If you’re reading this, you’re smart – because you’re asking the right question!
Disposable BBQs are fantastic. They allow you to have a convenient outdoor dining experience anywhere you like. But they’re NOT well suited for cooking everything. In fact, some foods are almost guaranteed to be a bit of a disaster if you try to cook them on a disposable BBQ. THAT is why “what can you cook on a disposable BBQ?” is such a good question.
I’m something of a BBQ obsessive, and known to some of my friends as “the barbecue king!” My weapon of choice at home is a lovely Weber Spirit gas grill, but I have to admit that some of my most memorable cook-outs have involved nothing more than a cheap disposable barbecue.
There’s little better than firing up the coals on the beach, or in the forest. But disposable barbecues don’t give you anything like the level of control you have on a full-sized grill. For that reason, this article looks at what works on a disposable BBQ – and what doesn’t.
Get this wrong, and the dangers range from horrible, burned food to a dose of food poisoning for you and your friends.
Just Before We Begin
Disposable grills are FAR from equal. Some are – quite frankly – complete garbage, and incapable of cooking anything well. I’ve bought disposable BBQs that don’t have enough charcoal to function effectively, or burn with a hideous chemical smell.
The worst culprits – unsurprisingly – seem to be the cheapest ones. I’d suggest avoiding those from petrol station forecourts and Pound / Dollar stores.
Here are a couple of types for both the UK and US that have a great reputation:
If in any doubt about the quality of your barbecue, don’t risk ruining your event. Buy an extra one and try it out first. There’s nothing worse than having a load of beautiful food and no way to cook it!
What Can You Cook on a Disposable BBQ?
Let’s start with the stuff that works:
Burgers are a great thing to cook on a disposable BBQ. They’re pretty forgiving, so long as you turn them regularly and ensure you don’t burn one side. It’s also easy to check they’re cooked through, and you need nothing more than a simple meat slice to turn them.
PRO TIP! Buy an instant read thermometer, and you can ALWAYS be sure the food you serve is safe!
Steaks tend to work well on a disposable barbecue too, as they can cope with being near to the coals and take hardly any time to cook.
Some cuts are better than others. I’d personally suggest sirloin or rib-eye over rump or fillet. Rump can be tough, and a thick fillet can benefit from heat you can control – searing hot to seal, and a little cooler to cook through.
Thin lamb cutlets are surprisingly easy to cook on a disposable barbecue. This is because you can get away with a lot when you cook them. I like them rare, but they don’t go too tough even if they’re what many would consider “well done.” Pro tip: put the fat back on and crisp it up!
Thicker lamb chops benefit from more care, and are best saved for when you have more control on a bigger barbecue.
Hot Dog (Frankfurter) Sausages
Note here that I’m talking about pre-cooked hot dog sausages, such as Hertas, and NOT English-style raw sausages (see below for more on those). While it’s possible to cook raw sausages on a disposable barbecue, it’s also very easy to end up burning them on the outside whilst not cooking them through – both horrible AND poisonous!
Hot dog style sausages, out of a tin or packet, are a WAY better option. You only need to cook them through, and as long as you keep a close eye on them it doesn’t really matter if the disposable barbecue is at its hottest or beginning to cool.
When you’re working out what you can cook on a disposable barbecue, vegetables should definitely be on the list! If you want to go fancy you can make vegetable kebabs. However, I have to say I find them fussy and awkward to deal with.
Good choices include wide slices of pepper, big mushrooms, halved tomatoes, asparagus spears, and slices of courgette. All are fine being cooked over high or low heat, and take on a lovely char when they’re close to the coals (which they always will be on a disposable barbecue).
I have to be honest and say that I’d be reluctant to cook much fish on a disposable BBQ. Both whole fish and small, tender fillets tend to stick easily, and you don’t have enough space to treat them with the care they need.
If you’re determined to cook fish on your disposable grill, I’d suggest going for thicker and more durable steaks – such as salmon, swordfish or even halibut, if you’re feeling fancy.
