We all seek validation in our work; and as the presenter of BBC Breakfast and a regular on our sporting screens covering Olympic Games and football World Cups, millions of people can judge him regularly. But arguably Dan Walker’s greatest plaudit landed in his car while picking up his children.
The Zoom signal was poor as our chat took in Walker’s South Yorkshire home, the school run, and his garden – with plenty of BBQ kit, of course.
So I chose my moment to try and expose Walker, for all his barbecue Instagram
posts, as a charlatan of the grill, a delusional dad who really hasn’t progressed beyond burnt sausages.
“Is your father a good BBQ cook?” I asked his three kids, Susanna, Jessica and Joe, leaving Walker no time to coach/bribe them.
“He’s great,” they chirped in unison.
“Wow, did you hear that?” shouted Walker. Sorry Dan, I didn’t, the signal went again.
Walker certainly doesn’t profess to be a pit master, but he qualifies as a super-enthusiast – actually make that, by his own admission, geek.
“I am slightly obsessed and want to try everything. I love the taste and atmosphere of eating outdoors – both primal and social. I don’t know why, but food always tastes better outside.”
His Sheffield garden is rapidly evolving into a shrine to BBQ. For Kamado Joe read Kamado Dan. He loves his red Kamado Joe – and probably talks to it – and also has the Kamado Space island to house the grill and all the tools and accessories he needs to feed his addiction and soon to be joined by a Traeger grill and Tepro pizza oven.
“I have lost count of the number of lockdown nights when I’ve been outside cooking pizza for the kids. Big coat and hat, freezing cold, but absolutely in my element.
“Making pizzas together as a family is part of our weekend ritual – the dough, the toppings – the kids love getting involved.”
There is much more than pizzas, with Walker laying the table outside for veritable feasts of ribs, burgers, sausages and kebabs.
“I do spend far too much time down the YouTube rabbit hole, looking at techniques and recipes, the latest rubs from the experts, the tips and the dos and don’ts, but, above all, the communication of enjoyment.”
He remembers picking up a tip from an American pit master he was interviewing about putting a mix of apple and orange juice into a spray bottle to pimp up your sausages and burgers on the grill. “I’ve done it ever since.”
Walker says barbecue has evolved so much in this country. “I now feel I am letting my guests down if it is just the cliched burgers and sausages. There needs to be pork ribs, kebabs and smoked meats. I love the BBQ culture as much as the cooking.”
He is slowly building “a fire-based kingdom” in the garden. “I am a long way short of pit master. I’d describe myself as an enthusiastic amateur with a huge appetite for learning.”
The ‘geekery’ appeals too. “I am already a golf geek and like to lay out my clubs, make sure my shoes are clean, the tees are in the right pocket.
“I am careful how I clean the barbecue in a way I certainly am not when doing normal washing up. I like to keep the drawers in the unit tidy, make sure the utensils are hanging up. I appreciate I am starting to sound sad, but I love the minutiae and the accessories. Give me thermometers, rotisseries, pizza stones – the lot.”
Another attraction for Walker is the melting pot of barbecue cultures around the world and the infinite variety of food and recipes to cook over fire.
“I’ve been very privileged in my work to have travelled a lot and wherever I go I am drawn to barbecues and street food.”
Covering both the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympics saw him fall in love with Brazilian live fire food, returning to the same restaurants, while five weeks journeying across South Africa during the 2010 World Cup was a tournament as much about great braai as great football.
“In South Africa I never had a bad piece of meat. I am always asking questions of the chefs: How’s that cooked? What’s that rub? How do you make that sauce?”
His children love cookery shows and a family favourite is Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network, while he also enjoyed the recent Tom Kerridge Barbecue series.
Forever learning and questioning, Walker has a particular ambition. “When I got my Kamado Joe I said to my wife Sarah that I need to build up to a 17-hour brisket – then I might get my first pit master star!”
The death of an old barbecue even prompted a period of mourning in the Walker household. “That was a dark day as we had to cancel our BBQ plans.”
While now living in Sheffield, Walker was born and bred in Crawley, Sussex, and used to follow Crawley Town (now in League Two) every week and he competes on the list of most famous people from Crawley with the likes of comedian Romesh Ranganathan, Robert Smith of The Cure, and England football manager Gareth Southgate. Walker is looking forward to this summer’s Euros, although unsure as to his television itinerary given likely travel restrictions.
For his last barbecue on earth, he’d have to try that 17-hour brisket, but would also throw in some Wagyu burgers. There are shouts from the back of the car as the children add spicy sausages, sticky chicken wings and a tomahawk steak to the menu.
Walker would surely do something with eggs too, as president of Egg Club. By all accounts, if they gave out Michelin stars just for poached eggs, he’d have a boxful.
“I love eggs in any form. I posted a picture of a poached egg online – shallow water, roll in shell, no vinegar, no whirlpool, I told you I was a geek – and people started sending me pictures of their eggs.
I started critiquing them and Egg Club was born. It is very difficult to get into. I think we’re up to 19 members.”
We were talking just after the first episode of the latest series of Line of Duty – a favourite of Walker’s, although I complain about the quality of the DIR (Digital Interview Recorder).
“You’re not OCG are you?” says Walker.
“I love a cop drama and have interviewed the cast of Line of Duty over the years. They are all great.”
Walker’s latest book is called Remarkable People – Extraordinary stories of everyday lives. He has certainly met some remarkable people during his broadcasting career, although this is the man who stopped Pele from signing his gym bag in Brazil. It’s a long story best told by watching the relevant episode of Would I Lie to You? Spoiler alert: he really did stop the football legend from signing.
I interrupt Walker talking to his barbecues to ask what’s on the weekend menu? “I’ve got a massive rack of ribs, so I will do those.” And, with that, the signal goes, although I suspect he just wanted to get back to chatting to his Kamados.
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