Hi, I’m Mark Allan, the founder of FoodFireFriends.com, a website started with the simple mission to help people around the world cook and enjoy great food outdoors, with fire and smoke.
I’m not a professional chef and don’t have any formal training, I’m just an average guy who loves outdoor cooking and if I may say so myself – confidently or arrogantly, haha – I’ve become quite good at it.
- My Background
- Meet the Family
- Why I Started This Site
- Site Name and Purpose
- Final Thoughts
I’m very quickly closing in on 40 years old, and I’ve been cooking regularly since I was an early teen. I’ve always enjoyed trying new foods and flavors, and genuinely love creating great food from raw ingredients, following recipes and adding my own twists.
Now, like most regular guys, I’ve always enjoyed a good BBQ party: Surrounded by friends, sport on the TV, beer flowing, music playing, meat on the grill, a few frames of pool, there’s definitely worse ways to spend an evening.
However, for decades, all I ever really served from the BBQ was sausages, burgers, kebobs and chicken pieces. And of course, all the while lying to myself that I was ‘The Grill King!’ Hey, we all do it.
My First Smoker
In early 2015 I went to a food fair where a few stalls were selling ‘proper BBQ’. We’re talking low n slow smoked brisket, pork ribs, and pulled pork rolls, all cooked on what seemed to me the most amazing looking outdoor cookers that I’d never seen: Very large, trailer mounted offset smokers, Weber Smokey Mountains, I even saw my first ever ceramic Kamado style grill – a Big Green Egg.
After tasting the food served there, it was clear to me I had little clue what I was doing on the BBQ, but that I loved the smoky delights I’d just tasted, and this style of cooking was something I simply had to learn.
So when I got home, with almost zero research, I bought a cheap offset smoker and set about learning to grill and smoke properly.
I Had a Lot to Learn!
I now know that the cheap offset I bought was kinda terrible. It was leaky, burned through an incredible amount of fuel, couldn’t maintain consistent temp, and was generally a pain in the ass to cook on.
So my first efforts were hard work – but the flavors? Oh my, the flavors. I had to learn more.
So I hit google – Hard!
The Start of an Obsession
I read loads of forum posts, blogs and joined a few Facebook groups. I purchased numerous books from Amazon. I read, and cooked, and read, and cooked, and slowly but surely, I was beginning to turn out lots of decent BBQ.
But I also knew that for many reasons, I needed and wanted a better grill. So started looking for a new model, which leads me to a mildly entertaining story:
Smoking and Grilling Almost Cost Me My Relationship (Joking of course!)
I was looking at a WSM for about $400, but my Mrs said it was too much to spend after everything I’d already spent on the hobby. And to be honest, I really wanted a Kamado Joe anyway.
We went camping with a few friends and while there, me and another guy also called Mark went to the campsite bar, and I was saying how Wendy won’t let me spend $400 on a new smoker. So instead, I have a cunning plan.
Right there and then, from my mobile phone, I bought a kamado Joe Classic and a fair few accessories, spending a total of about $1350. I took a screenshot of the invoice, sent it to her, and turned off my phone for safety!
About an hour later when we met up…yes, she was pissed.
And to cut a long story short (too late for that?) once home, and I REALLY got into grilling and smoking on my new toy, she enjoyed the food so much that I was quickly forgiven, and I even got the green light to buy much more equipment.
Meet the Family
As you can see in the main image top of this page, I now have a small collection of outdoor smokers, grills and ovens that allow me to cook almost any type of food outdoors, over charcoal or with live fire.
As well as the equipment seen in the pic, I also have many accessories such as remote monitoring thermometers, a temperature controller (flame boss 300), griddle, pizza stone, dutch oven, Looftlighter, rotisserie, Vortex…to name but a few.
I truly love cooking outdoors, and am happy to spend money on grills, smokers and good value or fun accessories. I suppose it’s an addiction:
Question: “How many BBQs, grills and smokers do you REALLY need?”
Answer: “However many I have now…plus one 🙂 “
I’ve got my eye on a Traeger pellet smoker next, but also want a UDS and a proper offset ‘stick burner’, so I’ll then have one of each of all main types of smokers. Do I need them? Yes…and you won’t convince me otherwise, haha. I will definitely have one of each by the end of 2018, so watch this space.
Anyway, let’s take a step back from my fantasies for a moment to take a quick look instead at the grills and smokers I do already have, plus what I tend to use them for.
Kamado Joe Classic
This has somewhat become my go to smoker and grill, it getting way more use than any of my other equipment over the last year or so.
This is mostly because I have a ‘FlameBoss 300’ temperature controller for it that when used, makes it truly hands off so I can set up overnight cooks and sleep while knowing my temperatures will remain constant, or monitor and control my cooks from the golf course.
Of course, it also keeps food fantastically moist, is fuel efficient and can do everything including sear, roast, smoke and bake. It’s an all-in-one, multi-purpose cooker that gives great results every time. What’s not to love about it?
Weber Smokey Mountain 47cm
One of the most popular and most used smokers in the world by professionals and beginners alike, I just had to have one myself!
I mostly use my Kamado Joe for hot smoking these days, but when I have a large crowd to cook for – which is surprisingly quite often – this comes in handy for providing extra smoking capacity.
This is also what I use in combination with a CSG for doing my cold smoking during the winter months, making home made bacon, smoked cheeses, nuts, garlic, chillis, honey and more.
Weber Mastertouch 57cm With Gourmet BBQ System
Affectionately known as my ‘sausage and burger grill’, because when we have a large party and my Kamado is in use smoking, it’s this I use to cook burgers and sausages for the kids. However, it is of course used for far more than just that!
