Fire up the BBQ with tips and recipes from the master

Looking for some barbecue inspiration? John Relihan of Holy Smoke talks to Kate Ryan about his passion for cooking ‘low and slow’, over a fire and shares some amazing recipes
Fire up the BBQ with tips and recipes from the master
John Relihan from Holy Smoke.

HOLY Smoke has become a by-word in Cork city for top quality, pit fired food cooked low and slow.

John Relihan is the Chef Consultant behind the restaurant, who fronts a team of dedicated chefs and makes sure that everyone who visits has a great food experience — from the moment they walk in the door, to the moment they roll out of it several hours later!

John’s passion for this style of food has no limit! It is, in fact, his life’s work. And whereas so many of us associate cooking over fire with a summer barbecue, his mission is to show that in fact this cooking style is suitable any time of year, any weather, for any kind of food: meat, shellfish, delicious smoky vegetables, even for baking bread!

Kate Ryan caught up with John to grill him over his obsession with low and slow cookery.

* So who is John Relihan?

I’m originally from a small village in Co Kerry called Duagh. I had a passion from food from very young and applied at the age of 16 to The Jamie Oliver Foundation to complete the famous ‘Fifteen Restaurant & College’ course. After, I was selected for a scholarship to train with Chris Cosentino in San Francisco, cooking old style and modern Italian food with a focus on head-to-tail, whole animal cookery; foraging and hunting.

I returned to London to the well-respected St John’s Restaurant to work with Fergus Henderson, who was a pioneer of nose-to-tail in the UK. Eventually, after heading back to America to manage Chris Cosentino’s restaurant, I settled in London to head up Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa restaurant where we cooked low and slow using many different fire methods and working with globally respected smoke and fire chefs such as Adam Perry Lang.

After six years, I came to Cork and opened Holy Smoke in 2016, which has been recognised with awards nationally and received international acclaim.

* How did you decide that Smoke & Fire was the culinary style you wanted to specialise in?

I have just always had a passion for food; but during my time at the restaurants of Chris and Adam in San Francisco, and St John’s in London I just fell in love with the whole ritual of cooking over fire.

I spent eight months in a kitchen which just had a wood-fired oven, a tandoor and a grill, cooking with fire all day long from 5.30am in the morning. The time and care that you have to put into it — I just loved everything about it.

* You travel a lot, cooking all around the world. Why is that so important to you?

For me, travel equals food, and food and friendship go hand-in-hand. When I travel, there is always some element of food or cookery attached to it; such as the time I spent in Brazil in 2016 for Churrascada (the biggest festival of its kind in the world).

It puts you into contact with amazing people who do great things everywhere I go. I learn huge amounts and I find it’s exciting.

John Relihan of Holy Smoke.
John Relihan of Holy Smoke.

* Who are your food heroes and why?

I have quite a few, so a shortlist is hard; but it has to be Jamie Oliver for everything that he does — he inspired me to do what I do today; Adam Perry Lang, Chris Cosentino and Fergus Henderson. These are the people who have had the biggest impact on my culinary life as a chef and still continue to inspire me.

* You’re also a Faílte Ireland Food Champion. What do you want to achieve during your tenure?

I’m into my second year of three as a Food Champion. By the end of it, I want to have achieved an ethos of better, closer collaboration for everyone involved in Ireland’s food scene (chefs, producers, farmers, writers) — because I believe that is what makes everything successful.

I’d like to raise the profile of Irish food through exciting and unique food events that really help put Cork and Irish food on the global map as an exciting quality food destination.

Why do you think Irish produce is so special?

We have such a huge variety of produce from the land and sea, as well as wild food. Game season in Ireland is an exceptional time of year food wise. It’s the kind of food that stirs memories and emotions. I really want Ireland to be so much more than just ‘Irish stew’. We have a food identity that is rich, diverse and exciting and that’s what we should be celebrating.

* Where are your favourite places to eat in Cork?

In the city, it has to be Miyazaki — that’s my comfort zone for food right there. Elsewhere, a stand out restaurant is Pilgrims in Rosscarbery, West Cork. Some of the best food I’ve eaten in Ireland, hands down.

* We can only barbecue when it’s warm and sunny. Agree?

Completely false! When you really start getting into low and slow cookery over fire, you realise this can be done anywhere at any time of the year. I did a Pitmaster Masterclass last year in West Cork in the middle of August. We had rain, hurricane winds and it was cold. We cooked up an absolute feast and no-one minded the weather!

What one thing can people do to elevate their barbecue game?

Shop locally for the best ingredients you can; experiment, have fun, have patience and cook slowly.


* Charcoal or Gas?

Either is good, but for better flavour and taste I would always recommend charcoal.

* Best way to get flavour into food before cooking it?

Marinade meats for 24 hours, use a nice rub; experiment with injecting meat with different flavours such as apple cider vinegar or apple juice with pork.

* Controlling temperature?

Have patience, and less is more! The more you put on the grill, the temperature will drop.

The ideal temperature for cooking is 120 degrees Celsius.

* Getting the best out of what’s cooking while it’s on the barbecue?

Turn and baste as much as possible using a herb brush — a wooden spoon that is tied with huge bunches of woody herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, bay etc) sitting it in a pot of melted Irish butter.

* Your overall number one top tip: Be safe and have fun!


Here are some of John's recipes to try

Beef Short Rib Recipe by Tom Relihan
Beef Short Rib Recipe by Tom Relihan

Beef Short Rib oyster stout glaze, fresh slaw and charcoal roasted squash, harissa and smoked hazelnuts

Ingredients (Serves 4)

Get one whole beef short rib with four or five bones from your local butcher. The better the quality of the beef, the better the end result.

