Ben Bartlett

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Britons are now the biggest BBQers in Europe, but champion BBQer Ben Bartlett says that this does not necessarily mean that the British are the best.

"They’ve taken over from the Germans but I’d say the best BBQers in Europe are the Danes."

Ben is one of the UK’s foremost chefs and was the first winner of Britain’s Best BBQer. He has his own food and drink company that advises pubs, restaurants and hotels on al fresco dining and regularly gives talks and demonstrations all over the country.

His qualifications include being a Member of the International Hospitality Association, Master Chefs of Great Britain, Fellow of the British Institute of Innkeepers, Master Craftsman of the Craft Guild of Chefs and Food Champion in the Courvoisier The Future 500. He is also a sauce consultant for Lyons Foods. Ben’s TV appearances include This Morning, Ready Steady Cook and Daybreak TV. He is president of the British BBQ Association and competes all over the world with The Best of British BBQ Team.

His other interests are travelling, opera singing and he is also treasurer for a children’s charity that supports orphanage projects in Romania and schools in Bristol.

His first book, The BBQ Manual published by Haynes, is available in 75 countries. He has also been coming to Majorca since he was a child. His parents were regular visitors and he has owned an apartment in Palmanova since 1990.

"There’s a lovely beach bar near me and I can smell their BBQ using olive wood and rosemary. The smell is just great," he said.

So, apart from the fact the BBQing is extremely competitive around the globe, that the next world championships are in October and 100 teams from 40 countries will be competing, how did Ben become one of Britain’s top BBQers?

"It was by chance. I had always been a keen BBQer, but nothing too serious. Then in 2003 some friends of mine asked me if I would cook the BBQ at their wedding. They said it would be for around 30 to 40 guests. In the end is was more like over 100 but I got it done and it went well. In fact, the couple were so impressed they entered me into the British championships that year and I won and defended my title the following year. As of then, I was no longer allowed to compete," he joked. However, he then went on to set up the British team and since then they have represented Great Britain all over the world.

"The first international competitions were in the States. And at first it was just me and a mate, who was not a very good cook. But I learnt a lot from the other top BBQ chefs and eventually with the three-chef-strong British team we went on to win the Jack Daniels title at its distillery. We beat the Americans at their own game."

Ben maintains that BBQing is in Britons’ blood.

"We love them, whatever the weather. I think it’s a kind of cave man thing, The women do all the work, shopping, side dishes etc., but the men get all the glory. They are great fun for the family and friends: relaxing, informal, very social and a very healthy way of eating. A BBQ creates a great atmosphere."

But getting it right is not easy.

"Planning is extremely important. There’s no point in leaving it to the last minute and just grabbing a load of frozen food. Most of the time I prepare my meats the night or a few days before, especially if I am using a marinade or a special spice rub.

"However, my top tip is to use unsweetened apple juice. Spray the juice on any meat or fish and it keeps the food moist and is a delicious caramalist. Ok, you can use cider on pork, for example, but I always use apple juice. The meat never burns, that’s tip number one. Then, once the food is cooked, you can always brush it with a hot glaze. And the great thing nowadays is the vast range of global spices we can get our hands on. If making a glaze, the trick is 25 per cent sugar and 25 per cent salt and then use any spice that takes your fancy."

Needless to say, Ben has cooked all over the world and has used some interesting meats such as rattle snake - "it was bit tough". One of the most challenging was at 9,000 feet in the States. "At that altitude, the air is so thin, so I had to completely adapt the way I cook because of the lack of oxygen; even lighting the BBQ was a struggle.

"I know nowadays some 60 per cent of people in Britain use gas BBQs and they are just as good and much safer for young families. But 40 per cent are still using the traditional method. and my advice to lighting a BBQ is that less is more. Don’t pile on the charcoal all at once, use a little kindling and build a small pyramid.

"Once that begins to burn and there are signs of ash, then start placing more charcoal around the base of the pyramid and keep building it up until it’s all red hot, then start cooking. And, as people see in my book and on my website, there are so many dishes that can be cooked on the BBQ; it’s not all sausages, salmon and burgers. And they don’t all have to be burnt. The global influences are so interesting today and there are so many different types and styles of BBQs available."

For more information visit www.bbqben.co.uk.