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How to recreate the smoky flavour of a barbecue indoors

Recipes often suggest that the meat, fish or vegetable element is best cooked on a barbecue. Can I get close to that result indoors?

Justin, Bournemouth

Well, yes and no. “How grilling works is that the fat drips on to the coals below and it smokes, which permeates the meat. So you can’t really recreate that, for obvious reasons,” says David Carter, chef-founder of Smokestak in London, reports The Guardian.

That said, there are a few tactics Justin can deploy to get close. The first and simplest, says Jack Stein, chef-director at Rick Stein Restaurants, is to use a griddle pan: “It gives you the ability to get those charred bar marks on whatever you’re cooking.” That’s the route Patrick Williams, chef-patron of Kudu Collective in south-east London, would take for meat: “If you’re cooking a T-bone or similar, get the pan raging hot, then, to get more flavour, put the meat in a tray with loads of garlic, rosemary, thyme and ember oil.” The oil, he says, is the key to instant smokiness, although, admittedly, that would require Justin to barbecue the meat at some point. “We take a leftover briquette [charcoal], chuck it in a pot of oil, cover and seal – it gives the oil an intense, smoky sweetness, and we then use it in dressings or sauces to baste fish, meat, or vegetables.”

Carter, however, suggests trying a heavy, cast-iron pan or skillet and some rendered animal fat. “Once you get a nice colour on the meat, chuck it in a hot oven to finish – this will emulate the charring part, but not the smoke element.” Herbs, however, could help with that: “Burn some rosemary or thyme over the flame of a gas hob, but don’t take it too far,” Carter says. “Next, sear your meat and add butter and garlic.” Once the butter foams, pop in the charred herbs and they’ll give everything a nice, smoky hit.

Ana Ortiz, chef and co-founder of Fire Made in Wincanton, Somerset, also utilises a gas hob. “When I’m short of time but need to make a batch of aji [chilli sauce], I burn the chillies directly on the flames to get that charred smokiness”; lots of vegetables can be done this way, too, she adds – think peppers, aubergines …

Smokiness can, of course, also be achieved through actual smoking, and there are even a few ways that you can achieve that at home. “When you’re finishing things off in the oven, have a couple of smoking chips [hickory or apple wood, say] smouldering away in there at the same time,” Williams says. “It won’t be the same as when you’re cooking over fire, but the food will get a smoky hue.”

Alternatively, Stein says, get yourself a smoking gun: “It looks like a tiny creme brulee blowtorch with wood chips in it. You just put whatever you’re cooking underneath and smoke it.” For a “really lovely, charred flavour and colour”, though, Stein favours a Mapp gas blowtorch (“Mapp gas has no flavour”). Small, oily fish, such as mackerel, for example, can be cooked entirely with one, ready to be served with charred tomatoes – “do those in a griddle pan” – and a green salad with plenty of vinegar. Essentially, Stein adds, “the easiest tip for Justin is the griddle pan, but the top tip is the Mapp gas blowtorch – they’re lightning.”