MIDWAY: Kitchen’s best

I’m not sure what possesses me — I’m an optimist, I suppose. Perhaps I’m seduced by the soft-focus garden shenanigans of celebrity chefs. Perhaps I feel it might be “fun”. Whatever the reason, each year, on a pleasantly sunny Sunday, I “do a barbecue”. And each year, as I crouch like a Neanderthal over the grill, weeping in frustration at the pointlessness of my predicament, I wonder again why I bother.

Perhaps it’s a guy thing. People often suppose that cooking meat over a fire has some deep elemental significance to men. It’s a nice thought — I’m all for a bit of “Iron John” and getting back to basics — but as I gaze out over the neighbours’ gardens, watching frowning salary-men in three-quarter length trousers fumbling impotently with charcoal and lighters, it just doesn’t ring true.

It can’t be the food that appeals. Let’s face it, barbecued food tastes rubbish. Charcoal is wood so thoroughly carbonised that none of its original aroma or character can have possibly survived. It burns hot and clean, but is a right pain to get going which explains why, if barbecued food can be said to have a flavour, it will be of carbon and whatever accelerant was used to start the pyre. Those who are understandably put off by the taste of paraffin resort to huge gas-fired appliances, which somehow defeats any remaining point. If open-air cooking is so important, you have to ask why they don’t just get a longer hose and drag the cooker out on to the patio.

Perhaps because the cooking process is so uncontrollably cataclysmic, even good cooks seem to barbecue only the lowest grade ingredients — drumsticks from mutant chickens that grow them six at a time and shed them monthly, mechanically recovered slurry patties, and last but not least, the sausages.

Perhaps it is the importance of the social ritual that keeps us barbecuing. I’m all for events that bring families and friends together for shared meals, although I can’t think of any civilised culture where a public performance of making dreadful food taste worse would be regarded as hospitable.

So have your friends round. Eat in the garden, but remember that there is nothing you can barbecue that wouldn’t taste infinitely better from the kitchen.