I’m so excited to tell you about our wonderful day attending Marcus Bawdon’s Country Wood Smoke UK BBQ School! Located in the grounds of Fordmore farm, farm shop and cafe in Devon, classes are held in a custom-built BBQ shed; the sides are open to allow for proper ventilation but a clear roof covering ensures that classes can go ahead if it’s raining.
With a few different classes to choose from, the BBQ School is suitable for complete beginners as well as those who’ve dabbled in barbeque already but are keen to up their game. In terms of our level before the class, we’d graduated from burgers and sausages (which we still love) to marinated meats, fish and vegetables, but were still restricting ourselves to grilling – too nervous to try the low and slow cooking and smoking techniques we were interested in. Confident Marcus could help us make this step forward, we booked into his BBQ Intermediate class, described as a class for “those who are looking to step up their BBQ, and take their basic skills to another level“.
I’ve known Marcus for many years. I launched Kavey Eats back in 2009, Marcus created his Country Wood Smoke blog in 2011, and we connected online in that era of growth and excitement about bloggers, amateur ‘citizen food writers’ of the digital age. Marcus had been bitten by the barbeque bug after moving to the Devon countryside, and was keen to share what he was learning. There were no UK BBQ bloggers back then, and few male food bloggers of any kind, so his blog filled a real niche, as did the Country Wood Smoke YouTube channel he launched soon after. Many readers were fascinated to follow the journey of a vegetarian of 14 years who became one of the UK’s foremost barbeque experts.
Marcus’ newfound passion developed just ahead of the coming zeitgeist whereby all things BBQ became very popular indeed; Pitt Cue went from a food truck on London’s South Bank to a bricks-and-mortar restaurant in 2012; New York’s Meatopia festival, a bacchanalian celebration of fire-cooked meat, came to the UK in 2013 (with Marcus crowned as King of Meatopia in its inaugural year); and well-known chefs and TV presenters were suddenly publishing books and presenting cookery shows all about BBQ.
With interest in barbeque continuing to grow, Marcus started running classes out of his home 6 years ago, moving the school to its new dedicated farm site a year back. His focus now remains the same as it was then: “to give people the skills and confidence to be able to enjoy cooking outdoors no matter what their experience”
The Intermediate Class runs for five hours during the afternoon and evening, the first four of which are spent learning, and the last hour eating the very delicious results of that learning!
The classroom space is split into three main areas, a central seating area with fur-covered benches around a couple of small fire-pits, a dining area with lots of different barbeques to one side, and a second barbeque area where Marcus stores yet more barbeque equipment including a pizza oven, dedicated smokers, and a tandoori oven.
There are ten students in our class today, and we’re offered coffee and pork crackling on arrival, and some delicious pork belly burnt ends soon after (with buns and condiments provided). Students don’t go hungry on a UK BBQ School course!
While we are stuffing our mouths, Marcus runs through of what we’ll be making, and introduces Sue Stoneman, who is helping him today. Sue is also a home cook, blogger, food writer and barbeque enthusiast, and runs the school’s BBQ Cooking and Baking class.
As we’re cooking several large items such as racks of ribs, tomahawk steaks, and Marcus’ famous “Dirty Meatenburg”, it’s not practical for every student to make each recipe, but we still get hands on experience and pick up huge amounts of information.
Marcus demos several techniques such as how to remove the membrane from the ribs, and how to make his classic barbeque spice rub. He also has a selection of commercial rubs available and encourages us to pass them around, smell and taste them.
Once the ribs are ready, they go onto the barbeque first. Marcus is using his Weber Summit Kamado S6 Charcoal Grill for most of the cooking today, though he also talks us through several other models, including the key differences between ceramic and non-ceramic options.
Next we learn how to create the mighty Meatenburg (think Battenburg cake with a filling of sausage meat and black pudding and a wrapping of woven bacon). We need to cook two of these for the meal later so a volunteer is invited to make the second one after watching Marcus’ demo.
It’s a bit more hands-on when it comes to scotch eggs, with everyone invited to have a go at making their own. The soft-boiled eggs are delicate so care is needed when encasing them in sausage meat. A wrapping of bacon and the addition of spice rub are optional extras.
As the scotch eggs are fairly small, they need less cooking time than the ribs and Meatenburgs so go on a bit later.
Every step of the way, Marcus shares straightforward and easy-to-digest barbeque lessons – what kind of charcoal to use (we are shown different types to hold and feel in our hands), how to get the charcoal started (with a kettle or a heat gun), how to arrange the charcoal inside your barbeque depending on what you’re cooking and what kind of heat you need, and how to control and maintain the temperature inside your barbeque throughout your cook.
Marcus has a real knack for teaching and uses everyday analogies to help describe the processes. At several points he uses a car metaphor, which works beautifully when the evergreen question of “which model of barbeque is the best?” surfaces, but is also useful when learning how to control the temperature (by applying the accelerator or the brakes), and understanding how to deal with the “stall”, a point during the cooking process when the internal temperature of the meat stalls, either staying the same or even dropping a little, before it eventually carries on climbing upwards.
We also talk about wood smoking, discussing everything from which wood to use, how much is needed and when and where to add it.
I’ll leave it for you to attend the course to learn these valuable lessons!
