Demo chef and course instructor at Riverside Barbecue School in Hertford and official Traeger Grills Ambassador
How and when did you learn to cook?
It’s been a long journey of trial and error. Russell, the founder of Riverside whom we sadly lost to cancer in 2019, was extremely generous in allowing me to play with the grills and I basically practised until I was good at it.
Do you create your own recipes at Riverside Barbecue School?
Absolutely. Everything is devised and tested by me or the other chef, Andrew Dickens. The courses are technique-driven, with recipes to reinforce what we’re trying to teach. There’s a real mix of meat, fish and vegetables which surprises people who think barbecues are only for searing burgers and sausages. Once people have learnt a few techniques and realise how versatile their barbecue is, there’s no stopping them.
Are barbecues just for summer?
No! I encourage people to use them at every opportunity. It’s actually lovely being wrapped up and stood next to a warm barbecue, especially when it has snowed. It does help if you can cover your grill in case of rain, but a cheap gazebo will suffice.
Is it mostly men who attend your courses?
Yes, but we have seen a steady increase in women attending. There is a perception that barbecuing is the preserve of men; we do all we can to ensure that we’re promoting inclusivity rather than perpetuating outdated stereotypes.
Tell us your best cooking tip.
Making the effort to prepare ahead of time can make a huge difference. Salting meat the day before will help season it throughout. Leaving meat uncovered in the fridge overnight will allow it to lose a bit of moisture so the flavour will be intensified and it will brown more readily.
Describe your food style.
It’s rustic and unfussy with big, well-balanced flavours. I love cuisines from all corners of the world and draw inspiration from those I’ve visited and ones I’d like to visit. That said, I’m ultimately invested in championing the extraordinary produce we have in this country and celebrating our rich culinary heritage.
What is your favourite autumn dish?
Oh, it’s impossible to pick just one. At the beginning of the season, it’s nice to cling on to the lingering summeriness so something from a hotter climate like satay chicken with a zingy peanut, lime and coriander dipping sauce would hit the spot. At the end of autumn, beautiful root veg comes into season and my recipe for a Scotch broth pearl barley ‘risotto’ makes use of this, as well as neck of old-season lamb, hogget or even mutton if you can get it.
What are your favourite foodie places in the county?
By far the best restaurant is Alex Parker at The Rose & Crown in Essendon. That’s the kind of food for which it’s worth travelling any distance. French & Day Delicatessen in Ware is an incredible place to shop for ingredients, and they also sell wine by the glass, draught beer and small plates of cured meat and cheese. I’ve spent a lot of money in there as it’s walking distance from my house! Some other hot spots are Cawsburger in Hitchin (best burger I’ve ever had), The Fox & Hounds in Hunsdon (superb game dishes) and Casa Lua in Ware (great tapas).
What do you like to do when you’re not cooking or eating?
I write and perform music under my pseudonym ‘Baron Goodlove’ along with my band ‘Baron Goodlove & The Dreadful Noise’. I also love being outdoors and am getting more into hiking with the dog. The next thing to tackle is some wild camping, hopefully with a bit of fire cooking.
Joe’s Hasselback Butternut Squash
There is a proliferation of excellent meaty recipes in the barbecue world and plenty of inspiration for incredible vegetable side dishes, but you seldom come across a vegetarian dish that holds its own as a main event. Not only does this hasselback butternut squash put a smile on the face of the meat-dodgers, but I have also seen even the most fervent carnivores tuck in for seconds. The preparation is a bit fiddly, but the results are well worth it. This recipe is very autumnal with brighter flavours built on top of it – perfect for the warmer days we occasionally get in September and October.
- Barbecue (I used a Traeger Ironwood 650)
- Large foil tray
- Sharp knife
- Aluminium foil
- Two chopping boards of equal thickness (wooden spoons or chopsticks will also work)
- Basting/pastry brush
- One whole butternut squash
- 50g butter
- Glug extra virgin olive oil
- Runny honey
- 40g chopped walnuts
- Large handful chopped parsley
- 150g good quality feta cheese (crumbled)
- Preheat the barbecue to about 180°c with an area of indirect heat. On a charcoal barbecue, this means not directly above lit coal, so bank your fuel to one side. On a gas barbecue, this means not directly above a lit gas burner, so have some burners switched off. The cooking area on the Traeger I used is completely indirect.
- Peel the butternut squash, leaving the ends intact. Cut in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds and any stringy bits in the cavity.
- Place half the squash face-down on the counter with the two boards, spoons or chopsticks either side. Using a sharp knife, slice every 2-5mm being careful not to cut all the way through – the board, spoons or chopsticks should prevent this. Repeat with the other half of the squash.
- Place the halves face-down in a foil roasting tray and rub with olive oil, before seasoning generously with good quality sea salt. Wrap the tray in foil and place on the barbecue where it is not over direct heat. Cook the squash for about 35 minutes, or until it is soft and cooked through.
- Increase the heat to 250°c. This could mean adding more lit charcoal, increasing the heat with the gas burners or turning your Traeger up using the control panel. Discard the foil covering and add the butter to the foil tray. Squeeze a generous pouring of honey over the squash, brushing to ensure full coverage.
- Place the tray back on the barbecue and allow the squash to cook in the butter and honey mixture for another 10 minutes before basting again using the liquid in the bottom of the foil tray. You can achieve a bit of colour on the bottom of the squash by briefly cooking it over a direct heat but keep a close eye on it as such fierce heat could burn it in a matter of moments.
- Continue basting the squash every 3-5 minutes for another 15 minutes or so and, while it finishes cooking, mix the chopped walnuts with the chopped parsley and crumbled feta.
- Remove the squash from the barbecue and allow to cool for five minutes before transferring to a serving dish. If it breaks (mine did!) you can simply push it back together on the plate. Cover it with a drizzle more honey before topping with the walnut, parsley and feta mix.
Follow Joseph on Instagram @cookfood.eatfood