Playing with fire: King of barbecue Andy Noonan of the Big Grill Festival shares his best tips and recipes

Europe’s biggest live fire cooking event returns to Herbert Park this summer to celebrate its 10th anniversary

The Big Grill Festival, said to be Europe’s biggest live fire cooking event, celebrates its 10th anniversary this August, when the leafy, smart suburban environs of Herbert Park in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, will once again be enveloped in the haze of wood smoke and the tantalising aroma of delicious things to eat.

The four-day celebration of cooking over wood or charcoal – no gas barbecues allowed – will attract about 25,000 visitors, from August 22nd to 25th, to enjoy demonstrations from barbecue and smoking experts, panel discussions, musical support acts and, of course, great food. It is a massive undertaking, especially as it is located in a salubrious residential area. Andy Noonan, who founded the festival, has been at the helm for all of them.

The former car salesman, from Rathfarnham in Dublin, has been a barbecue enthusiast since his school days, when he would regularly organise all-day cookouts with his pals. He also ran nightclub events and was a pub and club DJ while still at school, and his love of barbecue and event management came together in 2014 when he had the idea of setting up a live fire festival.

“I had been following barbecue events in America and I just thought, why don’t we put these two things together, our knowledge of how to throw a festival or an event, and hosting barbecues, and transfer that into a bigger setting,” Noonan says.


That first Big Grill had just five restaurants participating, yet still managed to sell 10,000 tickets, so Noonan knew he was on to something. Now, the Big Grill brings in some of the best known live fire cooking experts in the world, and to celebrate its 10th anniversary, this year there is a new departure.

“Brad Leone is doing a takeover – Brad Leone and friends – he is taking over Bastecamp [the largest stage at the festival] for Saturday and he is going to run the whole day, the two sessions,” Noonan says.

Leone is an American chef with a much admired YouTube channel and a New York Times bestseller, Field Notes for Food Adventure, as his debut cookbook. “He is a brilliant host and an incredible personality, everybody loves him,” Noonan says of Leone, who first appeared at The Big Grill last year.

In addition, the festival has spread its wings across the Irish Sea and will pop up in London next month, with a two-day event at The Five Points Brewery in Hackney on June 8th and 9th. Noonan describes it as “a more intimate version of The Big Grill”, and chefs will travel over from Ireland to take part alongside the London Irish chef and hospitality community, including restaurateur and chef Robin Gill and Oisín Rogers of Soho pub and restaurant The Devonshire.

Leafy yet suburban Herbert Park may not seem like an ideal location for a barbecue food festival. “We were told in no uncertain terms, at the start, that this could not be a music festival and we completely understand why. It’s food first, not music; it’s family friendly, and it’s an area that is actually the busiest in the country for events, between [the] RDS and the Aviva.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, however. Last year, the weather did not play ball, but despite the challenges posed by heavy rain and high winds, only one session, on Saturday morning, was cancelled. “It was an absolute nightmare,” Noonan recalls, with an early morning safety inspection revealing trees down, and high winds still blowing, leading to a last minute decision to cancel. They got the go ahead for the afternoon session however, and the following day’s Sunday programme sold out for the first time.

Noonan’s partner Lisa, with whom he has a six-year-old son, Max, started working with him last year, and the festival is administered by their Scorchio brand, supported by a tight team of four who are full-time on the project pre-event, and about 60 people who work on the ground at the festival. Scorchio was to be the name of a barbecue restaurant that Noonan had planned to open on Thomas Street in Dublin 8, that did not materialise. “A decision I’m happy with now, in hindsight, given where we are with costs in the restaurant world,” he says.

Noonan has big plans for Scorchio, including running and promoting lots of smaller events, creating barbecue cooking content at his base and outdoor kitchen in south Dublin, and managing festival bookings on behalf of chefs and food personalities. But for now, the top priority is The Big Grill 2024, for which planning is now at an advanced stage. Tickets are on sale online for both the London and Dublin dates.

Andy Noonan’s barbecue tips and recipes

  • Asado, a barbecue in Argentina, is more than a meal – it’s a social gathering that embodies the heart and soul of Argentinian culture. A get-together of friends and family around the parrilla (grill).
  • Whether I’m organising a barbecue for 20 or a live fire festival for 20,000 guests, this is always at the front of mind. It’s a time for socialising around great food and drinks. These are some of my favourite dishes, to serve family style, taking the fuss out of the day, allowing you to spend more time with your guests.
  • Drinks: Have your drinks ready to pour, bottles of wine and glasses close by, a jug of punch or bottle of pre-batched cocktails ready to pour over ice. Have some cold beers in a cooler of ice and jugs of water on the table.
  • You should have all of these to hand: A charcoal barbecue with a lid; good quality lumpwood charcoal (even better – hardwood burned down into embers); a long sturdy set of tongs; an ash rake; heat-resistant gloves; and digital meat thermometer.
Recipe: Chimichurri
Recipe: Salsa criolla
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Recipe: Flatbreads
Recipe: Spatchcock barbecue chicken
Recipe: Reverse seared picanha
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