The weather is great, and everyone is feeling relaxed – it is the perfect time to get everyone together and enjoy a balmy evening eating, drinking and relaxing.
However, once you start thinking about how to plan the party, you may find your stress levels are actually on the rise – How much should I cook? What should I cook? Will I have time to mingle or will I be sweating over the grill all evening?
Don’t let your summer barbecue turn into a source of stress. Check out our 5 easy steps to host a summer barbecue, and enjoy the occasion just as much as your guests.
#1 – Brush up on some grilling basics
If you haven’t used a grill before (or if it’s been a while), then it is well worth the effort to learn some basic techniques so you are confident when your guests start arriving.
Fire up your grill a day or two before to make sure it is in working order. Give it a clean, including the grates. And check that you have enough fuel for the entire cook!
It’s worth having a spare propane tank or bag of charcoal on hand to avoid emergency trips to the store.
Think about where you will set up the grill so you are protected from the wind, and where you won’t set anything alight like low hanging branches or clothes.
Position it in a spot where you can socialize while still keeping an eye on your food.
The day of the barbecue, prep your food ahead of time, including trimming excess fat to prevent flare ups, adding marinades or rubs at least an hour before you plan to start cooking, and make any side dishes that can be refrigerated ahead of time.
Start cooking at the right time and prevent any last minute panic when your guests are starving and you still have 2 hours cooking time left.
Check out this guide for more grilling basics.
#2 – Make sure you have all the essential grilling equipment
Do an inventory of your equipment – and if anything is missing, or is not fit for purpose, invest in good quality, heat resistant tools that will last.
Here is a quick list of the essential grill accessories.
- Heat resistant glove
- Apron (unless you don’t particularly like the clothes you have)
- Grill Fork
- Aluminum foil
- Plates for raw meat, clean plates for cooked meat
- Meat thermometer
- Brush to clean your grill
You will need to add to this list if you have a particular dish in mind, for instance, metal skewers if you want to do kabobs, a chopping board if you need to slice up your meat before serving, or rib racks if you plan on doing ribs.
Make sure you have thought through all the ingredients you will need for your dish and have your cupboard stocked up.
And remember, you will always need cooking oil, so make sure your supply is not running low.
#3 – Choose Your Menu Carefully
You need to think strategically when it comes to planning your menu.
To keep everything simple, I suggest sticking with items that are quick and easy to grill.
Think burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings or thighs. Small items are better than large cuts of meat.
Think about how many you are feeding, whether anyone has any dietary requirements and last but not least, your skill and/or stress levels.
- How many people?
Remember that the more small side dishes or appetizers you prepare, the less your guests will eat for the main.
An advantage of cooking a selection of side dishes is that people can pick and choose what they prefer, so if you have a vegetarian coming along, they can go crazy on salads and grilled veggies.
Check out this guide for lots of great ideas for vegetarian grilling recipes.
If you have plenty of dishes on offer, about 6 ounces of meat will be enough per guest for main, if you are having less on offer and planning to make the meat the main event, count on something more like 8 ounces per person.
Don’t forget that if you have something planned for desert, make sure you remind everyone to leave some room for that too!
- Dietary Requirements?
If you aren’t already familiar with what your guests dietary requirements or preferences are, make sure to check.
You don’t need to cater the entire meal to that person, just make sure there are a couple of options available that they can eat.
If their requirements are quite strict, like those with a peanut allergy or some other medical condition, it might be worth setting a decent portion aside for them so it doesn’t get contaminated or snaffled up by the other guests.
As we mentioned earlier, having a selection of side dishes, some veg only, is one way to cater to those who don’t eat meat without making a big fuss, keeping the occasion relaxed for both you and your guests.
- Your Skill Level and Stress Levels
If you are going to cook a selection of dishes, do as many as you can ahead of time.
If you aren’t keen on babysitting the meat all night, cook something that will be done quickly, such as burger patties, sausages or kabobs.
Generally it is not a good idea to “try out” a new recipe for the first time when you have a crew coming over for dinner, so stick to recipes that are tried and true, or if you do want to try something different, make sure you do a practice run before unleashing it on your guests.
#4 – Prepare Your Sides Ahead of Time
We have touched on this a number of times, but this really is a key to making a barbecue easy and stress free.
Cook your sides the night before or throughout the day before the barbecue.
Doing this will also give you plenty of time to troubleshoot – if you forgot an ingredient or something is not going to plan you have time to sort it out, and no one will know!
When your guests arrive all you will need to do is set the sides out on the table and that is the bulk of the work done, aside from the meat!
Just make sure if you cook side dishes ahead of time that you store them safely, which leads us nicely to our last point…
#5 – Prepare and Grill Your Food Safely
There are a couple of aspects to safety. First and foremost, food safety comes to mind.
Make sure you keep raw meat refrigerated, thaw it before cooking, and be careful of cross contamination – think equipment, hands and surfaces.
Especially when cooking chicken it’s important to cook to a safe internal temperature. The easiest way to do this is with a meat thermometer.
You can find a list of safe internal meat temperatures from the USDA here.
Refrigerate foods that you do not plan on serving hot.
Make sure you remember to wash your hands regularly.
Aside from food hygiene basics, remember that you are dealing with fire and hot surfaces when you cook. Have a fire extinguisher on hand in case anything gets out of control.
A first aid kit is always a good idea, as is sunscreen and insect repellent.
If you have used a wire brush to clean off your grill, remember that those wires can cause big problems if they come loose and are ingested. Check your grill grate carefully after brushing it down, and wipe it with a cloth after brushing it to make sure that there are no stray wires hanging around.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself
Barbecues are a great summer tradition. And they don’t need to be stressful. With a little forethought, you can enjoy your next barbecue just as much as your guests.
So have a read back through our tips, check your equipment and devise a game plan, then round up your best buddies and have a great time this summer.