With hot weather forecast across the UK, it is the perfect time to get out the grill and throw a BBQ.
But planning such events is not always easy - a new study by Garden Gourmet shows that one in four people feel unprepared to serve veggie or vegan guests.
NationalWorld spoke to catering expert Alex Head to find out the dos and don’ts for hosting the perfect BBQ this summer.
Who is Alex Head?
Alex started Social Pantry in 2011, as she had a passion for gathering people together to share memorable food experiences. Social Pantry is a catering company based in London, which focuses on being environmentally friendly and sustainable.
The company invests in zero waste initiatives and their menus focus on nose to tail and root to flower dishes. They have served famous names such as Rihanna, David Attenborough, HRH Prince of Wales and Louis Vuitton.
What is the best etiquette for guests attending a BBQ?
It can be awkward for both hosts and guests when communication around food turns sour.
Alex suggests throwing ‘potluck’ style BBQs to allow guests to bring their own dishes if they feel uncomfortable.
But the catering expert encourages guests to speak up about their diets in order to normalise the stigma.
She said: “We need to normalise having conversations about dietary requirements and preferences and remove the stigma around them.
“It is a really important part of inclusivity and accessibility when it comes to social gatherings of all kinds.
“I’d recommend asking all of your guests, as standard, if they have any dietary requirements.
“Equally I don’t think guests should be embarrassed to voice their dietary needs to their host.”
Alex said it is important to remember that not every single dish needs to be appropriate for every guest and that as long as there is plenty on offer at the table it will be fine.
Cooking vegetarian and vegan food
Alex said there can sometimes still be a stigma around serving non-meat foods at barbecues.
“There is still a misconception that vegetarian or vegan food exists in a world apart from ‘the rest of food’ whereas the reality is that so many of the foods and dishes we love are naturally plant focused, and it’s increasingly easy and accepted to omit meat, fish and dairy entirely or use a plant-based substitute.
“In fact, catering a plant-focused feast is often easier than including meat as there is less to worry about when it comes to cooking temperatures and food safety.
“Plus plant-focused foods is food that everyone can eat, so it is inherently more inclusive and streamlines the offering.”
Alex believes that people put too much pressure on themselves to get it perfect at events such as BBQs and that hosts should relax.
“It is worth bearing in mind that whilst the food is an important part of a social experience, it’s not all there is to it,” she continued.
“The setting, styling, ambience and atmosphere you create will all enhance people’s enjoyment of the food.”
Why are there more people wanting to eat vegetarian and vegan diets?
Around 7% of the UK’s population is now vegetarian and according to Finder.com, and a further 8.8 million people in the UK have pledged to switch to a plant based diet in 2022.
There are many factors involved in changing diet from personal health to concerns over the environment.
Alex said: “There is overwhelming evidence that eating less meat is one of the best things each of us can do to help combat climate change.
“However, I think that the reason why people are making that decision now is that meat-free eating has become easier, more accepted and more accessible than ever.
“There has been an explosion in plant-based restaurants, chefs, celebrities, cookbooks and supermarket products which have transformed the image of plant-based eating.”
Vegetarian and vegan diets are no longer considered niche or associated with limitations which has helped more people get involved with the sustainability movement.
Tips for hosting a BBQ this summer for those who have a vegan or vegetarian diet
Alex said: “Start with great ingredients, beautiful salad leaves, fabulous olives, amazing bread, great olive oil, the best spices and spice blends you can get your hands on.
“Invest in dips, sauces and condiments that deliver maximal flavour with minimal fuss.
“You can find these in delis, supermarkets or even your favourite restaurant.
“Remember that veg-centric food is for everyone - not just vegetarians and vegans - so rather than catering a small amount separately for your plant-based guests, make enough for everyone so that you’re all eating the same.
“The huge range of plant-based alternatives in supermarkets such as Garden Gourmet provide direct swaps for meat and fish.”
Another tip from Alex is to create a variety of side dishes that appeal to a wide audience.
“Not only are they delicious and often people’s favourite part of the meal, having lots of vibrant, colourful dishes on the table conveys that sense of generous abundance that makes people feel relaxed about tucking in.
“By offering a range of choices, there is bound to be something for everyone.”
Do meat-free alternatives BBQ well?
Cooking new foods can be a daunting task for someone who has never done so before.
But catering expert Alex says that seasoning is the key when it comes to plant-based alternatives.
“Just like with meat, start with the best quality produce you can afford.
“Seasonal produce that hasn’t had to travel far will contain higher amounts of nutrients and the chemical compounds that contain flavour.
“From there, marinating and seasoning are your best friend, adding flavour and fat will help to initiate ‘The Maillard Reaction’ - the chemical reaction that causes food to brown and develop that distinctive charred flavour.
“Meat-free products are designed with this in mind but allowing your BBQ to reach a high temperature before you begin cooking ensures that everything develops a delicious chargrilled flavour and appearance.
“Serving temperature is key, keep things warm under recyclable foil or a tea towel.”
What foods can first-time chefs try to cook for a meat-free BBQ?
Alex recommends a balance of meat-free alternatives and vegetable dishes.
“When burgers are called for, I like to grill Garden Gourmet plant-based burgers alongside marinated aubergine, celeriac or cauliflower steaks,” Alex said.
“They can be served interchangeably or layered on top of each other in a bun with delicious condiments, salads and plant-based cheese.
“When introducing new plant-based options to the BBQ, remember everyone’s favourite condiments too.
“I make a brilliant homemade vegan garlic mayo using aquafaba in the place of eggs, and have switched to using maple syrup in the place of honey for a classic sweet and sticky mustard dressing.”
For a fancy event Alex has a roasted vegetable trick that will wow the crows.
“I prepare whole-burnt aubergines or whole BBQ cauliflower and nestle them amongst laish jewelled rice salads, pilaf and tabbouleh, which both look and taste amazing.
How to have a sustainable BBQ?
Alex recommends keeping sustainability in mind this summer. She said that having a plan for leftovers and asking guests to bring Tupperware can make a big difference when it comes to waste.
“You can also purchase and provide recyclable or compostable takeaway containers to avoid using excess single use foil or cling films,” Alex said.
“Think about which dishes keep well and integrate them into your weekly menu.”
But it’s not all about the food - how you cook it is also important.
“Good fuel is key to any BBQ so invest in a good quality grill and sustainably sourced carbon neutral charcoal, and use wood based rather than petrol based firelighters.
“Avoid single use plates and cutlery that are biodegradable so they can be composted.”
Recipe for the perfect meat-free burger for summer BBQs
- 226g pack Garden Gourmet Sensational Burger¼ small red cabbage
- 1 cucumber
- 50g carrot, peeled and finely shredded
- 1 lemon
- 50g lamb’s lettuce or any normal green lettuce
- 1 tbsp vegan garlic or spicy mayonnaise
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp reduced fat red pepper hummus
Step one: Shred the red cabbage and season with lemon juice and black pepper.
Step two: Using a peeler, peel slices of cucumber into thin ribbons and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Step three: Toast the bun halves in a dry frying pan and set aside. Cook the burgers using your preferred method (BBQ or frying pan).
Step four: Spread the bun bases with a little of the red pepper hummus. Cover with the lettuce and red cabbage.
Step five: Place the burgers and top of the lettuce with carrot, vegan mayonnaise and cucumber ribbons. Place the bun lid.