Summer is upon us. Our days seamlessly transition into even warmer nights when we take on a new approach to living. Instead of engaging in the continual rat race of other seasons, we enter a new state of relaxation. Along with relaxation comes gathering, and with that should come food and drink. Shared meals among friends and family, the laughter and squeals of children playing under the stars – these are the joys that come from gathering around a BBQ, cookout, or campfire. These are the days of summertime.
Combining hosting with cooking can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Proper steps can be taken to ensure a successful event. I’m a huge advocate of cooking at home, and even more so of cooking in outdoor space. Warmer weather provides the opportunity to BBQ outdoors in our natural element, and this should be taken advantage of! If this is your first time taking the grill for a spin, don’t be intimidated. I highly encourage everyone, from novice to those with advanced cooking skills, to give it a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easily you can conquer that “big beast in the yard.”
Here are a few pointers I’ve learned along the way:
First and foremost – know your audience. Whether you’re cooking for just your spouse, your entire family, or grilling for a large group of friends, knowing who’s attending is half the battle. Being familiar with your guests’ dietary restrictions and preferences can help you plan the perfect meal that everyone can thoroughly enjoy.
Be prepared! Are you using gas or charcoal? Make sure to stock up on your fuel of choice ahead of time. Having the propane fizzle out or running out of charcoal in the middle of a cookout can really turn things into a mess. Also, many grilling accessories are available, including grill baskets, tongs, and skewers. Invest in a few that may help you maximize space on the grill and assist in the grilling process.
Timing is everything. I’ve attended many gatherings where the timing was off. There’s nothing worse than watching the sun go down while your stomach rumbles and you hear, “The tri-tip needs just a few more minutes!” I’ve learned that when the timing is just right, the food and ambience come together in a perfect marriage.
Cooking with fire has been around since the dark ages, but we’ve turned it into an art over the years. Don’t think of it as anything less. Figure out how long each component in your meal will take to cook – your meats, sides, and vegetables. The last thing you want to do is serve a meal that’s half cold and half still on the grill. It’ll take a bit of finesse, but once mastered it’ll become effortless.
Marinades and sauces can really make or break a meal. Find a marinade recipe (see Chef Penny’s recipes in this issue) that will complement your meats and a dressing or sauce for your sides and vegetables. With the right combination, a simple chicken and vegetable skewer can be elevated to a new level. Completing all sauces and marinades prior to your guests’ arrival will surely leave them impressed by the complexity of your grilling preparation and skill.
After all is said and done, no one wants the host or hostess to be chained to the grill for the duration of the get-together. Be sure to ask for help if you need it. Have a friend assist with the prep work or watch the grill for a bit to give you the flexibility to get yourself a drink and chat with your guests.
With proper preparation, planning, and timing, you’ll surely earn the title of “Ultimate Grill Master” – all summer long!
Ashly Bloore is a writer, fashion merchandiser, wife, and mom to three young boys