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Choosing (or building) your ideal garden barbecue

Barbecued food. Photograph by marsy

The clocks have gone forward and British Summer Time is officially here, so lock away those winter clothes! Well actually, don't, because it's still freezing, but you can at least get ready to embrace the warmer weather by preparing your garden for one of the best summer traditions - the barbecue.

Brits can barbecue in even the smallest of backyards, and the range of barbecues on offer from DIY stores and even high street retailers such as Debenhams caters for every need. Broadly you have two choices: buy a ready-made barbecue or build your own as a permanent fixture in your garden. There are different choices to be made for each, so we'll go through some of those here.

Bought barbecues

The coal barbecue is the most commonly used, because you have the best choice in terms of sizes, and getting fuel is usually a simple case of popping to your local shop. The type you choose depends on how much space you have: wagon styles provide you with a useful preparation area, but round kettle barbecues are more compact. If you don't want your barbecue to be taking up vital garden space when you're not using it, then think about a piccolino barbecue - it's a kettle-style which has short legs so you can get it out and place it on an existing table when you need it.

If you have more space, then you might want to think about gas-powered barbecues. The main advantage here is that they are ready to cook more or less as soon as you fire them up, and if you're doing a long stint at the grill you don't need to worry about when to add more fuel like you do with coal. However, the gas cylinders do take up space and have to be stored safely, so that's something to think about.

One interesting alternative is a wood-burning barbecue. Woods such as hickory, oak or even branches from your garden apple tree will infuse your food with smoky flavours that will elevate your barbecues above those of your friends and neighbours. Wood-burning barbecues can also double up as chimeneas, which means that even when the cooking is done you can be kept warm by a controlled garden fire on cool summer nights.

Build your own

For a simple wood or coal-fired grill, it's actually really easy to build your own attractive brick barbecue. You'll need to lay a slab if you're going on to grass (advice on that is available here), then it's just a case of getting a plan together of how you want it to take shape.

One tip: buy your grills first then build your barbecue around their size - trying to find grills to fit a barbecue you've just built can be problematic! Give thought to what you want in there in terms of grill space and ledges which could be used for warming or storage, and in the interests of getting it right first time, take some time to try out your design by stacking the bricks without the mortar to see if it all works. Oh, and remember to use fire-proof bricks!

Photo credit: marsy at Freeimages

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