In case we’re getting peckish, the next demo also brings a delicious snack with it. After making chimichurri to enjoy with the meal later, Marcus scoops out the marrow from some large beef bones and mixes a little of the chimichurri into it to make a flavoursome fatty melt – marrowbone is “God’s butter” he says, and I’m in complete agreement!
We each smear some of the mix onto sliced bread and cook these directly on the charcoals in the coffeepot firepit, eating them hot as soon as the bread has charred and the bone marrow melted.
Another useful element of the class is learning about different cuts of meat. It’s not just about choosing the right cut for the cooking method, but also understanding how the same cut from different sources can be very different, and therefore what to look and ask for when buying various cuts.
After we talk through how to find good ribs for slow-cooking on the BBQ, a fellow student asks Marcus which is his favourite cut for the BBQ? His response is immediate: “brisket is life changing!” he grins. There’s a “pre-amazing brisket moment and a post-amazing brisket moment“, and the latter is an almost religious feeling.
Marcus goes on to explain that brisket in the UK tends to be quite different from USA brisket (where it’s an extremely popular BBQ cut). In the USA, cattle from across the country are remarkably consistent in the contents of their feed, the percentage of fat in the muscles and in the resulting texture of the meat. In the UK, we have a lot more variety in breeds and feed which shows through in the finished meat; but on average, our beef has less fat in it than American beef. Of course, you can seek out the edge cases, and when it comes to recreating a classic American smoked brisket the fattier the better so look for British brisket with lots of fat throughout the muscle and around it.
There’s a warning here too that using American BBQ recipes can sometimes be problematic, because the differences in texture and fat content between US and UK meat have an impact on cooking times in particular.
When introduced to two mighty longhorn beef tomahawk steaks, we learn that these are essentially bone-in ribeye steaks with the long rib bone left intact, but French-trimmed to clean the bone. We have two on the menu today, with one to be cooked in the traditional way (seared first) and the other using the reverse sear technique that’s become popular in recent years. The tomahawks are cooked on a Hellrazr Yama Grill Smoker, a piece of kit Marcus clearly adores, describing it as “your American muscle-car, a Mustang or a Dodge!“.
Once the tomahawks are finished cooking, Marcus adds a generous mound of bone marrow mix on top of each steak and a then a piece of hot charcoal to melt the bone marrow into a delicious garnish.
Sliced thin so everyone can taste both, we notice a (slight) difference in the finish, though Marcus’ skills mean that both are bloody fantastic and cooked to the same level of doneness. It’s not a unanimous call as to which cooking method results in the best steak, so my advice is to do this experiment yourself so you can decide!
Whilst we’ve been learning and cooking, Sue has been busy behind the scenes pulling together some tasty salads and bread to accompany all the meat.
Once we’ve tried the steak, it’s time for the rest of the BBQ items to be checked, taken off the barbeque and readied for feasting.
One of the lessons we find particularly useful is how to properly use thermometers to gauge not only the internal temperature of what we’re cooking but also its texture. Being able to feel for ourselves the way that ribs feel an hour or so in to their cooking time versus how they feel when they’re ready is every bit the revelation Marcus promises!
The Scotch eggs have probably had a touch longer on the grill than needed, so some of the yolks are not quite runny, but they are still excellent.
To my surprise, I prefer the ones without bacon-wrapping, where the spice rub applied directly to the sausage meat has more of an impact on the final flavours.
With internal temperatures easily checked, we have confidence that the Meatenburgs are fully cooked through.
These iconic “fatties” look absolutely gorgeous served in fat slices on a plate, shown off here by one of our fellow students.
Although we’ve had plenty to eat throughout the afternoon, we all dive in to the final feast with gusto, appreciating every item all the more now we have insight into how to achieve it ourselves at home. During the meal and for some time afterwards, Marcus fields our questions, adding another wealth of information to what we’ve already learned.
At the end, for those who wish, comes the chance to buy one or both of Marcus’ books and have them signed. Food and Fire (2019) provides the same kind of learning as you would find attending Marcus’ Fundamentals class with lots of his classic recipes included, and Skewered (2021) shares recipes for “fire food on sticks from around the world”. Food and Fire is already on our bookshelf but we’re very happy to buy a signed copy of Skewered to take home.
About the same time as he first started his classes, Marcus also launched a digital BBQ magazine, which evolved into the beautiful print magazine, BBQ a couple of years ago. As with the school, the aim of the magazine is “to inspire people to get outdoors and cook more“. We buy the latest edition of the magazine, and take complimentary copies of a couple of previous editions too.
Marcus also sells cherry wood for smoking, good quality cooks knives, and two models of thermopen food thermometers – having used the latter during the class, we buy one knowing we’ll put it to good use.
Days after the course, we’re still absolutely buzzing with excitement and a newfound confidence to put everything we’ve learned into practice. We buy a new barbeque (that has the features we need to better control our cooking temperatures) and choose several straightforward but delicious recipes for our first couple of runs.
The fear and uncertainty have faded away, to be replaced with an eager readiness to move on to more time-consuming and complex recipes. Next on the list, some low-and-slow ribs and that magnificent Meatenburg!
We booked two places on Country Wood Smoke UK BBQ School’s BBQ Intermediate class, which is priced at £145 per person. The BBQ Fundamentals class is 4 hours long, and £115 per person. The school is enormously popular, and this summer’s classes are filling up very fast so book ahead if you want to attend. If you can’t find an available date, drop Marcus a line to ask about waiting lists and any potential extra dates.