Every year it is the same. If anyone doubts we are a nation of optimists, they just need to check out our enthusiasm for cooking outdoors. Despite the bitter experience of past summers, as soon as May arrives we sniff the air, look at the clouds and drag the rusting barbecue out from its winter quarters behind the shed.
Then we start reading Louisiana barbecue recipes online and watching YouTube videos of Gauchos searing meat in the Argentinian pampas. We daydream about dry-rub formulations and the precise temperature required to ensure the sea bass is charred outside and moist inside.
Then we discover the local shop stocks none of that stuff so end up with a dozen sausages, half a dozen burgers and some mornings rolls that are on offer because they have reached their sell-by date.
Since the only way to make any of that taste any good is to achieve some meat caramelisation, we toss the meat thermometer we got for Christmas in a drawer, whack up the heat and keep cooking until the smoke alarm in the kitchen two doors down is activated.
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A proper Scottish barbecue smells of two things, burnt meat and disappointment. Every single meal outside would have been better cooked inside. And to those people who say food tastes better from a barbecue, be honest, it doesn’t. Two glasses of prosecco and five ciders help it taste better but by that stage you’d quite happily eat a burger cooked on a car engine.
Barbecues here work not because they are fueled by smoked hickory chips imported from Venezuela. Their success or failure rather comes down to ensuring you have enough booze in the fridge. If you are not convinced, just imagine a Scottish barbecue without alcohol.
A survey for a DIY store a couple of years ago asked people about their memorable barbecue experiences. Responses ranged from not enough booze to awful music to gatherings that turned into fights. No one mentioned the food, which says something in itself.
The fact is, we have kitchens indoors so we don’t have to cook outdoors and yet some strange link back to our Neanderthal past drags us outside every May to start applying flames to dead animals.
Then we stand around juggling paper plates, napkins and glasses of warm white wine with ketchup on our chins until someone ends up dropping the lot… and we all cheer.
Beef and lamb producers tell us we should approach barbecues like the Australians but that’s all very well when you can marinate on a Monday, invite your guests on a Wednesday and cook on a Saturday. In Scotland we can only look at the window and decide to barbecue right now knowing a shower is only a few hours away.
So, instead, here is a crazy idea. We can cook inside and if it’s not raining we can go outside to eat. It means cutting out the barbecue and the bloke in the novelty apron cooking it but since you will also miss out on salmonella, it’s probably a price worth paying.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.