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Smoking is cool

Underneath the arches in south London, masters of smoke gathered with barbecue enthusiasts to share the live fire magic. RUPERT BATES joined them

 Rupert Bates   Winter 2021

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Put Peckham in a search engine and you discover that last year it was named one of the best places to live in London by The Sunday Times, while in 2019 Time Out labelled it the ‘11th coolest neighbourhood in the world’.

Peckham in south London is the sort of place probably happier been 11th than 1st as that approach is the height of cool, with a casual disregard for status or laurels. Del Boy and Rodney might beg to differ, but the Only Fools and Horses reference only dates me. At a conservative estimate, I was the 111th coolest person on the platform at Peckham Rye station on my way to London Barbecue School.

I love a railway arch. I am no trainspotter, but they are just the coolest – that word again – looking spaces. The walk from the station to the school and the Masterbuilt masterclass was a short one, if far from straightforward. Coffee shops (with beer), hairdressers, street art and tattoo parlours provided a snapshot of local life, vibe and trade before the merest hint of beef short ribs wafted in off the tracks.

Under the arches, beyond the gates mingled BBQ glitterati; names – and beards – I had only seen on social media or through a Zoom lens. There was chatter, there was laughter, there was smoke, there were knives and there was meat, lots of meat – in the raw, then into smokers and on to forks. If you wanted to pick a squad for an imaginary ‘Farm to Fork’ World Cup, the combined knowledge and talent on show would have been a good start.

London Barbecue School was founded by Alastair Instone. He has been teaching cookery since 2010 and exclusively barbecue since 2015 and has also worked as a chef in ski chalets, private homes and superyachts.

“My passion is slow-cooked barbecue using top-quality British ingredients,” says Instone. “London Barbecue School is all about cooking with fire, great ingredients, fun and effective tuition and delicious food – all over the finest charcoal.”

We were here to become ‘masters of smoke’ courtesy of Masterbuilt, learning about the best cuts of meat with a live butchery demonstration, followed by low and slow smoking, hot and fast searing, sausage making and knife skills, with Masterbuilt grills and smokers the workhorses.

First ‘on stage’ was Oliver Woolnough of Meat Matters and boy does meat matter to him, which is just one reason why his meat is coveted by so many.

Woolnough’s meat retail business, based in Carmarthenshire, is all about “provenance, integrity and obsession”. There is a relentless focus on credibility and transparency across pricing, hygiene, quality and provenance, giving customers better value with a consistent, superior product that has been “lovingly nurtured through every step of the process”.

Aled Williams showed his skills, using I.O.Shen knives in the live butchery class. Noble slabs of beef are on the block; their provenance explained, as well as talk of age, fat, colour, genetics and diet – Woolnough the Englishman in love with the green, green grass of Wales. There are some science lessons too, but above all a lesson in passion – a man with utter respect for beast.

Our next tutor was Lap-fai Lee, a veteran BBQ competitor with his Backyard Brummies team. His influences range from Texas to Thailand and some Texas style hot link sausages were on the menu – both pork and beef, with jalapenos and cheese, spiced with chilli and garlic, and we got a sausage-making lesson from start to grill. The results were insanely good and a reason to sign up to his Texas masterclass at the London Barbecue School.



Ben Forte, our Masterbuilt host for the day and a renowned BBQ chef, reverse-

seared steaks, checked on the short ribs and chatted techniques, tips and woods, before guiding us through the Masterbuilt range on display. 

“If you love barbecue, you know that charcoal is where it’s at for the best flavour and performance. Masterbuilt’s aim is to make charcoal barbecuing as simple as possible. Just like switching on a gas grill, you can fire up their range of grills and smokers by pressing a button. But, best of all, they deliver the unmistakeable smoky flavour that only comes from charcoal,” says Forte.

With American roots, Masterbuilt was born nearly 50 years ago when the McLemore family built a fish cooker in their backyard. Decades of innovation later, the brand specialises in manufacturing powerful charcoal grills and smokers that simplify outdoor cooking, amplify flavour and allow you to spend more time entertaining.

“So what’s the difference between a smoker and a grill? Set a grill to high and you can cook quickly at searing temperatures. Smokers come into their own at low temperatures, perfect for hanging fish, smoking brisket or even making jerky and biltong.”

Masterbuilt Gravity Series

Coming in three sizes, this is the ultimate all-rounder. You can smoke, grill, sear, bake, roast and much more in these BBQs.

A dial lets you adjust heat as you would on your oven in your house, with precision. Whack it up to full and it doesn’t take long to come up to searing temperature; just over 10 minutes and you’re away. At this point, you simply set the temperature on the digital control panel or your smart device and the digital fan maintains the desired cooking temperature.

What makes these grills unique is the Gravity Fed charcoal hopper. It holds up to eight hours of charcoal and it’s simply a case of letting gravity do all the work and constantly top up the fire. As the hoppers are external, you won’t lose smoke and temperature each time you open the lid.

The reversible smoke and sear cast-iron grates and its own patented fold-away warming and smoking racks add up to a total of 1050 square inches of cooking space – that’s about seven racks of baby back ribs!

With three sizes to choose from, there’s a Gravity Series grill for every garden or patio.

Masterbuilt 40-inch Digital Smoker

This smoker is the first of its kind, offering that genuine smoked charcoal flavour, but with fully digitised controls. It comes with built-in thermometers to read internal meat temperatures.

Once switched on, this smoker will truck on for hours. The charcoal tray holds 7kgs of briquette charcoal or 5.5kgs of lump charcoal for up to 13 hours.

The rack system and drip trays make it easy to use and to clean up afterwards.

It’s large enough to cook and smoke enough food for a party of a dozen or more. You could, for example, put a large turkey in the glass fronted oven to cook and gently smoke – and all at the touch of a button or with a quick glance at your smartphone.

Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker

As with the grills and charcoal smoker, this electric smoker, in three sizes, is a simple plug and play. Instead of charcoal, you can add wood chips to drive flavour and smoke deep into food, changing the flavour with the wood you select. Fruit wood like apple, cherry and peach produce relatively subtle smoke flavours. You can amp it up with hickory, oak or pecan.

With the growing trend in people creating their own outdoor kitchen spaces, the Masterbuilt range of products are the perfect way to get convenience and versatility nailed in one product.


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