Harriet Walker: Boy meets grill and trouble's on the way

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When King Francois I met Henry VIII on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, he did a sight more than just throwing a couple of bangers on the barbie. There were peppered swans, one imagines, and mythical creatures recreated from seven different types of meat. We Brits may have long since left any gastronomic pride on the doorstep of the kebab shop, but shouldn't someone have warned David Cameron that laying on a barbecue for President Obama was perhaps the most ridiculous bit of kitchen thinking since someone in the Seventies decided boiled eggs would look better dyed blue?

There are Men Who Can Barbecue and men who can't. Obama definitely can, and probably has the T-shirt to prove it. He can probably barbecue a live animal using only tongs and a handgun. Cameron, meanwhile, is the sort of Barbecuer who ends up next to what looks like a cherry tomato on a tripod under an umbrella in torrential rain for six hours. And then has to go inside and crisp it all up under the grill anyway.

The problems with a barbecue are manifold: the food doesn't actually taste any better; knowing when it's ready is about as easy as predicting the Rapture; it requires the patience of a stoic, and social interaction with the designated Barbecuer is like trying to make conversation with someone who has taken either a vow of silence, or a lot of Class A drugs.

And a barbecue, like Pancake Day, is the worst possible option for feeding people who are hungry. If they've come straight from a five-course banquet, you're fine, but if there's even the tiniest pocket of emptiness in those tums, you can guarantee complaints by three o'clock, and gales of tears by five. And all the while, the Barbecuer is frantically wafting smoke across the pretty chair arrangement you've set out on the scruffy bit of grass where the inflatable goalpost normally lives.

Every so often though – and it's as rare as an honest politician, this – you'll go to a barbecue, sit down on time and all eat together under the watchful and winning gaze of a Man Who Has Just Tamed A Barbecue. "Oh it's simple," he shrugs, pointing to something that looks like a dog's coffin on wheels. "I just ignite the gas, calibrate the braising shelf and away we go." That isn't a barbecue, my friend, that is an oven. And if it were located inside, you wouldn't go near it in a month of Sundays.

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