Keeping a BBQ Journal

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A Journal is Cook Changing

For many people cooking on a BBQ is a casual event that offers the opportunity to get together with friends, usually when the sun is blaring, and enjoy some great tasting food and a couple of drinks. Many of us (if not most of us started there) and I know for me it has turned into a full-time passion. I am always striving to cook things a ‘bit better’ or try new foods to push my cooking skills and also learn new ones.

One thing that I think is key in that process is keeping some form of notes, where you can plan your recipe and cook, and record observations about how the cook went and what did or didn’t work.

Keeping a Journal has been invaluable in helping me improve my cooks over time, in terms of putting together recipes, improving my cooking, and building my confidence.

What to Record

Deciding what information to record is very much a personal thing. I don’t record every cook I do, as some have become second nature to me as I cook them so often, but in the past, these cooks would have found their way into my BBQ Journal.

The cooks that now make it into my Journal are new ones or cooks that I have done before which I was not quite happy with. Thankfully, there are not many cooks that ‘go wrong’ although inevitably this does happen. Keeping notes will really help you tweak or understand what has gone wrong with the cook. A great example of this was my challenge with Beef Cheeks.

Planning

The first place I start is planning my cook. The first stage of this is the recipe. You may be trying to create your own recipe or using someone else’s, but regardless I find it useful to write down all the ingredients, quantities, the method, and timings. If you are using a recipe, it may not have been written to be cooked on BBQ so you need to think about how you will do it.

As part of the planning, I will record the temperature I am aiming to have my BBQ, the temperature I am taking my meat to, and resting times. These details can be key with your cooks.

No surprise, but I find starting with some planning really helps organize me when doing the cook but also helps me visualise each stage of the cook and what I am looking for as a final result.

The Cook

In a perfect world, the cook always goes to plan but unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. As I progress with my cook, I make notes where there are deviations from the plan. These may or may not affect the end result, but recording as you go along can save some head-scratching later on. For example, if I am doing a 2 stage cook where you are smoking a piece of meat to a certain temperature, before wrapping, and it is taking much longer than I estimated then I will write this down.

I also record the fuel I use, although less so now as I tend to cook with charcoal from The Green Olive Firewood Company. Briquettes will give a different result than charcoal and the make of charcoal you use will give you different results.

I know other people record things like weather conditions as this can impact your cook, especially with regard to BBQ temperatures. I don’t do this but would record any temperature deviations in general.

The Food

I always have an idea of what the final result should look like. More importantly, I have an idea in my head of how it should taste. Even if I have produced a great-tasting dish, I will be a little ‘critical’ of what I could improve on. For me, this is really important to keep improving and doing it that little be better next time. The type of things I will ask myself:

  • Is the texture of the meat what I was looking for?
  • Is the flavour profile what I was looking for (e.g. right level of spiciness? Do all the flavours come through)
  • What does it look like visually? (I do believe we partly eat with our eyes)
  • What do my family think? (this one can be a little tough!!!!)

Asking questions like this helps me tweak things, not only if I cook the dish again, but it will carry over onto other cooks I do.

I also try to record where I got the meat from as I do think this can have a result on the end cook.

To Journal or Not to Journal

It takes a little bit of an effort to keep a BBQ Journal but it is really worth it.

Unsurprisingly, when I write out the cook, doing the up-front planning, not only does the cook generally go well but I enjoy it much more. I am more organised and generally calmer throughout the cook.

It allows me to easily look back on the cook, and if things have gone wrong, I have some information to try to understand why. If the cook has gone well, I can still look back and replicate the methods for future cooks or tweak slightly for repeat cooks.

If you really want to improve your cooking I would highly recommend you give keeping a Journal a go. I really think you will find it a useful and enjoyable process.

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