Some shellfish is a surprisingly good choice for cooking on a disposable barbecue. Large raw prawns can work well, as they don’t take long to cook and the fact they turn pink to tell you they’re done helps to ensure you cook them right!
Scallops are another option, and they only need a sear (in theory you can eat them raw, but they must be very fresh, so I’d advise checking with your fishmonger if that is the case!)
What Should You NOT Cook on a Disposable Barbecue?
I should emphasise here that these are not prescriptive “rules.” You’re free to try to cook anything you like on a disposable barbecue! But this article is about making things easier and safer for yourself. There are plenty of feasts you can put together with the items in the previous list.
I’ve attended a LOT of unpleasant barbecues. On one occasion, I hired a boat with some friends, and one of them was determined to cook bone-in chicken thighs on a tiny disposable BBQ. Thanks to a sugary marinade, the skin was black and blistered before the meat had even begun to cook. Bleeding chicken – no thanks…
So with that in mind, here are some things I’d advise you NOT to try to cook on a disposable BBQ.
Cooking chicken on a barbecue requires controlled heat. I do a beer basted spatchcock chicken on my gas grill that turns out juicy and succulent – but it takes about 90 minutes, and a LOT of care and temperature tweaking.
A disposable barbecue simply doesn’t give you that control. You can’t really predict how hot it will be, which is why the items I recommend are things that you can still make a good job of regardless of the heat.
I’d personally avoid chicken altogether with a throw-away BBQ – but if that’s what you’re determined to have, check out my “Cheats” section, later in this article.
Yes, you CAN cook raw sausages on a disposable BBQ…but the question I would ask is why you’d want to put yourself through it! Even on a gas BBQ, the wrong temperature setting can ruin raw sausages in a minute. They burn extremely easily, and are best cooked low and slow, or over indirect heat.
A disposable grill offers you none of that control. Yes, you might get lucky, put them on for the exact 20 minutes where the temperature is good, and get the turning just right. But you’re just as likely to end up with them cremated on the outside and raw in the middle. When there are plenty of things that are WAY easier to cook, why bother?
I’ve already covered this above, so I will keep it short. Whole fish and delicate fillets are just too easy to ruin on a disposable barbecue. I’m inclined to say you’ll enjoy them far more if you cook them another way, another day!
The issue with pork is similar to the issue with sausages. It’s not so much the risk of burning it, but more the fact that pork has such a narrow window between being undercooked (i.e. raw in the middle), and dry and overdone.
If you’re fortunate enough to be in Spain or Portugal, there are amazing cuts of Iberico pork, such as presa, which can be served medium rare and would be fine on a disposable barbecue. But if you’re anywhere else and dealing with standard supermarket pork, it’s hard to consistently produce pleasant results.
Disposable Barbecue Cheats
Even though some things are off-limits, the answer to what can you cook on a disposable barbecue is “plenty of things.” But if you want some other options, there are a few ways to “cheat,” and enjoy things that don’t usually cook well from raw.
Here are a few cheats for you:
Pre-Cook “Complicated” Foods
This is a good solution for chicken or raw sausages: fully cook the food first, and then just warm it through and give it a char on the disposable barbecue. With chicken, you could brush on a sauce or glaze as you grill, to make it a little more interesting.
Use Cooked Prawns
This is one of my favourite cheats, which I learned whilst living abroad in Portugal. If you have a source of large cooked prawns in their shells, you can simply season them, add a little olive oil, and chuck them on the barbecue to warm them through.
You need to be careful with the timings; Too long, and the shells shrink, making the prawns tough and hard to peel – but get it right, and you can make an impressive starter.
Buy Pre-Cooked Chicken Wings
If I’m ever using a disposable barbecue and am desperate for some wings, a good hack is to buy the pre-cooked ones – the type with a spicy or Chinese-style marinade. They’re already cooked, so only need heating through. This means you can have chicken from your disposable barbecue, without having to burn it or serve it raw!
Do you have any of your own disposable barbecue tips to share? Let me know in the comments.