For those with a penchant for do-it-yourself, building a barbecue should be a simple task. And as well as providing the focus for summer eating, a well-built barbecue can become an attractive feature of a patio area.
If you want to build one, plan carefully. You need to think about where in your garden to place it in order to limit the problem of smoke swamping your or the neighbours' homes. Jeff Howell, the Independent on Sunday's DIY expert, advises that anyone interested should first test a location with a disposable or cheap mini-barbecue to check where the smoke goes, before building the real thing.
If smoke does prove a problem, first try siting the barbecue further away from the house. If this doesn't work, you could adopt the Australian custom of building a chimney on top of your barbecue. You can then hang fish or meats, such as ham, in the chimney to smoke them, rather than using it just for conventional cooking.
If you are reluctant to build your own chimney, ready-made ones are available although there is only a small market for them in this country. Pip Smitham, who runs The Barbecue Shop, in Cobham, Surrey, stocks some for ready-made barbecues, but these could be adapted to a DIY one.
If you are building a barbecue, it will require at least two levels: one, midway up, for the heat source, and the top level to hold a grill, on which the food can cook. Alternatively you can build it taller and have three levels, with one shelf used as a storage space for food or plates and dishes. A basic barbecue should cost no more than pounds 100 to build, pounds 200 or so if you hire a builder to do the work for you.
Although many of us think of charcoal when we think of barbecues, experts are keen to promote the virtues of gas. Food cooks quicker, and gas offers more control and less smoke - the acrid smoke you can get from a barbecue comes from burning fat, although good quality charcoal should not be a problem in this respect. Gas barbecues use a layer of ceramic briquettes below the grill to catch and absorb fat as it drips off the food. The gas flames then burn off the fat, creating the smoke that flavours your food. In charcoal barbecues, the fat drips onto the fire itself, to create the smoke.
Gas can also be safer as it should reduce the chance of flare up - when dripping fat collects in one spot before bursting into flames, rather like a chip pan.
If you are making your own barbecue, the grill from an old caravan cooker would make a suitable burner, or you can use a camping set. If you use gas, ideally your barbecue should have at least two burners, so make sure it is wide enough to accommodate them both.
Pip Smitham has two burners on his barbecue but likes to cook using just one. He heats up one grill pan and its contents, transfers it to the other burner, puts a top on it, and leaves it to stand without a flame. The food cooks slowly, as well as smokes, he says. Use the first burner for food which needs to be cooked quickly or at a higher temperature.
While the DIY version allows few variations, the range and variety of styles available in ready-made barbecues is staggering.
From a disposable barbecue at your local corner shop, to a deluxe gas- fired top-of-the-range model, barbecues can cost anything from a few pounds, to pounds 1,200 or more. If you just want to try out a barbecue, to get the hang of it and see if you'll get bored after the first go, a Hibachi, a cheap Chinese model, could be ideal, with what experts disparagingly call a thin tin. Made of a thin steel plate, the manufacturers advise you that the pan will have burnt through within a year, but at under pounds 10 that doesn't really matter. They are available from garden centres and DIY stores around the country.
More expensive barbecues come with a five-year guarantee. A charcoal barbecue with a solid cast-iron grill should last a lifetime.
While traditionalists may still lament the arrival of gas, it seems to be a trend which has caught on. About 1.5 million gas barbecues have been sold in this country. And you can use wood chips or herbs such as rosemary with a gas cooker, to create a more rustic flavour.
For cooking larger items, such as whole chickens or a joint of meat, you should consider a model with a rotisserie. Battery-driven rotisseries start at about pounds 25 and can hold up to 120lb of food.