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Barbecues are where men go to compete. They are marketed as fun, social gatherings, but stuffed into that bun, along with the hamburger, is a whole lot of anxiety about what it means to be a man in the age of desk warriors, among urban Shanghai aesthetes. Can I build a fire? Can I keep it going? Can I DOMINATE it? HOW DO I WIN THE BBQ? Here is how you win the BBQ.

Shanghai"

Where to buy... the grill

Grills are arguably the least important parts in winning BBQs. You can cook great food over the little trench grills you see on the street. However, if you don't have cinder blocks available, you can try getting some of those disposable aluminum ones at Metro. Or try IKEA, which sells everything from little tripod grills for 150rmb to standing monstrosities for 2,4k.

Where to buy... the fuel

Fire, meanwhile, is very important. Buy charcoal. Both the pressed hexagonal briquettes and natural black wood varieties work. City Shop and Pines both stock some charcoal, even in winter. They also stock pressed bamboo fire starters. Do not use lighter fluid, even if you can find it in Shanghai (it’s not common). Alternatively, simply put a large chunk of charcoal on your kitchen’s gas stove and let it heat up until red. About five minutes. Works well.

Or. You can also just buy everything on Taobao. Charcoal is "木炭". Grills are called "烤架."

The Sequence

This is what fucks up every BBQ, the sequence. What order you cook in says the most about your BBQ prowess and is maybe even more important than what meat you buy. Forgiveness only goes so far at a BBQ; it dies around hour two when people are hungry and food is not forthcoming. Here’s how you handle this.

Steaks -> Seafood -> Chicken Wings -> Sausages -> Vegetables

Burgers count in the steak category. You should be thinking this: what needs to cook at a high temperature, and what will be better at a lower temperature. If you splurged on steaks, you will want to cook them first, when the grill is at its hottest (but after the flames have died down). This will give you a good sear on the outside, which does nothing for “keeping in juices”, an old cooking myth, but will do everything for giving you a nice browned, caramelized crust on the outside of the steak while keeping the inside medium rare or medium. You cannot win the BBQ with well-done meat. The only way to get that crust/blood combo is high heat. Steaks go first. Burgers are also in this category, for the same reason.

After that, seafood. Very few types of seafood benefit from being cooked on low heat for an extended time. Shrimp, squid, most fish, they all need moderate to moderately high heat, so they will cook quickly before the moisture evaporates and leaves them dry and ruined.

Chicken wings are best when the grill is starting to die down, at moderate or low heat. They have so much fat (in the skin) that you’d have to be very basic to mess them up, and you want to render out most of that fat to get the skin crispy — whether you are using my sauce method or not. If you cook chicken wings first, on high heat, the skin will burn and you will have raw chicken in the middle. You will not win the BBQ.

Sausages go next because they are usually fatty and stand up well to long cooking times on the grill. They need moderate to low heat.

Vegetables go last because they shouldn’t be here in the first place. They are lucky to get any grill time at all.

Got it? Steaks -> Seafood -> Chicken Wings -> Sausages -> Vegetables

That’s the formula. Print this out. Write it on your forearm. Teach it to your ayi.

Now go out there and WIN! WIN! WIN!

Where to buy... the meat

You can do this two ways. You can have average quality meat and cook it extraordinarily, or you can have great meat and cook it averagely.

If you can do the former, you don’t need me. Otherwise you need good meat. Fortunately for you, I ran all over the city this morning looking at meat, and there are some hacks.

BEEF

The first is that you don’t need strip loin or rib-eyes, the expensive cuts, to have a good BBQ. They don’t hurt; they aren’t necessary. There are better cuts for grilling, like tri-tip, a lesser-seen cut that is very well-marbled, which means well-flavored and easy to cook, as the fat keeps it moist. Nicolson’s on Wuyuan Lu sells fresh Australian tri-tip for about 35 rmb per 100 grams. No place else stocks fresh tri-tip. City Super has fresh Australian short ribs at about 80 rmb per pack. City Shop stocks “yellow” beef from Shandong. Nicolson’s also has good-looking hamburger patties at 17rmb per 100 grams.

What to do with that: if tri-tip, salt and pepper only. If short rib, make a marinade with soy sauce, white or brown sugar (a lot), garlic and some type of hot sauce – I’ve used sri racha and Korean gochujang with good results and both are sold at City Shop. Boil all the ingredients so the sugar dissolves, let cool, then pour over the beef and marinade 24 to 48 hours. Do the same for the cheap Shandong beef and people won’t know the difference. Don’t do this with hamburgers.



CHICKEN

I am a fan of factory farm Tyson chicken. Wings are the best chicken part for the grill, in the absence of thighs at retail stores. City Shop is not the best place for many things but they are the best place for chicken wings. They have large stock and they carry both drumsticks and middles.

What to do with that: Burn the wings and then dunk them in sauce. This is the chicken wing secret. Boil one part white vinegar and one part white sugar until sugar dissolves. Cool. Add hot sauce. Any type will do. Again, Sriracha and Gochujang are two easy and delicious options. Add chopped garlic. Maybe sesame seeds. When your wings are cooked — Cooked with a capital C, Cooked with crunchy black grill marks on them — dunk them into the sauce and let them absorb it.




