On hearing the good news that outdoor gatherings will be allowed from the end of the month, my first reaction was to head to the shed to locate the barbecue.
But when it comes to this year’s grand al-fresco Rawstorne ‘restaurant’ re-opening, the pressure is on to produce something a bit more, well, sophisticated. (Or, as my wife put it: ‘Please don’t start burning meat again.’)
With guests only allowed outside for now, there’s a growing element of competition when it comes to garden grub.
Tom Rawstorne cooks outdoors with the Big Green Egg barbecue at his home in Kent
It’s not just ever-more elaborate barbecues — film producer Guy Ritchie has a domed climbing frame-type construction from which haunches of meat can be hung over red-hot coals — but full-on outdoor kitchens which can set you back an eye-watering £60,000.
Since I am unwilling to remortgage the house for an open-air sink, here I look at alternative ways to widen my menu.
Ooni Fyra 12 Wood Pellet Pizza Oven, from £249, uk.ooni.com and cuckooland.com
The Ooni Fyra 12 Wood Pellet Pizza Oven, from £249
While I am a great fan of pizzas, I have never been a great pizza maker. But this small, portable oven changes all that.
Heated using small hardwood pellets that light almost instantly with the help of a firelighter (there’s also a gas version), it reaches the required 500 c within 15 minutes.
The intense heat cooks a pizza in just 60 seconds.
It not only melts the cheese perfectly, but gives an intense smoke-flavoured crispiness to the crust.
And for those who don’t want the faff of making the dough, it can be bought frozen from Ooni or in supermarkets.
Instant restaurant-style pizzas — and an instant hit with the family.
Big Green Egg, from £780, biggreenegg.co.uk
The Big Green Egg, from £780
Loved by everyone from Heston Blumenthal to Holly Willoughby, the Big Green Egg, with it’s ceramic-lined dome, can be used to slow-cook, roast and bake, as well as barbecue meat.
I decide to see how it fares making a Sunday roast, loading up the base with half a bag of Canadian maple charcoal. It lights easily and reaches 180c within 15 minutes.
Before inserting the chicken — finished with a paprika and brown sugar rub — I fit a ceramic plate above the charcoal bed.
This so-called ‘convEGGtor’ allows for indirect cooking, meaning the chicken won’t emerge with a burnt exterior concealing a raw inside.
It works a treat, even when it rains. The chicken is moist with a beautiful, smoky flavour. Roast potatoes and vegetables can be cooked alongside the bird.
The Bar-Be-Quick Charcoal Smoker and Grill, £70
Bar-Be-Quick Charcoal Smoker and Grill, £70, argos.co.uk
This barrel-shaped barbecue can be used to hot-smoke food.
Taking a small side of salmon, I first rub it with a cure of salt and brown sugar and leave in the fridge for two hours.
Next I rinse off the cure and pat dry. Then I light the charcoal in the barrel and, as a moderate heat builds, place the fish on a grill raised as far from the heat source as possible.
With the lid fixed on top, I periodically scatter handfuls of whisky-infused oak sawdust on to the coals, releasing clouds of lightly scented smoke.
After 25 minutes, the salmon has taken on a beautiful rich, orangey-pink colour with a depth of flavour to match.
Served with asparagus, it’s a hit.
Kadai Cooking Bowl with chains, £39, castinstyle.co.uk
Kadai Cooking Bowl with chains, £39
If you were nagged into buying a fire pit, like I was, to keep guests warm, why not make it sing for its supper?
This cooking dish has chains so you can suspend it over a fire bowl on a tripod (this was not included so I made mine using old lantern posts).
Once the embers are hot, I cook up a big batch of beef chilli, which has a pleasant, smoky flavour.
Adjusting the chain length to regulate the heat is a bit of a faff, and the one I buy comes without a lid. But you could use this cooking bowl to brew up a warming punch, too.
Garden Paella Set, including burner, pan and stand, from £135.99, thepaellacompany.co.uk
The Garden Paella Set, including burner, pan and stand, from £135.99
What’s not to like about paella?
Having to cook it in the kitchen while all your guests knock back the rosé outside, that’s what.
Attached to a gas bottle, this Spanish-made burner lights instantly and gives out a lot of heat.
Once adjusted, the pan of rice bubbles along beautifully until perfectly cooked.
Practical and simple to use; allowing you to deliver a pan of deliciousness while enjoying the company of your guests.
Boska Outdoor Fondue, £49.50, hartsofstur.com
The Boska Outdoor Fondue, £49.50
With the slopes closed to Brits, why not bring a taste of the Alps to your back garden?
The main hitch with this is that you have to melt the cheese on a cooker first. Then, the small burner beneath the dish gives out just enough heat to keep the cheese molten, and the design shields the burner from any gusts of wind.
But the pronged forks for dunking bread into the cheesy gloop are rather flimsy. All in all, a less than full Alpine experience.
Smoking the competition: Tom roasts a chicken in the popular Big Green Egg barbecue
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