First pierce your card, then wait for the llamas to die down

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The Independent Culture
FINALLY IT'S the day of the eclipse today, and many of you have no doubt gathered in your gardens to stare up at the sky, only to find that there's thick cloud and nothing to see.

So what on earth are you going to do instead?

Well, why not have a barbecue right here and now?!

Yes, today's column is a Forget-The-Eclipse Special, entirely devoted to the dos and don'ts of having a barbecue!

Lunar occlusion? A load of baloney! Leave eclipses to the anoraks and let's get down to the nitty gritty of outdoor cookin'!

When making a barbecue, should I stare directly at it? Or is it safer to wear dark glasses?

You should never stare directly at a barbecue after you have lit it. If you do, you will become convinced that it has gone out, or hasn't even started properly, and then the temptation will overwhelm you to throw barbecue lighting fluid all over the barbecue.

The golden rule of barbecues is that if the flames are leaping merrily high in the air, it is nowhere near ready, but if it looks grey and miserable, as if it has gone out, it is ready for cooking on.

If I use a piece of cardboard with a pinhole in it, will it throw an image of the barbecue on to a sheet of white paper?

Yes. And lots of meat juice, soot and tabasco sauce as well.

Right. So what happens if you do throw barbecue lighting fluid over the barbecue?

All hell breaks loose. There is an almighty pyramid of fire. The meat burns to a cinder. Your apron is singed. A great fireball incinerates your garden and all the neighbouring gardens. The resultant upsurge of hot air creates a strange tornado effect which breaks the cloud cover above your head, thus enabling you to see the sun expectedly.

But the sun isn't there! It's covered by a strange black object! Suddenly you realise that your faulty barbecue technique has enabled you to see the eclipse after all!

Is there a word of truth in any of that?

No. Next question, please.

What kind of apron should a man wear to tend a barbecue?

An asbestos one, or anything fireproof. There is a common misconception that a man comes into his own at the barbecue, perhaps based on Australian images of the "barbie", with the rugged Australian male wearing his bloodstained apron and cooking huge lumps of beef over a raging fire.

If you want a piece of meat that is red inside and burnt on the outside, get a man to do it. If you want decent marinated meat and delicate tastes, get a woman. A man is good at setting fire to coal. Let a woman take over thereafter. That's the golden rule of barbecues.

But is a woman going to be any good at cooking on a fierce heat on glowing metal bars and wrestling with meat as it half-falls through into the fire below?

You shouldn't barbecue meat on the naked bars. You should cook it on roasting trays laid on the bars, and previously oiled to stop stuff sticking to them. That's the golden rule.

Is there a "River Cafe Book of Barbecue Cooking"?

Let us devoutly pray not.

In Australia, is a Barbie doll a little plastic man with a bloodstained apron, holding the charred remains of a chicken on a spit?


Where do we get the word "barbecue" from? Is it true that it's derived from a Wild West ranch called the Bar B Q?

Don't be silly. "Barbecue" comes from a Spanish word barbacoa, meaning a wooden frame on which meat is cooked.

But wouldn't the wooden frame burn as well, thus causing dangerous fires?

Yes. That is why so much of Spain today is arid and frazzled.

The last time I was in Spain I bought a bag of barbecue charcoal. The instructions, which were all in Spanish, said that you should not start cooking until the llamas had died down. But what on earth have llamas got to do with barbecue cooking?

A lot. The Spanish word llama may mean a bad-tempered South American beast of burden, but it is also the word for "flame".

Hold on! I think the clouds are beginning to part! Look - it's sunshine! I think we'll get to see the eclipse after all!

Suit yourself. You're on your own. Give me a good charred pork'n'herb sausage any day.