The Thriving UK BBQ Scene in 2020
3 years on!
Three years ago I wrote a very small article on the thriving BBQ scene in the UK. The gist of it was that I was part of a community – mainly on social media – that was incredibly helpful and supportive. People were knocking out cooks that looked really professional, and being part of the BBQ community had helped my (limited) cooking skills thrive.
I’ve got to thinking about where we are now, and what the UK BBQ scene looks like in 2020.
I don’t engage on all channels but have this site, I’m on Twitter and Instagram. People (not me) engage on Facebook, and I know there are some huge groups on that platform. I’m really writing this from my experience on channels where I interact, including meeting people from social media (something us parents would warn our kids about)!
Where are we in 2020?
From the time I’ve engaged on social media, my overwhelming feeling is that 99% of the people I come across have a genuine interest in BBQ, are supportive, helpful and just generally nice. As in any walk of life, you come across people you don’t click with or who are just idiots.
Since I wrote the article in 2017, most of the lovely people I engaged with are still around producing some outstanding cooks. Many more have joined the community and again, the majority (if not all) are great and just want to support people who are cooking outdoors. While I don’t have any stats, it definitely still feels like a growing community.
There are other indicators of the popularity of BBQ – the emergence of more BBQ restaurants. In most major towns in the UK, you will now find a BBQ influenced restaurant, whether that is an ‘American’ influenced BBQ joint, or somewhere that cooks their food over charcoal or in wood-fired ovens.
We definitely see more BBQ products on supermarket shelves, more independents selling BBQ related products and a general growth of outdoor cooking festivals and events.
We have gone from Grillstock being the main outdoor cooking event (although it is sadly no more!) to having monthly events we can attend. Events like Meatopia, Black Deer Festival, Game of Tongs, Wingfest, PenGrillie BBQ Festival, The Big Grill Festival, Maldon Smoke & Fire and the list goes on.
But if you are a BBQ enthusiast you don’t really need me to tell you why it grabs you. It is such a great way to eat, and typically we do it with friends and family so it becomes a social event (lockdown permitting!)
Personally speaking, there are some key people who have really helped drive the online community forward over the last few years, with innovative content – both in terms of their cooks and the way they share and engage. Four immediately spring to mind: Jim (@onlyslaggin); James (@Barbechoo_James); Dan (@thesmokinelk) and Nathan (@kungfubbq).
Jim’s food has always looked really welcoming to me. It makes me want to pick up a bottle or two (or three) of red wine, jump in the car and drive round to his place (taxi back, of course) to sit down and share his food over a glass or several. He has a great variety of cooks and I love the way he uses Instagram Stories to deliver his content. He has such a variety of dishes, but his steak cooks with chimichurri always get me. He is just moving into YouTube: I have a feeling he’ll it take by storm.
I have known James for a few years, and his content is so innovative. A couple of years ago he did a ’30 days to better BBQ’ feature on his website, where he released a daily article (tip) about getting people to BBQ better. He genuinely wants to help! He runs online courses (which are well worth signing up to) but the standout for me is his YouTube channel.
In terms of people producing YouTube content in the UK, I think James took it to another level. I’m in awe of the thought and production that goes into them – all that along with having a full-time job and family. He’s recently started doing live casts on YouTube, a great way for people to engage. I think the leap he’s made on YouTube has forced other UK-based BBQ YouTubers to really up their game. The cooks that really stick in my head are his Christmas BBQ cooks which he has been doing for years. He now has a playlist on YouTube showing how you can do the same.
Elky embarked on his round the world cooks (from 195 countries – yes, 195!) which was an unbelievable challenge. I did around 30 days for the World Cup of Cooks a few years back and I was drained at the end of that! As part of that challenge he produced food from different countries, all cooked outside. Many of the dishes were ones I’d never heard of, so watching this was properly educational. It was inspiring, and gave me loads of ideas about what to cook and how to do it. He also has a YouTube channel: if you enjoy BBQ, it’s a great watch.
Nathan, always produces outstanding, innovative cooks. Did you see his cooks from the Berber & Q book this week?! Just mind blowing! He’s introduced me to so many new ethical independent producers, new ingredients and comes up frequently in conversations with my wife about how many cookery books I own (I know I’m not alone there)!
Of course, there are others who constantly expand my cooking horizons. Another person I love seeing cooks from is Andrew (@flame_and_dame). Again, his cooks are always something a little different and they really fire my imagination. From his DIY Tandoor Oven through to his Asado cook last weekend, loads of his ideas are touched by genius. What’s not to like?
There are others too, like Mark (@markie_q_bbq) who “made” me buy a plancha. His smash burger cooks are amazing – he is definitely the go-to person advice on these. I love seeing cooks from Mark (@coleybbq). He has a couple of less mainstream UK BBQs (Yoder and PK Grills), but every time he cooks his food looks stunning. And I love seeing cooks from Ted (@oddersocks) and Tim (@silverbackgrill) who nail every cook they do.
I could easily keep listing others. The point here is this: 3 years ago there were a handful of people who inspired me. Today in 2020, it’s a long old list. And even if you’re not mentioned here, you may well have influenced me: I see so many cooks from so many different people that get me thinking about the food I can cook, how I can cook it and what new things to try next.
Another Debate to be Had (or maybe not)
I’ve titled this article ‘The Thriving UK BBQ Scene In 2020’, but many would argue that the cooks we do in the UK are not BBQ at all. They would say that we ‘grill’ lots. This stems from our westerly neighbours across the Atlantic where ‘American’ BBQ involves the low ‘n’ slow cooks in the smoker, cooking big cuts of meat like brisket, pulled pork and ribs. Whereas we cook our sausages and burgers (amongst lots of other meats and veggies), and our US cousins would call that grilling.
Personally, I don’t care what we call it. I think BBQ is a term people in the UK relate to and we understand it as cooking sausages and burgers outside over charcoal or gas. If I used the word grilling with some of my non-BBQ obsessed friends, they’d look at me with blank expressions. The term doesn’t matter. I just love seeing more and more people cooking outdoors with a real passion, and getting so much enjoyment from it.
So what is UK BBQ?
This brings me on to identity. As I said above, the term ‘American BBQ’ immediately conjures thoughts of big meats, cooked low ‘n’ slow, served with classic BBQ sauces. At some point we’ve all taken on the challenge of cooking these, and they inspired many people to start cooking BBQ.
To a certain degree ‘American BBQ’ bores me a bit now. Controversial I know, but once you have done a ‘big meat’ a few times, unless you are using different techniques I think the challenge goes out of it (although I still need to master the brisket cook). It still harbours a wow factor for non-BBQers, though, and it will always be part of my repertoire.
For most people in the UK, BBQ is sausages, burgers and chicken, all of which can be done so so well: you just need to look through the feeds of the folk I mentioned earlier to see amazing cooks involving all of these. I think UK BBQ’s identity is still evolving and I love that; we in the UK & Ireland will try to cook anything on a BBQ, and try it different ways. I think it’s evolving in a similar way to the UK’s food scene in general. But where we do have an identity is in the community we’ve built. A community full of kind, witty, helpful, supportive people. ‘Normal’ people who share a passion for food, especially when cooked on some gizmo outdoors.
I feel privileged to be part of that community – even more so in our current situation. Maybe UK BBQ won’t ever have a fixed definition, but that’s no bad thing. What’s important is that it keeps evolving and growing and what makes it special – the lovely people who have that passion – will grow with it. So stay safe, stay at home and keep BBQing (or grilling, or cooking outdoors, or whatever you want to call it). I can’t wait to see what you come up with.