The Alpha BBQ Celebration Party

Monday, October 21, 2013

It was a unique experience to serve BBQ food for a group of almost 200 diners at a recent Alpha Celebration Party.

We planned for 3 meat items: Beef, chicken and prawns. For the sides, we served mixed green salad, sweet corn, roasted potatoes and butter rice. Here are some notes that can guide future parties.

Barbecuing for a large party has its advantages:
  • You will have more avenues to cook the food   
  • You can serve the food hot or warm
  • There is always a special atmosphere with BBQ: the smoke, sights and smell whet your appetites and creates a unique party atmosphere.   
  • You can involve more "cooks" - after all, it does not need great culinary skills to grill meats.
But first, a word on BBQ-cooking. If you are using coals (unlike gas pits), you should be cooking using radiation heat. The direct and indirect heat from the glowing coals should combine to create "heat spots" to cook and impart the smoky aroma. For this to happen, you need a pit that is deep enough to allow for reflected heat from the sides to converge on the food. You need to prepare the coals for at least one hour in advance as you want the coals to be glowing - not burning - when the meat hits the grill. This also explains why professional BBQ pits are round at the bottom and with an added round cover, the heat is properly reflected. This depth also helps to keep the ash from sticking to your food and minimise direct flame-licking of your meats, which creates an unpleasant greasy and burnt feel to your meats. If you give me a large shallow pit and a smaller but deeper pit, I will choose the latter as it will cook more efficiently and cleanly.

This pit is great for slow grilling - spread out and lower the levels of the coals after they are glowing and ready for cooking
That said, we did not have many options on that night and the large pit was shallow. But there was a long satay pit (see photo below) which was perfect for grilling and in future, we should use more of that.

This is how the short-rib beef looks like after 36-hour Sous Vide
Short-rib beef - After grilling
Boneless Short Rib Beef
It make sense to use this cut, and using grass-fed Angus from New Zealand priced at $30 per kilo, I found it to be great value for the amazing eating experience after it is Sous Vide at 55C for 36 hours and 2 minutes on the grill. Estimate for about 100 gm per pax. By having it SV-cooked beforehand, it means it will be served fast off the grill. The slow and low SV cooking produces an amazing beef when you use a tough cut (i.e. Short rib, brisket, rump). I have detailed post here about this. It is "poor man's wahyu", if you like, and I am always thrilled by diners' reaction as they think they are eating very expensive beef. Treat it like good wahyu beef - it is already very flavorful, and salt and pepper is all you need, and at most, some light sauces. The charcoal -grilling imparts a smokiness and you end up with a very good "melt in your mouth" BBQ beef.    

This pit wasn't an ideal one as it was too shallow and we had difficulty controlling the fire. 
We had this ordered in. I prefer to use normal broilers as the thigh and wings are more tender (compared to "Kampung" or bare-necked chicken) but you need to flavour it. Like the beef, you need to prep beforehand by using these steps: brining cum cooking, marinating and then grilling. Brining in salt water flavors the meat and helps it to be juicier. Using the Sous Vide method, I pre-cook the meat at 68C for about 2 hours in a salt and lemon solution. The solution should taste like seawater but if you want to be exact, check up some sites online. As I am not brining the chicken whole but in cut pieces, I use my own estimate of brining and cooking time. The meat will be almost cooked but will still need to be finished on the grill. After SV-cooking and brining, remove the chicken from the liquid. From here you marinate it in the direction you want - Thai, Malay, Chinese...whatever. We went the Thai direction: blended lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, white peppercorn and some fish sauce. Some of these sauces will stick to the chicken as you grill them. When grilling, be patient and avoid direct flaming. About 4-5 minutes on each side will be sufficient, depending on the size of your pieces.

Skewered Prawns
We used medium-size prawns as they are cheaper and fits a satay skewer nicely. These cook fast on the grill. We marinated it with some garlic and soy sauce. Remember to soak the sticks in water beforehand. Actually if you control the heat of your grill well, i.e. no leaping flames, the sticks should be fine. If you can, butterfly the prawns beforehand to make for easier eating. Actually, there is a lot of flavour in the heads and shells but not everyone is accustomed to crunching prawns. But I love it and it is great hot off the grill. (See the lead photo)

Mixed Green Salads
Using our regular supplier, very fresh and triple-washed greens were delivered to us. Just fridge them and dress them just before you serve. As for the vinaigrette, we used orange and lime concentrate (Sunquick), adding some olive oil, salt and pepper. It turned out refreshing and superb. If you can lay your hands on some fresh mixed greens, this dish is a no-brainer and compliments the grilled meats very well.

Steamed Corn
We were fussy and preferred to use either Cameron Highland yellow-white or Australian white ones. If you can get them at near wholesale price, it should be the kind of corn you want to feed working adult guests with. (Hey, you are not doing a low budget BBQ like you used to as a scout or youth!) Cut the corn into four pieces for easier eating. Steam for 8 minutes and then coat it with some butter, salt and zested lime skin.

Roasted Bastagi Potatoes
We used the small Indonesian Bastagi yellow potatoes. Steamed for 10 minutes and them roast it in the oven for another 10 minutes. Served it warm or hot. Coat with some butter, salt & pepper. Throw some thyme in.

Butter Rice
This is always a great carbo option for meals like this. Add some butter, herbs (rosemary or thyme) and generous salt into the heated rice cooker. Let the butter melt and be infused by the herb flavours. Then add the rice and stir to coat the grains evenly. Add water (1:1 ratio). Remember to fluff up the rice after the cooking phase as the distribution of heat for a large pot is uneven. To estimate: 5 kilos of rice will feed about 80 pax. Add 125 gm of butter, 2 tablespoons of salt and 3-4 stalks of herbs. Adding garlic is another option but I often avoid that for butter rice as it makes it taste too much like our local chicken rice. If you need to, just use a small portion as garlic can overpower the other herby and butter flavours.

I think many of the diners were "wowed" by the food that evening and they appreciated the love and attention given to the meal.

There you go. Plan it well and it is not difficult to cook up a memorable BBQ party.

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  1. Hey The Foodie Cannon,

    Always been a great fan of your blog because it's just so informative especially the sous vide cooking tips!
    Just wana check, where do you get your short ribs from and do you have to buy in bulk?

    At $30/kilo, it's a steal! (i've tried alot of places like mmmh fresh, hubers, foodie market but they are either too pricey or sells them sliced already)

    Your short ribs here look nice and thick for sous-vide and very well marbled!


  2. I get mine from Ghim Moh wet market. Mmmfresh has some good cuts too.

  3. hi,
    just wanted to know if you shelled the prawns or did you leave them on? also any marinade for them? i understand that seafood cannot be marinated for too long else the meat texture will usualy compromise. please let me know.


  4. As the prawns were about medium siz,e not large, I did not butterfly (slit) the shell. Garlic and salt is fine, for about an hour. If using ginger (acid), don't marinade for too long

  5. Hi,

    Came across your blog as I am currently looking for a large venue to host a BBQ party.
    May I know where was your event held?