5 SIMPLE Tips for a Backyard Barbecue
Everyone is not a born entertainer and entertaining, much like barbecuing itself, is an art form. We’ve narrowed down a basic checklist, but definitely check out other blog posts for terrific recipes, ideas for fun drinks and incorporating child friendly foods and activities into your event.
- Choose your menu
It all starts with the protein – you can build the rest of the menu around the main attraction. Whether it’s as simple as burgers and dogs, a traditional pulled pork or smoked chicken wings and ribs, just remember not to get too ambitious. It’s one thing to overestimate your skills on a small scale when a quick run out for a rotisserie chicken to feed the family is an easy solution. It’s another thing entirely to try something complex when 25 hungry people are on your doorstep. If you’re really good at burgers, take them up a notch by offering gourmet cheeses and a wide variety of toppings or even use different types of meat in the burgers themselves with exotics such as goat, emu or bison. Add some sausages or brats to your hot dog platter or select gourmet sausages from your local meat market. Let the protein shine as the star of the party and complement it with basic side items. I’m in the south, so a good creamy potato salad and chilled cole slaw is almost a prerequisite, but a colorful pasta salad or fresh green tossed salad are other fresh alternatives.
- Plan! Plan! Plan!
Half of the entertaining hurdle is timing. Do as much of the prep work as you can early in the day or the day before if possible. Slice, dice, portion and refrigerate. Go ahead and put the beer on ice and set the tables up. One thing you can always plan for is that something CAN and WILL come up. These surprises are no sweat at all if you’re not already behind. Check your charcoal supply or the propane tank well ahead of time – you won’t have a fire if you don’t have fuel. Have some munchies on hand for guests to nibble on when they arrive. This can be as simple as a bowl of mixed nuts and chips and dip to a veggie tray or beautifully stacked canapes. If kids are attending, I always like to have kid friendly food ready early … as early as arrival time … so you may want to go ahead and cook a smaller batch of burgers and dogs before the party starts. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Guests like to be a part of the process and a BBQ is the type of event that it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for assistance.
- Offer Variety
Variety is the spice of life, and the life of the party. I like to plan a menu that appeals to a wide range of tastes. If I’m cooking burgers, I’m going to have toppings on hand that invites my guests to try something new. Jalapenos, pimiento cheese, gourmet cheeses, bacon, sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. Stuffed burgers are on trend and you probably have many of the ingredients on hand to put favorite toppings on the inside and make a double stuffed cheddar bacon burger. Don’t be afraid to add some seafood, poultry or pork to your repertoire. Salmon is a great choice that has broad appeal and is not overly priced. It cooks fairly quickly and can be dressed up with a glaze or freshly chopped herbs. Surf and turf kabobs are a terrific mixed use of two more expensive proteins with fresh vegetables, giving the guest the impression of an upscale menu, and delivering it in a cost effective manner. Whatever you choose, think about your guest list and possible allergies such as gluten intolerance, seafood and nut allergies and any vegetarian invitees. Having a safe plan for everyone increases the fun factor.
- Build the Atmosphere
Lighting and music shouldn’t be an afterthought. Obviously if the backyard party is daylight only, lighting won’t be a hurdle. If you’re entertaining at twilight or later, it’s an important factor. During the planning stages, take a look at the area the party will cover and break it into zones. For a typical back yard with patio, there will be the grill zone, food tables, drink area, conversational space, and recreational space. These areas will be defined by the grill itself, tables or stations, and outdoor entertainment staples like cornhole, horseshoes, badminton, or the big game on the big tv. Residual lighting from porch lights or exterior house lights likely won’t cover the entirety of the back yard. If you want to encourage guests to use all of the available space, reach up in the attic for some Christmas lights and weave them through a tree or along the fence. Solar powered lights are great for creating a path or boundary, and tiki torches are an inexpensive lighting option with the added benefit of insect protection. As far as music, connect your phone or tablet to an amplifier and choose from hundreds of online playlists or stream from popular radio apps like Pandora. If you’re gathering for a game, consider having music on in another area of the yard. If the party is outdoors, I always anticipate that there will be some interior overflow and I set the stage inside with softer lighting and music. This allows a quieter space if guests need to get away for a few minutes. Don’t forget the decor! It’s not always necessary to pull out the paper lanterns and streamers, but carrying through on a basic theme through tablecloths, napkins, cups and flowers is easy enough to achieve and give your BBQ some continuity.
- Safety First
It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Have the basics on hand, a fire extinguisher, ice packs and a basic first aid kit at the very least. Sunscreen and insect repellent are good additions, too. Make sure the grill or smoker is on level ground and is set away from anything flammable and that there is proper ventilation surrounding a wood burning or charcoal powered grill. Stay aware of what is happening around you at all times and ensure that little ones or pets don’t wander too close to hot surfaces.
After you’ve got a few barbecues under your belt, you’ll figure out what works best for your crowd and your space, then a backyard party will work like clockwork.