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Fire, wood, smoke and magical BBQ sauce
By Ruby Gao

BARBECUE, combining slow cooking, smoke and fire, gives food a distinctive smoky flavor, with crispy outside and juicy inside texture.

Barbecue is now in season as the weather is getting warm, and people are setting up outdoor grills to cook plenty of fresh meats, seafood and vegetables.

"Ambience, ingredients and sauce determine the quality of BBQ. Chilled beer and wine are icing on the cake," says Laurent Colin, executive chef at Sheraton Shanghai Pudong Hotel & Residences.

An informal garden barbecue is perfect for family and friends.

"Although hotels and restaurants ensure quality ingredients, variety of flavors and professional grilling, my ideal BBQ spot is my own backyard where people get a strong, homey feel," Colin says.

At Eaton Luxe, Xinqiao, Shanghai, barbecue buffets are held outdoor in a setting with a gurgling stream, small bridge, and plenty of trees and flowers.

"The dining experience is casual, especially ideal for families who seek a relaxing atmosphere during weekends," says Richard Hng, general manager of Eaton Luxe, Xinqiao. "It's just like a summer picnic."

Compared with last year, hotel barbecue feats put more emphasis on family ambience, adding more family and children's entertainment. Sheraton Shanghai Pudong Hotel & Residences has a children's corner where youngsters can watch movies and watch chefs making lollipops and ice cream.

Eaton Luxe, Xinqiao offers a cake DIY session in its BBQ buffet, in which parents and children can learn to make pastry together.

Grilling is generally straightforward, involving spreading sauce over food and turning frequently to bring out the natural flavor of ingredients. Fresh ingredients are key and anyone can be a BBQ chef.

This year hotels have changed their BBQ menu because of the outbreak of the H7N9 bird flu - poultry is rarely served. Chefs grill more beef, lamb, pork, and seafood such as prawns, crabs and oysters.

"It's a pity because poultry, especially chicken, is ideal for grilling due to its juicy meat taste," chef Colin explains.

The fuel for barbecue cooking is important in influencing flavor and texture. Although gas is widely used, Colin prefers wood because of its distinctive smoky flavor and woody aroma.

"In my native France, we prefer wood charcoal from pine trees or grape vines to create a unique taste," he says.

For many people, the magic lies in the barbecue sauce. Chefs prepare their own distinctive sauces for marinating food and basting it as it's grilled.

Marinating food in advance tenderizes the meat, making it more juicy and flavorful. Selection of the marinade depends on the ingredients, and it's important not to overpower natural flavors, Colin says.

For example, he marinates lamb with olive oil, fresh chives and rosemary to balance the relatively strong lamb flavor. Seafood and beef are simply marinated with salt and pepper.

BBQ is popular worldwide, in every continent, and styles and sauces are distinctive.

For example, mustard sauce is a classic in France. Brown sauce made with catsup and Worcestershire is popular in the UK. Sesame is often added in the Middle East.

American southern barbecue is famous for its many varieties, typically using cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire, catsup, hot sauce and other ingredients.

Chef Colin typically mixes garlic and chili in his barbecue sauce to appeal to locals.

In the hot summer, cold beer and chilled wine complement BBC. Fragrant rose wines and crisp white wines are recommended.

Sheraton Shanghai Pudong Hotel & Residences

The setting is a garden with lush greenery and it is an extension of the hotel's signature restaurant Feast.

More than 25 grilling options are on offer, including Australian beef and seafood, Mongolian lamb, bacon rolls and 10 seasonal vegetables, such as peppers and mushrooms. There are five outdoor grilling stations, each cooking different ingredients.

Shawarma, a Lebanese-style grill, cooks meat on a rotating, vertical spit. Shavings are sliced off, topped with sesame sauce and wrapped in a pancake. Each bite is juicy and flavorful, filled with sesame aroma.

Chef Colin prepares eight different sauces, including Thai chili, mint, mustard, and sesame.

Chilled draft beer and rose are available.

Besides the outside BBQ, diners can be seated in an air-conditioned restaurant and enjoy a buffet of sushi, sashimi and 14 hot dishes.

Dates: Through October 30, Fridays-Saturdays, 6:30-9:30pm

Price: 238 yuan+15% service charge

Venue: Feast

Address: 1/F, 38 Pujian Rd, Pudong

Eaton Luxe, Xinqiao, Shanghai

The barbecue offers many options, including beef, mutton, prawns and shellfish, seasonal vegetables and mushrooms. Fresh oysters are one highlight. After grilling, the flesh is sweet, flavorful and firm.

Diners can enjoy free-flow cold beer and/or a free glass of house wine. Red wine is served with beef, white wine with white meat and sparkling wine with seafood.

For families, the hotel offers counters serving popcorn, lollipops and cotton candy.

Dates: Through August 31, every Sunday, 11:30am-3pm

Price: 169 yuan

Venue: Metro Buffet & Grill

Address: 1/F, 628 Mingxing Rd, Songjiang District

Tel: 2309-8888

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164