Shopping: Forget Ken - real men love barbies

It's time to stick a few beers in the fridge and get the firelighters out; but have you got the right barbecue? By Shaun Phillips
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The Independent Culture
Peculiar as it seems, for a brief period in the Eighties Paul Crocodile Dundee Hogan was the epitome of masculinity. He could floor an assailant with a tinnie at 100 paces, wrestle 'gators, gut hoods with his hunting knife and thaw ice maidens with his blunt, T-bone-steak sense of humour.

Of course, he was also a dab hand at cooking over a naked flame and, in a long-forgotten television ad in which he waxed primitive about the splendours of Down Under, he summed up the enduring appeal of the barbecue. Standing over a flaming gridiron of sizzling tiger prawns, with a beer and a bevy of women, he appealed to a man's heart through his stomach, his inherent laziness and his obsession with sex, with a wink and a killer one-liner: "I'll put another shrimp on the barbie for ya."

This is the myth of the barbecue: man preening himself over a hot fire while demonstrating his culinary skill with the most elemental of ingredients - red heat and raw meat. The reality, though, covered by mouldy binliners, lurks in back gardens across Britain, rusty, filthy and impossible to kick-start, even with half a bottle of paraffin and a complete box of firelighters. Bryan Ferry once crooned that in every home there was heartache. He should have pointed out that he was singing about all those forlorn, abandoned barbecues.

If, as is entirely likely, you have started thinking about risking tetanus by taking your scarily jagged dead barbie to the place where all go to die (the local dump), then what follow are some replacements that you may care to consider. Please note: no gas-fuelled barbies are included, since a mobile kitchen entirely defeats the object of this primitive art.

THE MONSTER

Name: The Beehive Oven

Price: pounds 365

Stockists: 01491 825 249

Description: To the academics, this edifice resembles one of Cromwell's Roundheads. To the more secular-minded it is a gigantic clay tit. It's not even a real barbecue in the strictest sense, but a huge clay oven. This 20-stone Queenie is so heavy that wherever you lay its wooden plinth will be its home. For ever. Once in operation, the Beehive's double walls take an age to heat up (about 45 minutes) but offer a controlled, versatile cooking environment for baking just about everything, from standard barbie fare to fresh pizzas and the Sunday roast. And because it's a wood-burner, it gives you a real excuse to take an axe and do some serious chopping. While it takes practice to master the nuances of temperature control, the cooking technique couldn't be simpler. Just sweep aside the embers, put in your dish and batten down the hatch. The big drag is frost damage - although the oven's porous surface is treated with water repellent it is still susceptible to cracking and must be protected in the winter months.

Style: HHH

Suitable for: Firestarters with strong backs.

Anything else worth recommending? Buying a bigger garden - this will dwarf your gazebo.

TANDOORI NIGHTS

Name: The Nipoori

Combination Cooker

Price: pounds 150

Stockists: 01733 777 333

Description: Without its oven-hood, it's a pretty nondescript metal-drum charcoal barbecue. With it, the Nipoori resembles an unexploded Second World War bomb. It's in this combination that the Nipoori is in its element, cooking food at high speed and imparting wonderful flavour (fish is cooked beautifully in minutes). Its shape was designed to specialise in Indian cooking and given that half of Britain's takeaways use illegal quantities of food colouring in their tandoori, this makes for a healthy home-cooking option. The two most difficult aspects to come to terms with are: 1) heat - although the Nipoori reaches 350C at speed, it also consumes its fuel rapidly and requires refuelling after 45 minutes; and 2) seeing what's going on - it's impossible when you look down into the hood to see whether the food is cooked or, if you have neglected to stick a shallot on the end of your skewer, it has dropped into the embers).

Style: HHH

Suitable for: People who want good barbie fodder in fast-food time.

Anything else worth recommending? Well, if you prefer a balti to a tandoori, then the metal-plated, ceramic-cored Balticue (pounds 52, 0171-727 4594) is perfect for wok work. However, because of its baby size, don't expect it to feed more than a couple of people.

FIELD OF DREAMS

Name: Muji Field Cooker

Price: pounds 95

Stockists: 0171-323 2208

Description: Small and perfectly formed, as you'd expect, this lightweight, stainless bucket contains everything you need for cooking in the field. With the bucket snapped in place on top of the charcoal burner, it can be used for steaming fish; swap it around and you have a grill, or a hob for the collapsible frying pan. The container itself can be used for a contained camp fire. The only irritating thing about it is the incomprehensible Japanese instructions - make sure you have a trial run before trying to feed the 5,000.

Style: HHH

Suitable for: Snappy campers and people with backyards the size of a matchbox.

Anything else worth recommending?

Disposable BBQ (pounds 3.99, Homebase), a standard throwaway box barbie. Environmentally suspect perhaps, but it is light and portable and the no-fuss factor makes it perfect for the location barbie.

SUMMER IN SIAM

Name: Burmese Barbecue

Price: pounds 94 (plus pounds 36 for the stand)

Stockists: Now available from Judy Green's Garden Centre, 0171- 727 4594

Description: When not in use, this ceramic pot could pass as a decorative plant pot, particularly if you don't choose the optional, back-saving wrought-iron tripod in which it can be housed. With its lid off, it operates as a conventional barbecue, but you can also use it as a roasting-oven by placing items inside it on top of removable ceramic stands and fixing the oven lid on top of it.

Style: HHHH

Suitable for: Wallpaper* subscribers.

Anything else worth recommending? If you prefer European rustic charm to Asian, then opt for Ravena's Cast Iron Barrel Grill (pounds 27.99, Homebase) - the sort of barbie you see old fishermen blackening their sardines on in the Algarve. The shiny screws spoil the effect somewhat, but at least they'll weather with age.

And if you're thinking of dropping by, just let me know: "I'll put another Budvar in the fridge for ya."

The writer is deputy editor of `ZM Magazine'

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