SEAFOOD

Since Little Catch closed its Wulumuqi store, there is no great independent seafood option in downtown. So, I asked one of the Little Catch owners where to buy seafood in Shanghai in 2018. The answer is Hema, Alibaba’s “new retail” supermarket. Go there or get delivery via their app. Four hundred-gram lobsters sell for 99rmb each.

What to do with that: Slap it on the grill at moderate to moderate high heat.



VEGETABLES

Real BBQs don’t include vegetables.




ADVANCED MEAT BUYING TECHNIQUES

There are two. The first is Swiss Butchery, a proper butcher shop with stores in Hongqiao and Jinqiao. I went out to their store in Hongqiao this morning to ogle the selection. Grain-fed Angus rib-eyes were 59rmb per 100 grams, and Angus strip loins were 49rmb. They also have about a dozen types of fresh sausages. Swiss Butchery has nice meat and two people who are in the meat business in Shanghai that I asked both echoed that statement. To get the most out of them, you need to plan. They have an online store and will deliver anywhere in Shanghai for 50rmb which seems steep until you factor in the price of cabs there and back from downtown (80rmb). If you spend more than 600rmb, which is easy to do for a BBQ of any significance, delivery is free.

The second advanced level meat buying technique is to buy from a wholesaler like Classic Fine Foods. They will sell to you if you can get together an order of about 1,000rmb (in reality they are often flexible) and they have a much bigger selection of cuts at much cheaper prices. They are also well-known for their Coastal New Zealand Lamb, if you are a BBQ pro and want to tackle a lamb leg, shoulder or breast on the grill. A few pricing examples from perusing their July price list: Black Angus oyster blade, an excellent cheaper cut, 120rmb per kg; Black Angus short ribs, 154rmb per kg; Black Angus bone-in rib-eye, the centerpiece of a winning BBQ, 221rmb per kg, Sanchoku Wagyu tri-tip, 199rmb per kg, and Sanchoku Wagyu inside skirt, a fantastic cut once sliced against the grain, 145rmb per kg.

Call them at 2207 6404 but don’t tell them I sent you: wholesalers pretend they don’t do these things.



THE LAZY WAY

Order everything delivery from Hema.



TOTAL CAPITULATION

Hire a BBQ company like Yingos, a South American guy who will find you a compound to grill at if you don’t have your own, buy and cook all of your meat, and organize drinks, for about 200rmb per person. Obviously, you don’t win by taking this option. HE DOES. Find him on WeChat at Yingos金格斯.

Locations

  • Shanghai"

    Your Backyard

    The easiest option, as long as you take care not to set fire to anything, obviously. Have a bucket of water handy, and you can call the fire department at 119. If you're looking to BBQ anywhere other than your private property with clear view to the sky, the legally prudent advice is don't, unless you have express permission from the house/neighborhood management.

  • Shanghai"

    Gongqing Forest Park

    Apart from being a verdant paradise on the outskirts of Shanghai, this place has a BBQ tucked in among the trees with these little numbered lean-tos. You're limited to 2 hours in the lean-tos, though there's no time limit on the open spaces. You either bring your own grill and meat, or they provide you with everything you need. Price for the grill is 180rmb for eight people for two hours, then 90rmb per hour after that. Includes coal. Also important to note; this park is mostly cash-based, so make sure you bring physical money.

  • Shanghai"

    Gucun Park

    Not only does this place host Shanghai's very own Jurassic Park, it's also got a BBQ location, best reachable from gates 1 and 3. They'll rent you whatever equipment you need, or let you do your own thing. It's got umbrellas and some picnic tables, but like Gongqing National Park, gets very crowded. Price is 200rmb per 8 people for 2 hours, then 110rmb per hour after that. They also close at 5pm.

  • Shanghai"

    Binjiang Forest Park

    Miiiiiles out on the banks of the Yangtze River, this forest park has a BBQ spot with space for stand-alone grills or these proper brick-inlaid ones, all of the "trench" variety. Like with most other places, even if you bring your own grill, you pay the same price as renting one. It's 180rmb for 6 people for 2 hours, then 90rmb per hour after that.

  • Shanghai"

    Xin Hongqiao Garden

    A little closer to the downtown, this BBQ spot is inside the Xinhongqiao Central Gardens. This one's among the smallest of the bunch, and but as the park itself isn't huge or super-well-known, it actually seems to pull in less crowds. It's not cheap though. 400rmb for 8 people for 3 hours. from 10am-1pm, you can extend your time slot by an hour for 100rmb, but in the evening, you're out when time's up.

  • Jinshan

    Jinshan Beach

    Did you know Shanghai has a proper beach? Like, on the ocean, with sandcastles, volleyball courts, and BBQ pits? And you can get there in 30 minutes, for 10rmb? And it's BYOB? Yup. At the end of Metro Line 22 (it exists), Jinshan beach is where you can both BBQ and stick your toes in the sand simultaneously. Price is 160rmb for one table (about 6-8 people) for around 2.5 hours. Best deal!