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Barbecue season is officially on. To help you level up your summer grilling sessions private-chef-turned-barbecue-maestro Croydon Cole share tips and some recipes.
Cole is the owner and "pit master" behind Grey Lynn restaurant Smokin' Cole BBQ, which he opened in 2019.
What started as a pop-up, has continued four years later due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cole was a personal chef for 15 years on yachts cooking for Richard Branson, George Lucas, even an adviser to Vladimir Putin's team.
Born in Grey Lynn in Auckland, he lived in Melbourne till 15.
"My godparents were Italian. They cooked at home and they had restaurants of their own. And other friends had cafes. I was very fortunate that I was introduced to good food really early on in life."
He remembers going to the Victoria market every Saturday morning and having the chance to try Greek, Lebanese, Italian and various Asian cuisines.
"Then came back to NZ and my first cooking, kitchen head rather, job was at Cin Cin on Quay back a long time ago, no longer there. Now I think it's Botswana Butchery."
He used to often smoke fish, and then took up smoking meat too.
"I get to work outside that's playing with fire, which 99 percent of blokes love to do."
Cole said every culture used fire in some way for cooking.
He was about seven or eight years old when he was caught playing with a BBQ fire, he said.
"I just love feeding people. I'm a feeder. I love to entertain my friends and family.
"Whatever I'm going to be cooking, it's knowing that I'm doing it not for my family and friends, but for the awesome customers who have been supporting my little place since I opened, there's nothing better than seeing them come back. Having a chat with them and being able to give them so that that they are unable to do themselves at home."
What's on the grill
Sharing an example of what he would do for a BBQ, he said it would be marinating a lamb shoulder chop in garlic, lemon juice, some fresh herbs or dry herbs, and "always a decent amount of salt".
"I will use kosher salt at work. Stay away from iodised table salt. Pink Himalayan salt if I'm boiling anything in the water."
Corn on the cob would come next because it was in season, and asparagus - "two fantastic vegetables that you can grill, roast, BBQ however you want".
"We soak the corn in their husks in cold water, [and then] straight onto the grill."
He soaks the corn for anywhere between 10 minutes and six hours, but suggested 20 minutes at least.
Putting a soaked corn in the husk on the grill helps it steam and barbecue at the same time, he said.
Other vegetables that could be put on the barbecue were courgettes, eggplant, capsicums, and mushrooms, he said.
"I like them with just nice big slices or chunks, not too thick."
He said pumpkin was also a good vegetable for the barbecue, and could be power boiled before finishing it off on the grill.
Low and slow, hard and fast
Cole said low and slow was the American way which was gaining popularity in New Zealand and worldwide.
"I think we've just all discovered what the Americans have been doing for a very, very long time and have really realised that we can use all these secondary cuts, or even lower down, [what] used to really go out for pet food, and make them into something really delicious.
"We used to always have brisket in our diets, but was always boiled. Now we're barbecuing it."
He said there was success in running the grill very hot for a brisket.
"We're looking about 300 to 400 Fahrenheit to start getting that bark on really nice and early and see you running that for about three or four hours. And then you let it come down a bit to about 250, that's there for another six hours."
He said low and slow imparting a lot of smoke into the food.
New Zealand usually took the hard and fast route, he said.
"... when you're grilling beautiful chicken wings, steaks. Lovely strips of pork belly, things you want to have some nice char on it. More other fire flavor as opposed to smoke flavour."
As for seafood, he said prawns, crayfish, scallops and salmon were good options, he said.
"Ayn fish, the oilier, the better. Snapper is the New Zealand favourite, but it gets dry. Hapuka, trevally, kingfish - those are all great fish to put directly onto a nice grill, we've got good embers and even a bit of flame."
When barbecuing, he said: "Don't use any of those petroleum-based starters, smell it ... you smell kerosene."
There were several natural options available, he said.
"Have proper kindling, make sure the wood is dry. Make sure your area that you're cooking in, there's nothing around that could go up ... because fires get out of hand real quick.