Beef Rub:

Sweet Paprika 100g

Soft Brown Sugar 20g

Granulated Garlic Powder 15g

Granulated Onion Powder

20g Sea Salt 20g

Mustard Seeds 10g

Cracked Black Pepper 10g

Crushed Chilli Flakes 5g

Ground Cumin 5g


Put all of these dry ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly to create your rub.

Herb Brush to Baste Beef

1/2 bunch each of rosemary, sage & thyme

Irish Butter Melted 100g

Tie the herbs up in a bunch around the top of a wooden spoon, and place in the butter

Porter Glaze:

200ml oyster stout

50 ml Worcestershire

sauce 50ml chicken stock

1/4 red chilli

1/2 clove garlic

smashed 20g honey

25g Dark brown sugar


Put all ingredients in a pot and reduce to a quarter of the original volume. Set aside in a warm place. This will be used on the short ribs before they are served

Cooking the Ribs


Place the short ribs in a container and massage the beef rub into the meat, covering all gaps and folds.

Set your smoker/ BBQ (with cover) at 120C. You can use cherry wood or oak wood chips for this but I prefer cherry for beef. Place the short rib inside for three hours, cover if using a BBQ, cook low and slow and then baste with the herb brush and the melted butter.

After three hours wrap the whole short rib in tin foil with 50g of butter and place back in the smoker/BBQ for a further eight hours until the beef is soft and juicy and tender. When it is ready, take from the foil and place it sit in smoker for a further hour. Top up the wood a little.

Just before serving, put the ribs on a small tray and pour over 50g of cut the ribs up so each serving is 1 bone per person. Pour 50g of porter glaze over each rib making sure that all of the meat is coated. place in the smoker on a small tray and pour 50g of the porter glaze over the short rib and make sure it fully coats the whole piece of meat. Place back on the BBQ and leave until you are ready to serve.

Fresh slaw:

300g celeriac

200g kohlrabi

200g apple

25g chilli

30g mint

30g coriander

25g salt

20g black pepper

6 lime juice

25ml olive oil to lightly dress


Peel and slice all the celeriac and kohlrabi wash the apple and leave the skin on. Slice all like julienne (matchstick sizes fine dice the red chilli and add, add the lime juice over the apple so it does not discolour. Chop the mint and coriander and add to the mix, season before the service and a drizzle of olive oil. And season.

Charcoal roasted squash

2 squash

10g salt

10g pepper

20ml olive oil


4 red onion

2 garlic slow cooked on the fire

10 red pepper

4 chilli

4g cumin ground

4g coriander seeds

60ml olive oil

10g salt

8g black pepper

3 lime juice

10g Chopped Coriander


yogurt 100ml

2 lime

7g salt

5g pepper



olive oil


black pepper


Place the squash directly above the fire and cook. Once cooked chill and cut. Place in a container and do not stack as it will become mashed.

Harissa: place the red onions on the charcoal direct and turn until soft. Also place all the other veg, garlic, red pepper, chilli over the grills until blackened, peel the skin from the red onion, red pepper, chilli, and garlic and place all in a blender.

Toast the ground cumin and coriander and add to the mix, add the lime juice, coriander and olive oil and season with the salt and pepper.

Yogurt: mix all ingredients together and place in a squeeze bottle.

Hazelnuts: Place all in a mixing bowl and season and pour onto a flat tray and place in the smoker for 15 minutes check to make sure are cooked. once done let cool, and place in a sealed container.

Tip: Ask your local butcher to cut and when buying the short ribs get three fingers thick of meat on top of the bone.


BBQ food from holy Smoke
BBQ food from holy Smoke

Smoked BBQ Chicken and 

Sweetcorn Salsa

Ingredients (Serves 5)

Chicken x 2 whole

1.3 3 limes

30g coriander garnish

50 g butter

Herb brush




Tie all herbs together with butcher string on a wooden spoon.

Chicken Brine:

1 litre water

50g flaked sea salt

1 lime cut in half

20g fresh thyme

20g fresh rosemary

1 garlic clove smashed

6g peppercorns

6g coriander seeds

10g coriander stems

Chicken Rub:

Smoked sweet Paprika 80g

Ground Coriander 5g

flaked Sea Salt 5g

Granulated Onion 4g

Granulated Garlic 4g

Dried Oregano 8g

Cracked Black Pepper 4g

Bay Leaves 1/2 smashed

Lime Zest 1

Char grilled Corn Salsa:

1 cooked corn

grilled 1/2 red onion

15g coriander

1 lime juiced

15ml pomace

oil, 5g salt

5g pepper,


For the rub: Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Your rub in now ready to use.

To cook the chicken: Place all the brine ingredients into a container. Place the whole chicken into the liquid, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight or up to 24 hours to introduce the flavour. Dry off the chicken and cover all over with the rub mixture, including the bird’s cavity.

Get your smoker or BBQ up to 120oC, place on the grill, cover and cook for 3-4 hours.

Check the temperature of the chicken reaches 75C (I use a meat probe). I like to use fruit wood like cherry, sweet chestnut or maple with chicken.

Baste the chicken after one hour with the herb brush. When cooked, let it sit to relax the meat until you are ready to serve.

To make the char grilled corn salsa: Grill the corn fully on the BBQ grill, remove the kernels with a knife and place in a bowl.

Dice the red onion, coriander, deseeded chilli and add to the corn. Mix the lime juice and oil together and add to the mix.

Season with the salt and pepper and adjust with the lime juice if it requires more sharpness.

To smoke the limes: Cut the limes in half and place in the smoker for one hour when cooking the chicken.

Tips: While cooking the chicken baste in the herb brush and butter to keep the chicken extra juicy.

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