How to make the best BBQ food: top tips from The Smokey Carter

Howard and Samantha Carter

Howard and Samantha Carter - Credit: Archant

The days are getting colder, but that’s no reason to stop enjoying the flavour of BBQ food until summer - Manchester’s Howard Carter shares the inspiration behind his delicious sauces and rubs and lets us into some barbecue secrets in the process

Barbecue Buff Spice Rub Pack

Barbecue Buff Spice Rub Pack - Credit: Archant

How did the business come about?

Many years back our family decided to hold a handmade and vintage themed Christmas, so all gifts had to be either recycled, second hand or made yourself. I made a BBQ sauce and a chilli jam. Everyone loved it and requests were made for more, all year round. The next stage was opening an Ebay shop, and we started with farmers markets in Feb 2014. The two original sauces are still available today, as our Chipotle and Bourbon BBQ sauce and Sweet Original Chilli Jam.

What does the name ‘The Smokey Carter’ mean?

We are a husband and wife team, Carter is our surname, and Smokey is our little piggie mascot. We just love all things smoked – that deep, rich, smokey taste is amazing – we love barbecued meats, smoked fish and smoked cheese. We also adore pigs!

One for the chilli lovers - the Chilli Addict Tube.

One for the chilli lovers - the Chilli Addict Tube. - Credit: Archant

What are your top tips for making the best BBQ food?

Marinate, marinate, marinate! So get organised. The marinade is better left overnight, so start your prep the day before. The reason for marinating any food that goes on the BBQ is due to the intensity of the smoke, and the flavour it gives. You don’t want it to be overpowering, so marinating with a dry rub will lock in that flavour and moisture. Once on the grill, baste with a little oil as you go and you can also apply a little extra dry rub to build up the flavours in layers – this is especially good for the crispy skin on chicken thighs.

What is your favourite drink to serve with BBQ food?

I’m very partial to the odd glass of cider – the cloudier the better. Mrs Smokey very much enjoys an Aperol spritz, it’s like sunshine in a glass. Use three parts Aperol (or Campari or similar) to two parts prosecco and one part soda. Serve in a wine glass with green olives. Delicious.

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BBQ food seems to be rising in popularity in the UK, with more and more focus on technique and finding the perfect rub or sauce, why do you think this is?

I think the biggest influence on the UK in recent years has been thanks to TV channels such as The Food Network where shows like Man V Food and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, have gained such a cult following. We can lose hours on the weekend watching Guy Fieri travel (and eat) his way across America. If there is one thing the Americans can do to perfection, it is BBQ – they are passionate about slow roasting, smoking and marinating. Restaurants are now popping up all across the UK offering pulled pork, ribs and brisket. However, we believe you don’t have to eat out to get that great taste. You can achieve great flavours at home using spice rubs and sauce combinations. We like our awarding winning combo of Carolina BBQ sauce with our new Pitmaster BBQ Dry Rub.

Where to you find the inspiration for your range of products from?

Many years ago, we worked on board cruise ships, in fact, that is where we first met. Travelling around those amazing countries, such as the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Greece and The Med, while trying all that fabulous cuisine, had a huge impact on our range. Pineapple Express, for example, is a fruity, hot sauce that is great with Caribbean inspired dishes like Jerk Chicken.

Can you describe your average working day?

Everything we make is done at home in very small batches. Typically, during the week we shop for ingredients daily, so everything is as fresh as it can be. While a sauce is on the stove bubbling away, I can crack on with packaging the daily online sales that have dropped in. As well as dropping off stock at our various local stockists, we have social media and the website and various printed material to think about and maintain. Weekends bring us face to face with our lovely customers, at the various farmers markets we do around the North West.

What is your favourite product in the range and why?

Mrs Smokey (Samantha) just loves Spiced Pineapple and Nigella Seed chutney – it’s sweet, fruity and versatile – great with cheese, crackers, sandwiches and wraps, and amazing with spicy lamb balls and kebabs. I enjoy our Carolina BBQ Sauce on everything!

Do you have a philosophy that you follow?

To support homemade, to support local, and to support small, family-run businesses.

Do you have any culinary heroes?

Guy Fieri is a complete legend, and has the best job in the world, hands down.

Where do you see The Smokey Carter in the future?

We would love to have a little eatery of our own one day and support other local artisan food producers in the process. Maybe a deli or café come mini smoke house, with a retail outlet. I’d be in the kitchen with Mrs Smokey front of house providing our customers with everything fresh, local and well-made. We would also love to see our products on the shelves of prestigious supermarket brands.

Check out the Smokey Carter range over at Great British Life.

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