Some food, some drink.
Recipe Round-up: Tips and Ideas for Planning the Best Backyard Barbeque.
Whether it's grilling for the family, or barbequeing for a crowd, I love cooking outdoors. I went thru my recipe box and picked out my best main course and side dish ideas for the summer months. If you're planning a barbeque or picnic during the the summer holidays, you might wanna check out what worked for me; along with a few tips to help your next outdoor gathering go off without a hitch. Whether it's pork, beef, or even vegetarian, there's something for everybody!
Meal planning. For the uninspired, it's the equivalent of culinary writer's block. And now that we're in the midst of grilling season, it only makes sense to want to do more cooking outside. It's no secret that cookouts and picnics are my favorite kind of dinner party. There's no standing on ceremony, and anyhow I've always found the company to be better in those come-as-you-are situations. I've been documenting recipes long enough on my little patch of the interwebs here that with the time for outdoor entertaining upon us, I figured it just made sense for me to drop some ideas and perhaps plant a seed of inspiration the next time you find yourself wanting for a menu for your next cookout. This time around, we talking main course and side dish options.
I know folks eat with their eyes, so if you could care less about my prattling on and just wanna see what stuff looks like, you can skip past my prattling on and head straight for the eye candy at the bottom of the page.
- You're going to have to make a decision up-front about how much pageantry means to you. If you're the kind of person that likes to man the cooker with a cold one in-hand, then grilled food is the way to go. Homemade brat burgers are always a hit here, and if it's a cookout with just a few hour's notice then "Turbo Brined" chicken breasts and pork chops go from freezer to grill in the time it takes to lay out the rest of your spread and set the table.
- Real barbeque requires time; and at the end of the day, if you're telling guests that dinner's going to be at six, it's not a guarantee that your pork shoulder is using the same wristwatch. Barbeque is usually a do-ahead; and you should expect to reheat to serve. I find that slow cookers and electric roasters set to low are perfect for this task. Make sure that you start with a splash of beer or other cooking liquid in the bottom of that Crock Pot to keep your barbeque from turning to jerky. If you do have the time, the BBQ pork butt recipe I use is some of the best I've had, restaurant of otherwise; and if beef is more you're thing, you can't beat a good brisket. Likewise, if you're serving a small crowd, there's no excuse for not cooking pork spareribs.
There is a corollary to the whole "taste takes time" thing. If you must have slow, smoky flavor and you wish to dictate your schedule to the barbeque, then something like a bacon explosion will cook consistently within a four-hour window and will let you go straight from the smoke to the table (with presentation points!).
- A side doesn't have to start in the kitchen. I absolutely love grilled zucchini, and if you've got the grill lit anyway, then a garam masala-spiced zucchini with a curry yogurt sauce can also double as a main course for the vegetarians on the guest list.
- Just like all that aforementioned big barbeque, any slow and low sides will have to be done ahead and reheated as well. However, in the case of a pot of cowboy beans that's a good thing, as everyone knows that baked beans are always better the next day. You need a Dutch oven for a proper pot of beans, but I can't think of a better excuse to procure what's certain to become a family kitchen heirloom.
- For the most part, you can't go wrong with side salads. Pasta salad is always a hit at our family cookouts, and spaghetti salad made with whole wheat pasta is a close second. If pasta ain't your thing, something like a Hoppin' John salad made with black eyed peas and brown rice will most certainly stick to your ribs without alotta guilt.
- A bag of chips by itself is never the best choice for a side, but when paired with a dip, well then that's totally acceptable. Salsas are always a hit at our outdoor gatherings; whether it be peach, corn and black bean, or straight-up tomato. And if you really wanna give a tortilla chip a run for its money, then layered bean dip with chorizo is just the thing. For those who like their noshing a bit healthier, I always put out a tray of raw vegetables along with some tangy homemade veggie dip; and honestly, I think those crudites are just as good with with a cold beer as those salty snacks.
If there is a mantra to be found in my ramblings here, I think it's probably something to the effect of "Keep it simple; and when that's not possible, do it ahead." Even if you don't carry a PhD in pitmastery, throwing a memorable cookout doesn't have to be complicated or break the bank. Having said that, I've given you plenty of reason to forget about being a slouch and defaulting to burgers, dogs, and a bag of potato chips. Serving the right food at a cookout is the best place to leave a lasting impression on family and friends; and if that leaves you with a bit of anxiety, then I'll offer you my most valuable tip for entertaining: Buy twice as much liquor and beer as you think you'll need, and your cookout is sure to be a success.