"Don't forget salt and pepper. Don't be afraid of seasoning your food.
"Make sure your grill is hot, because if you put it anything on there, just going to stick if it's not hot enough, you want to hear sizzle. So, you get some water, drop it off your fingers when you hear that [sizzle] she's ready to go."
Croydon Cole's BBQ'D Lamb Shoulder Chops with Garlic, Mixed Herbs & Lemon
I've chosen a kiwi classic for a simple go to that many can BBQ, that also keeps the costs down & 99% of people will have the required marinade ingredients in their pantry or fridge.
The old school, good ol Lamb Shoulder Chop!! In my opinion a very underrated & forgotten gem these days! I Loved them charred to a crisp with salt when I was a kid. Happy Days!
These days it's a tad more refined but only a tad.
I decided to see what I had on hand, & found fresh garlic, dried mixed herbs & a lemon. Mix these ingredients together binding it with bran oil & a good dose of salt, (DON'T forget to salt your meats it's nature's flavour enhancer) and marinate overnight. BBQ'D on my Big Green Egg over very hot coals for 10 minutes or so depending on how done you like your lamb. I prefer mine crispy as on the outside with a little pink in the meat. You'll get a flare up from the fat & oil, don't let that scare you away. Keep your tongs handy and keep turning over to avoid over charring or turn less if your preference is like mine & that charred fat is the delicacy you crave!
Now you gotta be serving these bad boys with something equally as tasty, easy to prepare & cook. It's summer so it's corn & asparagus season. Two veg that tick all three of those boxes. Corn & asparagus are abundant right now, in every grocery store or supermarket so for me it's a no brainer, BBQ them!! I'll tell you how below.
4 Lamb Shoulder Chops
8 -10 Garlic Cloves
2tsp Mixed Herbs or any fave you have on hand
1/4 cup bran oil (or oil of your choice)
Juice of a Lemon
Extra Lemon juice for serving
Peel & crush your garlic cloves into your dish, add mixed herbs, oil, salt and mix well.
Place your chops in a non-reactive dish side by side to coat them on both sides. For best results, refrigerate overnight and turn chops over at least once or twice, or 4 hour minimum.
Get your BBQ cranking & grill those bad boys to your liking!!
Serve with another dose of squeezed lemon juice & a good sprinkling of crystal salt & grilled vege's (see below recipe)
Croydon Cole's Grilled Corn & Asparagus
4 Corn on the Cob - Husks on
2 Bunches of Asparagus - Choose the size that best works for your grill or plate
Salt & Pepper to taste
2tblsp Cooking Oil
Here's a little trick I learnt so you don't get the corn hair in your mouth. Using your fingers feel the end of the cob where the stalk meets & the cob finishes (you'll feel the kernels under the husk finish & the stalk begin as it tapers down. You want to cut the end off just before that, so you can slide the husk off when it's cooked.
After you've cut the end off the corn, soak for 10 minutes or up to 8 hours. Remove the corn from soaking, shake off any excess water. Place the corn directly onto the hot grill grates (still covered by the husk) and grill for 15-20 minutes, turning the corn every 5 minutes for even cooking. With gloved hands & tongs slide your perfectly cooked corn on the cob out of the husk (from the cut end) leaving all the hair behind in the husk! Now you can grill them for some of that BBQ char or serve as is with a boat load of butter, salt & pepper or any other spices you enjoy.
Asparagus are super simple to work with. For this recipe I'm using the regular sized ones that are most common at the moment. If you want to use the large thick ones you may want to use a potato peeler if they're quite fibrous.
Trim the ends off, removing any hard fibrous parts.
Toss in the cooking oil season liberally with Salt & Pepper.
Throw them on your hot grill (opposite way of the slots so they don't fall through) cook till tender & lightly charred 2-3 minutes (they should still have a bite to them). Pull them off taste for seasoning, add your squeezed lemon juice & either toss in a knob or two of butter or olive oil if you prefer. Serve immediately.
Enjoy on their own or with your Lamb Chops or any other BBQd delights you love to throw on the Barbie.