How to run a successful barbecue

Experienced PTA grill-master David Short tells Daniel Etherington how to run a successful school fair barbecue

Do you need any qualifications to run a barbecue?

I don’t have any formal qualifications, but I worked in kitchens and at events as a student, so I know my way round the catering landscape. I love a barbecue and, like all PTA- and school-related activities, if you show enthusiasm, you’re soon on the team.

What kind of barbecue do you use?

At the moment, we use a barbecue that someone donated, and the team supplement it with their own equipment. One year we were lucky and borrowed an industrial-sized gas barbecue, which was ideal.

What other equipment is useful?

When we used charcoal as the main fuel, we found that a chimney starter was an essential piece of kit for getting the coals hot more quickly. We also use a heat-resistant mat to avoid scorching the school field! I would recommend keeping a supply of tea towels, catering roll, tongs, knives, anti-bacterial spray and wipes, chopping boards and aprons on hand. If you have a school kitchen and an obliging cook, ask if you can borrow some big serving trays. Just remember to wash them thoroughly afterwards.

How do you get organised?

We use a combination of WhatsApp and the task-management tool Trello. The main board on Trello is broken down into sub-sections, such as inventory, pricing and set-up. Within each category, there’s a checklist detailing everything needed for that job. A previous (very organised) parent set it up and we are forever indebted. We also have meetings in the pub.

How many volunteers help run the barbecue?

We typically have a team of four people, two cooking and two serving. We find that self-service works well for condiments, pickles and salads. Don’t underestimate the amount of preparation needed: pre-chop and pre-cook anything you can. If your event opens around lunchtime, get the barbecue hot and start cooking before it begins, to avoid long lines and unnecessary stress.

What’s the best way to source barbecue food?

We shop at a cash and carry, but it’s worth researching supermarket prices first as they can be cheaper. It’s also a good idea to ask local businesses for donations. Consider the quality of the food you’re serving, too.

What rules do you need to follow?

You don’t need a food hygiene certificate for charity events, but it’s good to be aware of best practices. We also include lists of all ingredients so people can check for allergens. This isn’t a legal requirement – only registered food businesses need to abide by Natasha’s Law – but it’s good sense.

What advice would you give PTAs looking to run a barbecue?

Build a friendly relationship with your school kitchen supervisor, who can help with fridge and freezer space and equipment. Keep your menu simple, have plenty of tea towels on hand and be sure to position the barbecue near the bar!

David Short is a PTA volunteer at the Friends of Southover, Lewes, East Sussex (310 children)


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