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No smoke without fire

Words by Hannah Tapping

A love of low and slow outdoor cooking has sparked a range of barbecue and grilling products that offer unrivalled versatility when it comes to al fresco eating.

Founded in 2008 by ex-mechanic Ian McKend, ProQ is a family run business striving to educate and inspire others to share the same enjoyment of barbecue, outdoor cooking and the love of good food that they do. I spoke to Ian’s son Ty about the business of barbecues.

Tell me a little about how ProQ began?

Our family is originally from Zimbabwe and we moved to the UK in 2003. My dad was a mechanic in the motor trade and combined his engineering and design experience with a passion for outdoor cooking to venture into the barbecue sector. He began by specialising in barbecue smokers which became our core product. Our hot smokers were hugely successful and then dad was getting requests for a cold smoke version. He sat down in the garden with a pair of tin snips and some different meshes and produced a number of prototypes that would generate smoke without too much heat. The resulting ProQ Cold Smoke Generator transformed our business due to its versatility and affordability. You can use it in a regular barbecue or even a cardboard box, like our Eco Smoker Box. I’ve seen them used in old filing cabinets and even beehives. In response to this, we’ve now designed our own smoking cabinet made from weather-resistant steel.

What is this year’s latest innovation for ProQ?

Living in beautiful Cornwall means we spend a lot of time outdoors. Our whole family shares a love of cooking, so when we do go out, this inevitably means carting along some form of barbecue, plus an assortment of tools. There’s usually around eight of us and in the past, finding a barbecue that was functional but wasn’t bulky and heavy proved to be quite a challenge. So, last year, we decided we wanted to look at the portable camping sector as that’s the kind of cooking we as a family really enjoy. We cook outside as much as we possibly can but we’ve never been a fan of anything that says ‘instant light’ on it because of the awful chemical smell and taint to the food, so we decided to design our own. We spent almost a year developing a fold flat barbecue that was light enough to carry to the beach, but with a cooking area suitable for a whole family. The result was the ProQ Flatdog, a portable charcoal grill that folds down as thin as a laptop but easily converts to a high-spec barbecue with ample grilling space for up to 12 people. Transforming from flat to functional in one easy step, the Flatdog’s space-saving design has been created to make carrying a barbecue effortless, presenting a highly efficient outdoor grill set-up that is built to last and an essential companion for any outdoor adventure.

The way the Flatdog cooks is also a revelation. Unlike a disposable barbecue where the charcoal is literally just millimetres beneath the grill, we’ve left a good gap on the Flatdog for greater cooking control. The baffle plate has holes all the way through it so that air can actually get to the fire. Gone are the days of struggling to light your barbecue on the beach, no more trying to fan the flames with smoke billowing everywhere or having to turn things frantically once the heat becomes too fierce. The Flatdog is also big enough to move the fire to one side, so you’ve got both somewhere to keep things warm and somewhere to cook. Once the coals have gone out, the stainless-steel design means the barbecue cools rapidly, ready to be folded flat again in around ten minutes. With the environment in mind, what are the benefits of the Flatdog?

We created the Flatdog as a positive move against destructive ‘disposable’ barbecues. It’s hard not to notice, when out and about, that quite a few families use disposable barbecues to cook on, usually signalled by plumes of smoke that have a distinct chemical smell. These are not only a challenge to cook on but are also bad for the environment. It’s pleasing to see that some supermarkets are now delisting this type of barbecue due to concerns over their environmental impact. Our solution provides a sustainable option that is both durable and functional.

Where do you sell your products?

We started off supplying mainly barbecue specialists as outdoor cooking was something of a new thing in the UK in terms of smoking and cooking at lower temperatures when we started out. However, since then we have supplied specialist online retailers such as Sous Chef as well as garden centres across the UK. We also export to Australia and Europe. We’re about to break into the US market – selling barbecues to America, the home of cooking over fire, is something of an exciting prospect for us.

What advice would you give for cooking with a ProQ product?

We’re always looking for new and exciting ways to use a smoker, we don’t want it to just be big cuts of meat all of the time. We’re all about bringing barbecuing into ‘normal’ foods. For example, cooking a roast dinner on the barbecue – not only is the flavour exceptional, it’s a space-saving solution to roast your joint outside, as it will free-up space in the oven – we always cook Christmas dinner on the barbecue.

What are your recommendations for fuelling the fire?

We like to use a coconut shell charcoal, which is made of recycled by-product material from the coconut industry. It contains no additives or fillers and uses a natural tapioca glue to form the briquettes. This makes it a much more sustainable choice as no trees are felled or deforested in its production. The briquettes have the benefit of lasting much longer and burning far hotter than traditional charcoal as well as being square meaning they take up 65% less space than lumpwood charcoal or pillow shaped briquettes.

Are there any other innovations coming to the ProQ range?

We’ve just launched our multi-tool, which combines four vital tools into a single piece of kit; tongs, spatula, grill fork and a bottle opener, transforming effortlessly between each one. Portable and easy to use, our multi-tool is designed for travel and packing light, without any compromise to functionality. It is truly the do-all, fold small, pocket-sized barbecue tool, that is perfect for space saving and will do everything you need when it comes to grilling – flip, turn, fork, crack a beer, you name it.

ProQ’s products are hugely popular with both beginners and seasoned professionals around the world with their ethos to educate and inspire enjoyment of barbecue and outdoor cooking. Sold in 20 countries, as well as online at the ProQ website, there are over 70 products across the ProQ domestic and professional range.

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