on the barbecue infuse the food to allow us to experiment with unique charred and bitter flavours – something our palates have developed to enjoy over the last few years.’

She goes on to add: ‘The low and slow cooking method has also taken favour with many barbecue-connoisseurs, particularly when cooking larger cuts of meat. 

‘This is often done using a kamado BBQ as you can really control the heat but equally achieve incredibly high heat.’

Waitrose says this trend has boomed this summer, with more people having extra time on their hands.   

Zoe adds: ‘Searches for slow cooked meat are up 46 per cent compared to last year and sales of forgotten cuts of meat – typically used in slow cooking – have also increased in line with the growing trend towards ‘nose to tail’ eating.

‘With the unpredictable British summer weather and some people lacking outdoor space, we’ve also seen customers looking to bring these slow-cooked meats and barbecue flavours indoors.’

Rum raid: The spirit has surged in popularity this year, with frozen cocktails being one of the trends of the summer

Rum raid: The spirit has surged in popularity this year, with frozen cocktails being one of the trends of the summer

Rum raid: The spirit has surged in popularity this year, with frozen cocktails being one of the trends of the summer

Even what we drink has changed…

While an increase in drinking has been well documented during lockdown, a huge trend this year has been frozen cocktails, Waitrose says.  

Searches for frozen cocktails are up 250 per cent and Frosé in particular has proven popular, with a 133 per cent increase. 

Rum is the most popular spirit of the summer – sales are up 53 per cent over the last twelve weeks, with white rum up 67 per cent and dark rum 33 per cent.

Consumer Trends

This is Money assistant editor and consumer journalist, Lee Boyce, writes his Consumer Trends column every Saturday.

It ranges from food and drink and retail, to financial services and travel. 

Have an idea or suggestion? Get in touch:

lee.boyce@thisismoney.co.uk 

Waitrose says this is likely to be because of it being a key ingredient for now popular summer cocktails, such as cuba libres, frozen daiquiris and mojitos. 

John Vine, spirits buyer at Waitrose, tells me: ‘We’ve been anticipating the year of rum for a while and it has finally arrived.

‘Rum has seen phenomenal growth, featuring in four of the top ten most popular cocktail recipes.’

Meanwhile, to counterbalance that, sales of alcohol-free drinks are also up, as some look to reduce their alcohol intake.

Sales of low and no alcoholic beer are up 50 per cent compared to this time last year, and alcohol free spirits up a similar number. 

Earlier in the year, I visited Adnams and sampled some of the best zero per cent beers on offer, with sales surging across the country.

The BBQ really does now offer something for everyone from vegans to teetotallers, meat lovers to cocktail fans – and it’s all a win-win for flexitarians – but don’t bet on the British weather being so exotic. 

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