In Singapore we don’t waste too much time talking about the weather – the heat is as inescapable as the ingenious ERP road user taxing system, or the controlled climate of sprawling air-conditioned megamalls we can’t help but seek out. But really, there are only three sensible reactions to the heat: one, take a swim, two, enjoy a cold beer, or three, have a BBQ. Or all of the above, at the same time – whether you live in a private property with a fancy pool, state-of-the-art grilling equipment and the inclination to introduce a on-demand chef into the equation, or in a housing situation that fulfils a more basic, pragmatic function, everyone has access to a BBQ pit.
Enjoy the latest collection of Clubvivre BBQ catering menus by the best chefs in town.
Where Should I have my Epic BBQ Party?
Choose between parks, beaches and other public spaces. Singapore’s National Parks BBQ booking system charges a nominal fee for a night of good food and great company (that you need to provide, naturally), and there are other great places for your evening of do-it-yourself Singapore cuisine. Find a friend with a BBQ pit-enabled condominium, or portable BBQ pit and a penchant for the outdoors. Just remember to book your facilities early and check if there are any additional terms and conditions, like issues concerning alcohol consumption.
Other things you might want to consider when planning your BBQ extravaganza – proximity to facilities, whether they are washrooms, water bodies or sports facilities for an outdoorsy, healthy lifestyle slant (as if to cancel out the calories of the best food on the grill, succulent, decadently marbled wagyu steaks, beer-infused chicken, smores…). How many people are you inviting, what time do they say the will turn up, and when will they actually turn up?
The Eternal Question: What Shall We Eat?
There is nothing better for a relaxed afternoon with friends than a BBQ with a passionate private chef. Are you going to play private dining coordinator, aka the King of the BBQ pit or Grill Master? Are you inviting a friend with a flair for Singapore cuisine that has a killer umami burger recipe they wants to try out? Will you have vegetarians, vegans, paleo-enthusiasts, fine dining connoisseurs, healthy lifestyle proponents or good old carnivores, or all of the above? And the better question – for a touch of class, who is bringing the wine, and what are we pairing it with?
“The paradox of barbecue is that making this elemental food not just good, but great, can seem complicated until you know what you are doing,” says former private chef, BBQ superstar and New York entrepreneur Adam Perry Lang. Make sure you have the items in his “Just-Enough-Stuff” list: tongs, a towel to apply oil to the grill, grill brush, fire extinguisher, firestarters, spatula, lighter, cutting board and for a touch of class and consistency, a thermometer. Lang opened Daisy May’s BBQ USA in Manhattan and toured the US competing in BBQ cook-offs and smoking the competition from state to state. “The food is elemental, at its core just meat and fire….”
There are two kinds of BBQ pit cooking – direct and indirect heat. Cooking with direct heat involves applying heat that has been neither deflected nor diffused significantly, and normally involves a higher temperature than indirect cooking. Cuts of meat that heavily features fat and plays down on collagen, like steaks, chops and chicken that you want to brown nicely on the outside (extra points for the criss-crossing grill marks) are perfect for direct cooking, especially when the cuts are thin. By the time the interior is cooked, the outside has been browned beautifully and infused with lip-smacking flavour, a la our favourite dinner in Singapore items like BBQ chicken wings or satay.
Indirect cooking over a BBQ pit happens when a heat source is blocked, reduced or deflected by a metal plate or wrapping of some kind, creating a gentle, all-encompassing heat that is lower and not as directional. Sambal sting ray, wrapped and infused with banana leaves, or the delicate, spicy “otak” fishcake encased in pandan leaves, are traditional Singapore BBQ items that use this method, that can be applied to ribs, pulled pork, brisket and roasted meats, the highlight of the meat being the dark, tasty crust.
Knowing this difference will empower you to decide what you need to cook, when, and what temperature you need your BBQ pit to be.
In direct cooking, the wondrous, complex flavours of good food forged by the BBQ pit comes from two sources. The first is the caramelising of sugars within the meat, that heat changes along with the chemical compositions of proteins that unlock new flavours in the formation of new compounds, and the second is the “flavour bomb” – when the moisture (be it oil, marinade, or fat) leaves the meat, makes contact with the heat source and vaporizes, breathing flavour into the meat as it rises.
The science of flavour building isn’t overcomplicated. Experiment with what you think will make the best food using this marinade formula: acid (fruit juice, vinegrette, acidic sauces/anything else) + oil + salt + sugar + flavour = good food with your personal trademark stamped on it. If you are feeling particularly adventurous with your take on dinner in Singapore, take a stab at brines, rubs, glazes and sauces, or come up with a side dish with a twist. And then give yourself a pat on the back, for making something with your own hands for the people you love to consume and enjoy, in addition to organizing an excellent social gathering – good food, great friends, and BBQ meat – if that isn’t the good life, I don’t know what is.
(Photo credit – Janice Liu)