A barbecue doesn't have to be a feast of raw or burnt meat. Here, Britain's top chefs hand over their tips for thrills from the grill to Chloe Scott

For a more flavoursome meal, Robert Staegemann suggests a South African braai. "South Africa was on the trade route from India to Europe, so spicy foods are integral in our cuisine," he says. Staegemann, who works in Vivat Bacchus in London's Clerkenwell (its sister restaurant is in Johannesburg), highlights that although braai can translate as barbecue in English, its ingredients are rather more racy. For example, the boerewors, a piquant sausage, is a sensory rollercoaster on the palate.

"No braai is complete without it," says Staegemann passionately. "It is traditionally a blend of beef and hard pork fat with spices and we eat it with peri peri, garlic and parsley." Dried fruits are also used in braai recipes.

"Dried guava, apricots, prunes and pineapple are great. Fruit and meat eaten together, with some cold Cape white wine to wash it down, is perfection," he insists.

Staegemann is not the only one who bypasses the British badly cooked barbie. John Burton Race, chef of Michelin-star restaurant, The New Angel, in Dorset, prefers Sunday lunch on coals.

"The children love it," says Burton Race, who has six youngsters. "The barbecue should be as good as any other meal - there is no excuse," he explains. "If we go to a friend's house and the pork or chicken is raw inside, I won't eat it." Beef can be rare or medium rare. Freshly caught fish, such as scallops, can be roasted for two minutes with garlic butter and remain raw inside. However, pork and chicken must be cooked through. Another faux pas is cooking with gas, which, Burton Race says is, "no different to cooking inside as it doesn't add any flavour to the food."

For slow, tender cooking, the chef of Channel 4's French Leave, advises putting damp woodchips on the burning coals. "They make the food taste completely different." Wild cherry produces a light, sweet smoke for meat. Alder is suited to seafood, adding a medium, tart taste.

The barbecue has always been a simple meal, however. Originating in the Caribbean, its etymology is from the word "barbacoa", the wood frames used by Caribbean and Mexican tribes to grill. A more fanciful theory is that it was the name the Arawaks gave to the grill they cooked their enemies on, with French flesh having a more delicate, refined flavour than Spanish.

Today's offering is more considered. "You should be imaginative," instructs Burton Race. "For example, you can marinade duck breast in hazelnut oil and crushed juniper berries overnight and then grill it on the woodchips and serve with salad leaves and little sweet cherries. Or put your meat on a pastry tray and slap it on top of the barbecue. Put the lid down and let it cook slowly. The chippings will give it a lovely smoky flavour."

Foodies will also tell you to "respect your ingredients" . Sitting in the revered havene for carnivores, St John, in Clerkenwell, London, owner Fergus Henderson muses on meat. "Steer clear of the sinister spare ribs with the red sauce, which you can buy from supermarkets," he says, wincing. "Love your butcher."

Henderson heads to the Hebrides for holidays with his family and likes to cook on wood by the sea. "If in the wilds, a neat way of eating meat is rolling it in a little gem lettuce," he adds. His penchant for offal means he buys hearts and kidneys from the local Hebridean butcher and caramelises ox and lamb tongue. For a universal marinade, he suggests putting some garlic, olive oil, thyme, rosemary and lemon zest - "nothing too exotic" - on the meat. "You can add pepper and chilli if you're wanting more and some salt at the last minute," he continues. His eyes light up. "But in the Hebrides, the lamb is self-marinated because it lives in the salty wind and has eaten all the local herbs. The work is done for you. It's fantastic."

Concluding his tour of flamed festivities, Burton Race says, "The best tip is look on the jar's ingredients. If it takes a science degree to understand what is in it, don't eat it." Antibiotic bangers, burnt burgers and other barbecued enemies may soon be a thing of the past.