I have the ‘Weber Gourmet BBQ System’ grate and the Weber GBS dutch oven, making this my go to cooker for smokey chilli and stews cooked outdoors.
It also gets use for searing steaks, cooking chicken pieces and a lot of other smaller pieces of meat, as I find it’s quicker to get going, and easier to clean after use than my Kamado if only doing smaller cooks.
Weber Original Kettle 57cm – With Weber Rotisserie
Since I have a grill or smoker to cover most other needs, my Weber Original Kettle is set up for and pretty much used exclusively for rotisserie style cooking.
This is a technique I’ve only just scratched the surface of, but I’m loving it so far and intend to get into it more over the coming years.
I’ve so far used it to spin ducks, chickens, rib roasts, legs of lamb and of course – rotisserie porchetta! This alone is worth the price of admission. If you haven’t tried rotisserie Porchetta yet, please do. I haven’t the superlatives to fully describe it.
Wood Fired Oven – Mezzo 76 Go
A man’s got to have pizza right? Yes, and especially if a family man with kids who would likely live on pizzas exclusively if they could! (Don’t worry, I won’t let them.)
I’ve made many a pizza in the kitchen oven over the years. I also have a pizza stone for my Kamado Joe that I really do like, the KJ actually does a really decent job of cooking pizza. But I always wanted something a bit more ‘authentic.’ So this year, I finally splurged out on a proper wood fired oven.
Of course this is mostly used for pizza nights, but we’ve also cooked many different breads, roasted entire ‘Sunday Lunch’ dinners in there including the meat and veg, even done the odd cake and pudding.
I love cooking in my WFO so much that to be honest, I’m always looking for an excuse to get it fired up for some component of a meal or other, usually roasted vegetables or a bread of some sort. I just love the simplicity and ‘back to basics’ feeling of cooking in the WFO, seeing and tending to the flames, and the delicious wood fired flavors this oven produces.
Weber Smoky Joe & Weber Go-Anywhere
I originally bought the ‘Smokey Joe’ to take with us camping, a pursuit we enjoy a few times each year. Because what better is there than a bit of BBQ while relaxing on the beach or chilling in the woods?
But to be honest, I didn’t really get on with this BBQ. I found when cooking with the lid on, even with all vents fully open, the fire had a tendency to go out, temp control was difficult and results not always good because of it. So now, the Smokey Joe is used for only small meals directly grilled, or the odd side dish to go with foods cooked on my other equipment.
So, with the Smokey Joe fallen out of favor, we needed another grill for travel. And that’s where the Weber Go-Anywhere stepped in. And I highly recommend it!
It’s just large enough for 2-zone, indirect cooking cooking, and temperature control is relatively easy, while it’s small enough for travel, folding easily into a rectangular shape that’s easy to pack into the car. And it’s also built to last.
I also sometimes use it as a ‘table top grill’ at home, for small and simple meals when cooking for just me and my fiance. That’s because it’s relatively fuel efficient and I can use it sat right on my garden table, while I’m sat in a chair, lazily enjoying a glass of wine or a beer while cooking.
Why I Started This Site
I’m an electronic engineer by trade, so have always been deeply involved in IT, programming and related disciplines. My day job has mostly been in security: CCTV, alarm systems, fire and access control. But I’ve also always had a little sideline in web design, SEO and content marketing for other people. I enjoy it.
I’ve always had the thought that I wanted to create a site of my own. Somewhere I could share a passion of mine. To build something I could be proud of that is bigger than just me, that would be super useful to other people and help as many as possible to ‘do something better.’
Also, many of my friends now ask me for advice on how to BBQ and cook outside on charcoal and fire properly, how to smoke foods low n slow, grill the perfect steak and so on.
So of course something clicked, I saw this as the perfect opportunity – and the idea for this site was born.
Site Name and Purpose
The mission for this site is:
To create the absolute best resource that I wish I could have found when I was searching for advice on BBQ, grilling, low n slow smoking, and all and any aspects of cooking and eating outdoors.
I had to cobble together all the info I needed from multiple websites, forums, Facebook groups, books and of course lots of trial and error while at the helm of the grill.
While I was learning, I also found many top ranking websites were full of absolute tosh! The information on some of them was shocking. (Don’t get me wrong though, there also many, many absolute gems!)
And so I’ve decided to create this site, where the aim is to build the most actionable, educational, factually correct and highest quality resource on outdoor cooking on the internet.
But also – mainly due to my cooking having gained some notoriety in our friendship circle – we tend to have lots of visitors over for garden parties, and that’s what lead me to my site name:
Great Food, Cooked over fire, enjoyed with friends = FoodFireFriends.com
I know, it’s not great, but the quality content will make up for the lack of a decent site name I hope?! Haha.
To be honest, the name was also chosen because the first 1,362 (approximately 🙂 ) other names I came up with and preferred were already taken, most of them not even being used. Sigh. It’s hard finding a good domain name.
But yes, this site is all about the art, science and enjoyment of cooking and eating outdoors with friends. It’s gonna be a cracker!
I want this site to be a small part of a larger overall online community, of which I can be a part. I would love to make connections with other people in the BBQ, smoking and grilling space. So if you want to reach out, either to ask for advice, to give me advice, or purely just to say hello, then please do so!
I am creating some social properties on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter…come say hello and contribute.
Or if you have any comments, questions or feedback concerning anything on this site, please do reach out to me, I will answer everything as best I can.