Summertime is the time to gather friends and family and fire up the grill! But if you find that you spend most of your time parked behind the grill or stuck in the kitchen while everyone else enjoys each other's company, then it may be time to switch things up. Before you host your next outdoor party at home or away, some careful planning will free up time for you to enjoy yourself while still delivering awesome eats. Here are five tips to help you (and your guests!) enjoy your next barbecue.
1. Meal Prep the Day Before
Pictured Recipe: Jambalaya Sausage Kebabs
The cornerstone to really enjoying your barbecue is planning ahead. If you don't want to be stuck cooking while everyone else is enjoying each other's company, then prepare the majority of the meal the day before. Make sure you pick recipes that can be held for a day, or plan a menu with plenty that can be prepped ahead (chopping salad veggies, making salad dressing, marinating meats and veggies for the grill) and leave light assembly for day-of (tossing, dressing and grilling). If you've got a green salad or a recipe that has lots of herbs, prep the ingredients, but keep them separate until you're ready to serve. Try to keep the main dish or dishes simple. Focus on recipes with minimal steps or steps that can be done ahead of time (like making protein and veggie kebabs or foil packets). All you should have to do when your guests are present is fire up the grill and cook, not chop and prep.
Try some of these great make-ahead BBQ recipes:
- Buttermilk-Brined Chicken Breast with Basil-Mint Sauce: Brine the chicken and make the sauce the night before
- Greek Turkey Burgers with Spinach, Feta & Tzatziki: Prepare the patties and all the toppings the morning of
- Red Cabbage Porterhouse Steaks with Herb Butter: Marinate these vegetarian "steaks" and mix the butter 1 day early
- BBQ Carrot Dog: Marinate these vegan "hot dogs" a day early, too while you're at it
Related: All the Marinade Recipes You Need
2. Pick a Practical Dessert
Pictured Recipe: Chocolate Zucchini Brownies
There are plenty of desserts that would be a welcome addition to a barbecue, but unless you're throwing your party at home, portability and the ability to make-ahead is key. Pick something that's easy to pack, pretty sturdy and doesn't need to be kept frozen like Healthy Brownie Bites. Cookies and bars like Almond Butter-Quinoa Blondies are great options. They're virtually indestructible, there's no slicing involved and they're mostly finger foods, which means less mess and dirty dishes to deal with at the end.
3. Divide and Conquer
Pictured Recipe: Mexican Pasta Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing
Most people want to be helpful, so let them. Gather a few friends or family members early to help set up, and likewise to help pack things away when the party is over. If your gathering is on the large side, consider asking people to contribute a dish or two. To avoid having six pasta-salad side dishes, be specific. Ask one person to bring their favorite potato salad, and another to bring a green salad, and another a fruit dessert ... you get the idea. Or set up an online sign-up sheet so everyone can pick and choose which side or dessert to bring. It's less work for you, and you'll end up with a balanced meal.
4. Got Kids? Have Them Help
Pictured Recipe: Garlic Butter Campfire Corn
After they've exhausted the lawn games and other forms of entertainment, it's the perfect time to give the kids a job or two. Kids of all ages (generally) enjoy being part of the action. The trick here is to plan ahead. Have a few tasks in mind that kids can handle and enjoy doing with each other, like setting the table and shucking corn. If you have a simple recipe that just needs some finishing touches, like sprinkling herbs on a salad or arranging fruit on a platter, let the kids do it for you. They'll take pride in their work, and you'll have one less job or two to do.
5. Keep the Mess in Check
Pictured Recipe: Chicago-Style Carrot Dogs
No one likes cleaning up after a party. To make it easy on yourself, consider using some or all disposable plates and napkins. You can even use ballpark-style paper baskets for hot dogs and hamburgers or wrap sandwiches in pieces of parchment. If you're worried about filling up the landfill with your party trash, look for products that can be recycled or composted. If you take the more environmentally friendly route, note that many biodegradable plates, napkins and flatware can only be composted in a large industrial set-up, not your backyard pile. This will, of course, require a trip to a facility that accepts these products, but it still beats being buried in a mountain of dirty dishes.
Watch: The Best BBQ Menu for Summer Parties