Andy Annat - Harrogate’s king of the barbecue
PUBLISHED: 16:58 28 May 2014 | UPDATED: 10:16 15 August 2014
Annie Stirk celebrates National Barbecue Week with Crackerjack Barbecue’s Andy Annat whose sizzling skills have him hotfooting around the globe
It’s a truth universally acknowledged (at least among men) that manhood is measured not by your car but by the size of your barbecue. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise during National Barbecue Week (May 27th-June 2nd) that thousands of chaps will be dusting off their kettles, firepits, bowls, half-barrels and, if the good old British weather is up to its usual tricks, their industrial-sized umbrellas.
The UK is consistently Europe’s leading barbecue nation, hosting more than 120 million barbecues each year. But who can rightly claim to be Britain’s barbecue king? Step forward Yorkshireman Andy Annat and his 14ft long portable smoker, which can cater for up to 2,000 portions.
But it’s not just his smoker, or the six other barbecues he stores in his Harrogate garden, that makes the founder of catering company Crackerjack Barbecue the hottest name in hot-coal cooking. Over the last decade, he has built an enviable reputation on the barbecue competition circuit, winning some of the biggest awards in far-flung places like Canada, Dubai and Las Vegas, and he’s also taught everyone from England footballers to DJ Chris Evans the joys of grilling.
‘I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think how far barbecuing has taken me,’ says Andy. ‘This year I’ll have travelled to 33 countries – competing, teaching and talking about barbecuing.’
He began his sizzling career as a trainee butcher at Thomas Danby College, later becoming a meat inspector and a butchery teacher before opening his own butcher’s shop in Leeds more than 15 years ago.
The barbecue bug bit when he was asked to organise a hog roast. Since then, through Crackerjack, he’s organised barbecue cookery courses and corporate boot camps, set up pop-up restaurants, acted as a consultant for major supermarkets and has become the face of BPEX, which promotes and supports pork and pig farming in the UK.
Along the way, he’s picked up seven awards (five of them first place) at the prestigious Grillstock Festival in Manchester, cooked for the Queen’s 80th birthday at Balmoral, grilled Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver’s staff on the art of barbecuing, appeared on The One Show and cooked everywhere from a rooftop in India to a Dubai racetrack and a frozen lake between Russia and Estonia.
‘I’ve learned an enormous amount from travelling around the world,’ says Andy. ‘Each country has its own barbecue techniques, with different ways to cut meat and cook it.
‘When I travelled to Australia recently I thought I wouldn’t be able to teach them anything but because they cook on gas a lot over there, they were fascinated to learn more about cooking on charcoal.’
And while Andy would almost always choose charcoal over gas, he says it’s just one element of good barbecuing: ‘Ultimately, the gas or coals are just the heat source and it’s the wood chips, herbs, marinades and the skill of the chef that gives the real flavour.’
A decade ago, wood chips were something of anathema for barbecuing Brits, but today there are chips, chunks and pellets and a whole of host of flavours available from oak and pecan to mesquite and hickory.
‘The key is to not overpower your food,’ says Andy. ‘I like to use fruitwood like cherry or peach because it offers a more delicate flavour and colours the food too.’
So what does he think is the biggest mistake people make when they barbecue?
‘Cooking on fire,’ he says. ‘It’s the smoke you want, not the flames because fire will singe not flavour your food. A lot of people also keep the lid open when they barbecue but this lets all that lovely smoke out. After all, you wouldn’t keep the oven door open if you were cooking a chicken. Lock in the flavour with the lid – with the vents open – and let the smoke flow over the food.’
Andy’s barbecue techniques are similar to those of a Michelin chef, far removed from the barbecue’s humble origins 500 years ago when Columbus witnessed native tribes on the island of Hispaniola slow-cooking meat on outdoor fires over wooden platforms (the word barbecue comes from the colonial Spanish ‘barbacoa’).
The trend soon spread to the mainland and across the pork heartland of the American South, with Memphis Tennessee remaining the official home of barbecuing today. Many of the famous barbecue rubs and marinades originate from here, with locals fiercely defending their region’s cooking styles.
Though us Brits have been slower to embrace barbecuing (thanks in part to our temperamental weather), we’re now winning international barbecue competitions and enjoying garden grilling and all the gadgetry that goes with it.
‘The equipment you can buy for barbecuing nowadays is amazing,’ says Andy. ‘You can even get remote control meat probes so you can sit in your house and use you phone to check the temperature of your barbecue outside.”
And it’s not just the gadgetry that’s changed with the times; the ingredients have got wilder too.
‘I’ve barbecued bear in Estonia and alligator, springbok and moose,’ he says. ‘I can’t say the bear was great – a bit greasy – but we made some nice bear salami sausages out of it.’
After clinching second place in the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue competition with a Sunday roast of beef and giant Yorkshire puddings, Andy is dedicated to showing people that barbecuing is about more than just steaks.
‘You can do anything you put your mind to,’ he says. ‘But people are so afraid of experimenting or putting a decent piece of meat on there. Ultimately, the barbecue should just be seen as an extension of your oven.’
Andy’s enthusiasm for outdoor cooking is clearly contagious as his 10-year-old daughter, Millie, has inherited his flair for fiery food.
‘She comes on most of our barbecuing expeditions and has won many of her own barbecuing competitions,’ says Andy. ‘In fact, when she was eight-years-old she asked for a barbecue for her Christmas present and cooked up a whole beef fillet steak on Christmas Day.’
Now that really is a wood chip off the old block.