AH! Summer! Time for the great outdoors, time to light the charcoal, fill the garden with smoke, annoy the neighbours and eat a burger that manages to be both burnt and bleeding at the same time.

What did we do before barbecues?

In constantly hot countries, built in barbecues are a feature of most popular picnic sites. Here you usually have to take your own. Hence the rise of the disposable BBQ. Also useful if your barbecue has waited so long for a hot summer that it's disintegrated into a rusting bird bath.

The first generation of disposable barbecues were hopeless - hard to light, impossible to control, extremely smoky and constantly going out.

The new lot are wonderful.

They are about the size of a thick telephone directory, entirely self-contained with charcoal and lighting paper in a foil container. Just take the wrapping off, light the paper and it's away.

We tested ours in ideal conditions, a perfectly still evening, which made the job a whole lot easier.


They take a lot of the hassle out of barbecuing, especially on picnics, and are a lot easier - and safer - than trying to light a fire on the beach.

All lit straight away and gave a much longer cooking time than the hour they promised.

The cooking heat was pretty even and just right, unless you like your sausages really burnt.

They're cheap enough and getting cheaper. If you barbecue only a few times each summer, they're probably better value than buying a barbecue, charcoal and lighters.


Smoke. The two bigger barbecues smoked out of all proportion to their size. The Homebase one was fairly smoky too.

If they don't light, or simply go out, it's quite tricky to get them alight again.

They're basic. No extra shelves, nowhere to put food you've cooked or are waiting to cook.

You need some sort of safe base for them. If you put them on the ground, it makes it tricky, though not impossible, to cook.


All our disposable barbecues performed well. The B &Q model stayed cookable on for longest - well over an hour and a half and was the least smokey. The ASDA one was the cheapest you could buy as a single pack.

Our best buys:

B&Q £3.48 for 2

ASDA £1.78.

Others which performed well:





SIMPSONS Party Size £6.98

ON a sweltering summer's day at the top of Weardale, the last thing you expect to see is Santa Claus and a Christmas shop. Blame Maxine Raine.

She runs the post office and gift shop in St John's Chapel and loves Christmas so much that now a large part of her shop is devoted to Christmas trimmings and decorations.

"I just couldn't bear to put the decorations away every year, so I thought I'd start selling them instead."

She was also inspired after she'd come back to the shop having completed a HND in Jazz at Newcastle. "Big band practice first thing on a Monday morning gets the week really started," she says. She still plays the saxophone "usually just by myself" but felt energised by all that jazz to make changes in the shop.

Once a small part of her gift shop, the Christmas goodies have overflowed until they now have their own room, guarded by a jovial Santa. (He's quite near the freezer, to the bemusement of hot and bothered visitors wandering in for ice lollies...)

Inside, angels watch over flocks of snowmen and penguins, santas and shepherds. The room is wreathed in garlands of greenery and, usually, there are Christmas carols belting out. But with the temperature well into the 80s, even Maxine draws the line somewhere.

The decorations are a bit different from the usual run of chainstore fare and range from the classy to the downright daft, such as a Rudolph or snowman cover for your door knob. Was your Christmas ever complete without them? After starting her Christmas celebrations last year, she's discovered she's not the only one who likes Christmas to start in January.

"There's a surprising amount of people who like to get Christmas organised as soon as they can, so they can relax and enjoy it when it actually comes. We get a lot of local customers but now word's getting round ,we get people travelling quite a way just to come and see it," she adds.

Only 144 shopping days to go...

* The Christmas Room at the Post Office, St John's Chapel. Open daily. Saturday 9am-7pm; Sunday 2-4pm. Closed Tuesday afternoons.

Published: 03/08/2001