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Secrets of a perfect summer barbecue - good enough for a prince

For the latest in his fortnightly articles, celebrity chef Steven Saunders, from The Willow Tree in Bourn, shares his secrets for a perfect barbecue and recalls the day he cooked a burger for Prince William.

Steven Saunders' jerk chicken. Picture: Steven Saunders
Steven Saunders' jerk chicken. Picture: Steven Saunders

The barbecue is one of our nation’s favourites, especially when the sun is shining.

Cooking food on an open fire is a primal pleasure. The ritual of creating flames is always exciting and wielding a pair of barbecue tongs has become inextricably linked with a sense of pride and expectation that chef will deliver.

Most of my fondest food memories are based around the barbecue. I had great experiences of family meals with dad cooking (well, actually burning) the food, of my own children growing up enjoying my cooking on the barbecue but complaining about the wait, of friends invited over for dinners with me cooking on the coals with a glass of wine in my hand… so many good times and such great food.

When Shaina, my business partner, asked me whether I thought it was a good idea to offer barbecue at Willow, I jumped with enthusiasm.

Last week we sent our little horse box off for a refit. They are going to make it into a modern mobile barbecue kitchen with a bar attached. We want to cater for our beautiful garden and meadow with something totally unique.

Steven Saunders at The Willow Tree, Bourn. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steven Saunders at The Willow Tree, Bourn. Picture: Keith Heppell

We will be cooking interesting sliders, hot dogs, skewers of meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan with gluten-free options always. Our tepee and gardens are open all summer, we will have some relaxation and chill out zones with cushions, deck chairs and so on, and often live music. Check our website below for information and updates.

One of my most memorable barbecue experiences is one that I did for Prince William and Harry when I was running Silverstone Hospitality a few years ago.

They had been racing on the circuit all day and ended up with a late lunch cooked on the barbecue. I was concerned that the menu that they had chosen was a bit, well, basic!

I suggested to my team that we offered a wagyu burger or something more outstanding. But what they wanted is a race day at Silverstone and a burger or dog cooked over coals.

I arrived with my new girlfriend, Gemma Garrett - Miss Great Britain and the face of Formula 1. She looked at my food offer with horror and then asked me what the sides were.

Steven Saunders, Marco Pierre White and Gemma Garrett (who was Miss Great Britain). Picture: Steven Saunders
Steven Saunders, Marco Pierre White and Gemma Garrett (who was Miss Great Britain). Picture: Steven Saunders

That night we both went on to an evening at Hell’s Kitchen TV studio in London with Marco Pierre White. That is where I met Chico, from X Factor, who became a very close friend. However, the whole barbecue experience with Gemma made me realise that the sides are very important.

Prince William left, saying thanks for a great burger and to be honest the team were delighted; our standard barbecue had been endorsed. But any barbecue can be made far more interesting with the help of some interesting sides and some great marinades.

Marinating is all about building flavour. A good marinade, such as a Jamaica jerk marinade, will add flavour above and beyond the food you are marinating. It also helps to add moisture and tenderise the meat.

However, you can marinate more than just meats. Vegetables and fish can also benefit from a marinade. Here is one of my favourite marinades that works brilliantly with chicken. It’s simple and delicious.

Jerk marinade (makes enough for at least 8)


  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 scotch bonnet peppers ( or other spicy chilli with seeds removed)
  • 2 tablespoons of gluten free soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 red onion
  • 150 ml of orange juice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • ½ tin of coconut milk


  • Blend the entire contents in your food processor until it is a paste. Then add the coconut milk and blend for two minutes until smooth. The marinade freezes well so don’t worry if you have too much.
  • Once you have the paste ready then spread it over the entire whole chicken, cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Jerk chicken (Serves 4)


  • 2 whole chickens
  • Jerk marinade as above


Rub the pre-made marinade into the whole chickens thoroughly.

Light your barbecue.

Pre heat your oven to 180C.

Roast the whole chickens for 30 minutes on 180C.

Remove and then barbecue them for 15-20 minutes, moving them around and basting them with any left-over marinade regularly.

If possible, check by probing the chickens with a battery probe (into the thigh area) - it should have reached at least 72C.

Remove and carve off the bone.

Serve with the macaroni slaw and maybe some sweet potatoes, baked first then finished on the barbecue to crisp them up. I often add crème fraiche and fresh chillies in the centre of the potatoes to spice them up.

Steven’s Macaroni Slaw

Macaroni slaw. Picture: Steven Saunders
Macaroni slaw. Picture: Steven Saunders

Here is one of my favourites sides.

  • 125g of cooked macaroni pasta
  • ½ small red cabbage
  • 2 small red onions, finely sliced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 100g radishes, sliced thinly
  • 100g half-fat crème fraîche
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped


  • Using a sharp knife, finely shred the cabbage, removing the core. Peel and cut the carrots into small julienne (matchstick size)
  • Toss into a large bowl with the other vegetables, season and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, mix the crème fraiche, mustard, vinegar and caster sugar.
  • Spoon the dressing over the vegetable mix and toss together. Check the seasoning, then add the lemon juice and chopped parsley. Finally add the cooked macaroni and stir well in.

Next time, don’t miss my article about cooking a birthday meal (it’s my birthday!).

Get in touch

  • Email: thechefsaunders@gmail.com

Read more from Steven every fortnight in the Cambridge Independent.

More of Steven’s recipes

Tapas from Pluto: Steven Saunders on his time in Spain and recipe for crispy pork belly with Vietnamese potsticker sauce

Celebrity chef Steven Saunders’ new column: Dining for Ukraine - and my recipe for Chicken Kyiv

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