The solutions are: do not invite so many people (killjoy), do not bother with the barbecue at all (ditto) - or grill one or two larger pieces of boned meat (compact and easy to carve and serve).
That third solution is obviously the best, though you have to pick your cut well. Reproducing a Sunday roast over the embers is hardly worth it unless you have a clever rotisserie attachment, or wrap the joint in foil to protect it from burning during the hour or more it will take to cook.
What you need is a tender but substantial cut of meat, thin enough to cook in a reasonable amount of time. (Fish options can wait for another article.) The rarer you can cook the meat, the chunkier the piece can be.
Lamb and beef rate highly on this score; pork should always be cooked right through (but not overcooked, which makes it dry and stringy). So something like the sausage-shaped fillet or tenderloin is probably best.
My favourite cut is a butterflied leg of lamb; a boned joint, opened out flat. In theory, the shape is vaguely butterflyish, but vague is the key word. Racks of lamb, chined by the butcher for easy carving, are also good on the grill.
With beef, you have several options, all of them steak. A whole fillet may be the most glamorous, but big, thick slices - by thick, I mean some 3-4in (7.5- 10cm) - from other prime cuts will work nicely.
One of the most important things to remember is to get the meat out of the fridge a good half-hour before it goes on the barbecue. It should be given plenty of time for the chill to wear off: if you start with icy-hearted meat, you will end up with a perfectly cooked exterior and raw interior, or a perfectly cooked interior and burnt exterior.
When it comes to the cooking, I favour starting the meat over a fierce heat, turning it to brown the exterior fairly swiftly, then moving it to a slightly cooler patch of the barbecue (or raising the grill an inch or so) to finish it at a more leisurely pace.
Butterflied leg of lamb with mint and garlic
Though well-marinated lamb is succulent enough on its own, I usually serve it with a bowl of thick yoghurt mixed with crushed garlic, chopped mint and parsley, salt and pepper.
When you order the lamb, ask the butcher to butterfly it and trim off extraneous bits of fat and skin (some fat should remain on to keep the meat moist, and hold it together).
Ingredients: 1 butterflied leg of lamb
For the marinade: juice of 2 lemons
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/4 pint (150ml) olive oil
2 bay leaves, crumbled
3tbs chopped fresh mint
10 peppercorns, lightly crushed
Preparation: Mix the marinade ingredients. Pour one-third into a shallow dish or deep tray, just large enough to take the lamb laid out flat. Make a few deep slashes in the thickest part of the meat, then lay in the dish. Pour the remaining marinade over it.
Cover and leave in the fridge or a cool place for 8-48 hours (the longer the better), turning occasionally.
Bring back to room temperature before cooking. Drain the meat, reserving the marinade. Grill the lamb over a fierce heat, turning once, until browned. Raise the grill rack so that it is about 4-5in (10- 12.5 cm) away from the heat, and continue cooking for a further 12-19 minutes on each side. Baste the meat with the marinade every time you turn it.
Once done, lift on to a warm serving dish and let the meat rest for 10 minutes by the side of the barbecue before carving.
Barbecued fillet of beef with mustard butter
Expensive, but just what is called for on glamorous occasions. Fill gaps around the meat with vegetables: aubergine, courgettes and peppers, perhaps. If you start them off 5-10 minutes before the beef, you or a helper can peel and chop them as appropriate while the meat is finishing cooking.
Ingredients: 1 fillet of beef, weighing about 3-4lb (1.35-1.8 kilos)
4-5 cloves of garlic, cut into thin slivers
For the marinade: 3tbs sherry vinegar
1/4 pint (150ml) olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
2 sprigs of thyme, bruised
1 sprig of rosemary, bruised
1tbs coarsely crushed black pepper
For the butter:
6oz (170g) butter, softened
4tbs coarse-grained mustard
3tbs chopped parsley
Preparation: Ask the butcher to prepare and tie the fillet with string at regular intervals so that it keeps its shape. Make slits in the meat, and push in slivers of garlic. Settle the meat in a close-fitting, hole-free plastic bag.
Mix all the marinade ingredients, except salt, and pour over the meat. Knot the bag tightly, sit in a shallow dish (the bag is bound to leak slightly) and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours (preferably 24, or better still 48 hours), turning occasionally so all sides of the meat receive a good dunking.
To make the butter, mix all ingredients thoroughly. Pat into a neat roll on a sheet of silver foil. Wrap up and chill until needed.
Remove the meat from the fridge at least half an hour before serving. Drain, reserving the marinade. Barbecue the fillet over a high heat at first, turning to brown on all sides. Then move to a slightly cooler spot (or raise the grill rack), and cook for a further 18-25 minutes, basting frequently with the marinade and turning every 15 minutes or so. Season with salt and rest on a plate at the side of the barbecue for 10 minutes.
Carve the beef, and serve with a slice of mustard butter on each portion.
Jerked pork fillet
with fresh pineapple chutney
The key ingredients in Jamaican jerked pork, apart from the meat itself, are the allspice berries, toasted to bring out the aroma. The fresh pineapple chutney is not an authentic Jamaican accompaniment, but it adds an appropriate balancing note of sweetness.
Ingredients: 2 pork fillets, weighing about 1 1/2 lb (675g) in all
a little sunflower or vegetable oil
For the spice paste: 2 heaped tbs allspice berries
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
4 spring onions, chopped
1/2 Scotch Bonnet chilli or 1 red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf, chopped
1tbs dark rum
salt and pepper
For pineapple chutney: 1 ripe
pineapple, peeled, cored and finely diced
juice of 1 lime
1/2 in piece of ginger, grated
4 spring onions, sliced
1/2 Scotch Bonnet chilli or 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2tbs chopped coriander
salt and pepper
Preparation: To make the paste, dry-fry the allspice berries in a small heavy pan over a high heat until they give off a delicious scent. Grind or pound to a powder with the other dry spices. Either pound or process with the onions, chilli, bay leaf, rum, salt and pepper to make a paste. Rub this over the pork fillets and leave for an hour at room temperature (or longer in the fridge).
To make the chutney, just mix all the ingredients together, cover and leave for an hour before using. Adjust seasonings.
Brush the fillets with oil and place over a high heat until lightly browned, then move to a medium heat and continue grilling for 15-20 minutes until cooked through. Rest for 5 minutes on a plate beside the barbecue before slicing. Serve with the fresh pineapple chutney.