Barbecue expert shares secrets to barbecuing during the colder months

Alongside sheep and hobbits, the barbecue is another unique symbol of New Zealand's nationhood. During the summer months, a true-blue Kiwi can be found firing up the barbie, chucking on some snags and striding about in their stubbies and jandals while loudly complaining, "It's muggy, aye."

As a popular summer pastime on the Land of the Long White Cloud, the turn of the seasons often sees the Weber relegated to the doldrums of a damp deck corner as Kiwis turn their attention to more appropriate indoor appliances - but the encroaching cold doesn't mean it's time to turn off the coals just yet.

To keep the grilling going, Matt Melville - the founder of the family-run barbecue biz, Rum & Que - has served up his top tips to get the most out of your barbecue during the colder months. As New Zealand's current BBQ Competitive Circuit champion - and the only person to ever score a perfect 300 points - Melville is well-placed to share the tricks of the trade. 

Melville reckons the turn of the season is the perfect time to gather with friends and family in the backyard and discover the joys of good food and flavour. It's also an opportunity to experiment with seasonal produce and autumnal flavours and create new and exciting dishes, imbued with the barbecue's signature smoky essence. 

So fire up the coals and get cooking - here is Melville's advice to keeping the magic alive this autumn.

What are your tips and tricks to getting the most out of your BBQ - even as the weather starts to cool?

It's important to start planning ahead a little further. It's always useful to keep your BBQ in a covered area, but if this isn't an option, keep an eye on the weather and make the most of the sun when you can.

When you do fire up the grill, try and load up your BBQ or smoker instead of cooking one meal at a time. This way you'll get better bang for your buck when it comes to gas and wood - not to mention you'll have easy pre-prepared meals for the following week.

Vacuum sealing is a sure-fire way to ensure all cooked meats stay as fresh and moist as the moment they left the BBQ. I highly recommend this tool for anyone looking to preserve that BBQ flavour and take their grilling to the next level. After grilling, remove the meat from the heat just before it's done, bring it to room temperature, and vacuum-seal. When you're ready to serve, simply reheat the bag in simmering water and you'll find that gorgeous grilled flavour stays locked in the meat. 

Smoked meats like brisket, pork shoulder or lamb shanks also reheat beautifully in simmering water once vacuum-packed into portions. The added perk - there's almost no washing up!

What are some of your favourite ingredients to cook up on the barbie during autumn?

You can never go wrong with chicken - it's great all-year-round. Cooking whole chickens either rotisserie style or 'beer can style' on the barbie is a winner every time, and the leftovers can be utilised to make hearty soups or casseroles later in the week.

We also love using the dutch oven or enamelled crock pot on the BBQ to whip up a curry using beef cheek or lamb shanks. It always seems to go down a treat as the cooler weather sets in.

Stuffed potatoes are also a really easy way to enjoy any leftover meat. Simply wash whole potatoes and put them into the oven until soft. Cut the top off, scoop out the flesh and fill the potatoes with either a tomato or cream-based filling with anything from chicken, fish to any red meat. Finish them off in the BBQ for a smokey, crunchy end result.

The Rum & Que team.
The Rum & Que team. Photo credit: Supplied

Can you share any insider secrets to help our readers take their grilling skills to the next level? 

The importance of bringing meats like lamb and beef to room temperature before cooking is often overlooked. Not only does this help to keep the meat from tensing and becoming tough, it's also an ideal time to add any rubs or seasonings. 

High on my rotation for autumn is Rum & Que's Bull Dust Rub, which is an all-purpose savoury, warm, spice rub with garlic that pairs particularly well with red meat - perfect for a Sunday roast.

It's equally as important to rest the meat properly once it's cooked, but be careful not to overdo it. A light foil wrap will allow meat to rest but not continue to cook, leaving you with the perfect tender finish.

What tools and staple ingredients should every BBQ pro have in their arsenal?

Every BBQ pro should have an instant read thermometer or a wireless thermometer that pairs to a phone. This will let you keep an eye on internal temperatures while the lid is down.

A good range of rubs, seasonings and sauces is also important. We all love salt and pepper, but I love to use seasonings and sauces to help elevate any meal. My go-to would have to be our award-winning Meat Juice Pitmaster Sauce. This is one of the first sauces we ever bottled and it won gold at the Scovie Awards in the US in 2021, so it's fair to say it's close to my heart.

Sharp knives are also a must - not only for a high standard of food prep but for safety too. I also like to use wall-mounted knife magnets for storage - this saves the blades from being damaged and fingers from being cut when reaching into drawers.

A steak grilling on the barbie
There's no reason to put a stop to the sizzling just yet. Photo credit: Getty Images

Why should people not be so quick to cover up their barbie come autumn? What benefits can come with the new season?

From grilling to smoking, it's no secret that BBQ flavour is tough to beat, and I'm not just talking about barbecued meat. New seasons bring with them new, fresh and exciting seasonal ingredients, and now is the time to get creative.

Try using your BBQ like an oven to bake seasonal cakes and loaves, or take your quiches to the next level with a hint of smoke. The trick is to achieve this through indirect cooking, meaning the heat is not directly under the food. This is a fantastic way to use your BBQ. It allows the BBQ flavour to slowly work its way into the food, while gently cooking just about anything to perfection.

What are your top tips for hosting the best BBQ gathering at home?

Planning is key! Plan your meal as much as a week in advance. This will not only remove any last-minute pressure, but allow you plenty of time to keep your eyes peeled for great deals on meat and vegetables, or to track down any specialty seasonal ingredients.

In my books, the ultimate BBQ always starts with finger food. Try passing around some sharing plates with flame-grilled crispy chicken wings, pork belly burnt ends or jalapeno poppers. Not only will this keep your guests happy, it will also set the scene for a relaxed gathering.

It's also important to work to everyone's dietary requirements. With an increasing number of vegan-friendly BBQ ingredients available these days, you will be sure to find something for everyone.