You can smell it in the air, just at the point in the evening when you think it would be lovely to have a drink in the garden (but you have to go inside to make the supper) – comes the intoxicating scent of other people’s barbecues.
I always try to guess what they’re having. Is it just sausages? Or herb marinated chops? Or are they so adept that they’re barbecuing fish – silvery bream, brushed with olive oil, its skin crisping under a scattering of salt flakes?
Related: how to BBQ fish
I know one thing, nothing makes you feel as left out as smelling someone else’s barbecue when you aren’t having one yourself. And few things make you as hungry.
Yet when your other half suggests you ‘have a barbecue’ it often inspired dread. The trouble is it’s never just about meat, but about all the side dishes too – the relishes, salads, dips, jugs of cocktails. Barbecuing here isn’t so much a form of cooking as an all-singing all- dancing jamboree. This is where we get it wrong.
Related: summer party drinks
Keep it simple
When I lived with a French family for a while the barbecue was lit as a matter of course most summer evenings. It wasn’t for cooking a medley of cuts, and there wasn’t a host of side dishes either. Basically, it was just a way of cooking outside whatever we might otherwise have cooked inside. It was usually chops or kebabs. On the side there was a salad, baguette and a jar of Dijon mustard.
The barbecue itself was simple, no more complicated than the cheap ones you pick up at a petrol station. And even when there were just two of us we still put the barbecue on and cooked outside as we drank our evening bottle of rose.
So, I’m on a quest to improve your summer evenings. Use disposable barbecue trays or a simple barbecue (and buy those bags that you just put a match to). Cook only one thing – chicken thighs or lamb chops - that way you don’t have to worry about different temperatures and cooking times. Don’t feel you have to make a complicated side dish. It's my job to give you recipes but you don’t even have to go as far as the recipes below.
One of my favourite barbecued dishes is lamb chops that have been marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and dried herbes de Provence.
The thing with a barbecue is the charcoal. It’s that singular, glorious smoky flavour you’re after, not a multitude of competing ones. And it’s also the experience: enjoying a drink, reading the paper, inhaling that wonderful smell.
Diana Henry's perfect BBQ recipes
Ginger beer can chicken
Marinade for a leg of lamb
Lamb kebabs with spicy green relish
Marinade for BBQ tuna steaks
Pomegranate and honey glazed chicken kebabs
Pork chops with a Southern Succour rub and peach relish
For more barbecue ideas, visit our BBQ recipes section.