The 5 herbs for your BBQ that I’ve chosen here are all perennial herbs, so will provide you with seasoning for your outdoor cooking in the garden for years to come.
Although I’m referring specifically to a BBQ, that is more about the style of cooking, rather than the equipment itself.
In other words, you may be cooking on a BBQ, in a fire pit, a fire bowl, a chiminea or a fully-fledged outdoor kitchen.
These herbs will work with your cooking in all of these situations; the key element is that it is cooking performed outside.
We’ll look at these 5 herbs for your BBQ in alphabetical order, as they are all equally good culinary herbs for outdoor cooking.
5 Herbs for your BBQ – Chives
Or to be more precise, Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum. As you’d expect from the name, these chives taste lightly of garlic rather than straight forward onion.
They are hardier than ‘ordinary’ Chives so may be better to grow in more northern parts of the UK. Garlic Chives usually have some growth above ground all winter, but if they do die back, will shoot up again in spring.
The white pom-pom flowers held above the slim foliage are not only edible, but also taste faintly of garlic. I find them a great addition to a salad dressing for this reason, as they’re adding taste and decoration. Although the bees and butterflies love Garlic Chive flowers, do make sure the flowers do not run to seed. This makes the leaves coarser and less pleasant to use, except in casseroles, for example, where they have time to soften.
Garlic Chive leaves are flatter and larger than those of their Chive, Allium schoenoprasum, cousins. They do seem to toughen up as late summer approaches; however, regular harvesting encourages fresh new growth. Cut off a handful of leaves, leaving a short stem rather than cutting right down to the base.
These Chives often keep flowering well beyond other members of the Chive family. It’s not unknown to be still picking flowers in late October! Which is convenient for you and good for the pollinating insects.
5 Herbs for your BBQ – Fennel
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, has an aniseed flavour; some people would say liquorice-like. It is an herbaceous perennial, so the top growth will largely die back over winter, throwing up new feathery fronds in the following spring.
The delicate foliage has a less pronounced flavour than the seeds, so would work well in dishes which need a lighter touch. Speaking personally, I’m not a lover of liquorice or aniseed, but find that chopped up Fennel leaves added to trout or mackerel on the BBQ enhance the fish’s flavour rather than swamp it. Trim off the leaf or leaves you need, preferably back to where the leaf joins the plant’s stem. This will encourage new growth.
Fennel grows tall, taller each year as the clump establishes, but its feathery foliage means it doesn’t take over small borders, being partially see through. The flat yellow flowerheads are a magnet for bees and pollinating insects during the summer.
Fennel seeds are used in many dishes and are a good ingredient for marinade for one of the stronger tasting meats. You can collect your own Fennel seeds from the plant in late summer. Store in a cool cupboard to use over winter and in the next year’s BBQ season.
There is also the edible Fennel bulb, better known as Florence fennel, also known as finocchio. If you’re growing this variety, then you can use the leaves in your BBQ cooking, but you mustn’t let the plant flower.
5 Herbs for your BBQ – Marjoram
Sweet Marjoram, Oregano majorana, is not the herb I’m suggesting here. You may already have it growing in your garden and are using it in the kitchen anyway. No, I would like to recommend Marjoram ‘hot and spicy’, correctly known as Oreganum vulgare ‘hot and spicy’.
Delightfully aromatic with a spicy aroma, it adds a peppery kick to your BBQ marinades. I’ve found it works equally well with lamb and green, puy lentils. It also goes rather nicely with Greek olives and added to a dipping oil. The younger leaves are more flavoursome to use directly in cooking, but a sprig of older leaves thrown onto the BBQ embers will fill the air with a pleasant, pungent aroma.
On the decorative front, it has a darker leaf than many other Marjorams and Oreganos and pretty white-pink flowers in summer. Although, to get the best flavour for cooking and BBQs, I prefer to have two plants, one to flower and one for culinary use. Many people find the smell of the leaves reminiscent of pizza, and this lessens if you allow the plant to flower and then run to seed. However, the flowers are also edible, so you could leave some on for the bees and pick the rest to add to salads for yourself.
If you garden on very heavy clay, this herb would prefer to be grown in a raised bed or plant pot. Wet feet over winter may kill it off; it is a Mediterranean herb after all.
5 Herbs for your BBQ – Rosemary
Rosmarinus officinalis is a favourite herb for many people and rightly so. Its volatile oils give the foliage an almost sticky feel during the summer months. But that rubs off onto your fingers as you brush them along the plant and the aroma lingers, giving you a little ‘boost’.
Those oils also make rosemary an excellent culinary herb; it has quite a strong, bitter-sweet flavour. Most people promptly think of lamb, which is an excellent partnership. Rosemary is good at balancing the fattier meats and dishes. But have you tried it with venison? Or tuna steaks? With a tomato, broccoli and spinach dish? Use it with a lighter touch and you may be surprised at the tasty result.
You could throw a sprig onto the BBQ to stimulate sparkling conversation (possibly) It will certainly help to clear the air and some of the hay fever sufferers may thank you.
Wondering if the Rosemary you already have growing in your garden is good to use on the BBQ? All of the Rosmarinus officinalis varieties and cultivars can be used in cooking. The upright varieties with broader leaves (still needle-like) have a higher degree of the aromatic oil, so by definition, are better for culinary use.
For BBQ use, the easy to find and to grow, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Miss Jessup’s Upright’, a pale blue flowered variety is excellent. There is also the aptly named Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Barbeque’ another blue flowered Rosemary. I haven’t grown this one myself, but I have tasted it. A further advantage of growing an upright Rosemary is that you can strip the leaves off the stems to use in marinades etc and use the stems themselves as skewers for meat and veggies. And whilst those skewers are cooking, some of the aroma will be wafted across the air.
5 Herbs for your BBQ – Thyme
Common Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, is the plant with the best flavour. This is the one to grow if you mainly want to use the herb in cooking, both in kitchen and at the BBQ.
It is not a British native although Thyme has been grown here since Roman times. Yes, yet another Mediterranean plant that vast empire spread to the corners of Northern Europe!
Although I use many different Thymes in my cooking, Thymus vulgaris is my preferred one for BBQs. This is largely as BBQ cooking tends toward strong flavoured meats and fish, and rich vegetarian dishes, and common thyme can add its own punch to the mix. The more delicate lemon scented Thymes, Thymus citriodorus, get lost among the BBQ flames. However, they do work as a light, herby marinade for chicken if you wanted a change from spicy salsa.
That dusky Thyme aroma makes this such a useful herb. Leaf tips add pungency to dips and salads. Added to marinades there’s this wonderful undercurrent that holds it own even against when chilli is added. And of course, you can throw a sprig or two onto the BBQ to fill the air with an aromatic scent.
Thymus vulgaris will grow happily in most British soils (its had time to get used to them, after all) but it if you can prevent sopping wet roots over winter, it will love you more. Good in containers, as low hedging to a path, as part of a herb garden or rubbing shoulders with your heuchera, Thyme is very adaptable.
5 Herbs for your BBQ
If you use your BBQ, fire pit or chiminea a lot for cooking and entertaining, why not have a small herb garden close by?
This could be in a raised bed, as a decorative herb wheel, or part of the flower border which is next to where you have your outdoor cooking area. All the herbs suggested above will also grow in containers. Some will need larger pots than others, for example, the Fennel. But if your outdoor kitchen is in a fully paved area of your garden, a decorative collection of pots filled with culinary herbs would be both practical and pretty.
Whether you would like just a few suggestions for culinary herbs that will thrive in your garden or a herb garden designed and planted, why not get in touch? We’d love to help you to get more out of your summer entertaining!
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