I'm no grill master. I leave that to
my husband. But, I do love hosting cookouts in the summer. There's
just something about playing ladder ball while sipping fruity
cocktails amid the smell of charcoal.
While backyard parties are a blast,
hosting is more than just throwing out a veggie platter and a bowl
of potato salad and making sure there are enough hot dog buns. It
can be stressful.
With the help of barbecue experts,
I've come up with eight tips to hosting an amazing backyard
barbecue without totally stressing out. A glass of wine won't hurt
This may sound like a lot of work or
even a bit cheesy, but surprisingly a theme can make your life
easier and your party more fun. With a Mexican theme, serve grilled
fish tacos, guacamole and margaritas, or serve burgers, brats and
Berghoff beer for a Chicago barbecue theme, for example.
"It creates a more fun and memorable
event," says Debi Lilly, chief eventeur of
A Perfect Event in Chicago.
Create a menu based on the
theme-everything from drinks and appetizers to main dish, sides and
dessert, Lilly says. Plan your guest list, figure out how much food
is needed and what guests can bring.
"I always love to do a theme where people are
actually bringing something that goes with it," says Julie Reinhardt, author of She-Smoke, a book about
Don't spend time cutting veggies or mixing potato salad when you
could be out schmoozing with your guests. Most sides, appetizers
and desserts can be prepared ahead of time, says Carlos Acevedo,
editor for Better Homes and Gardens' grilling publications.
Just like everyone hovers in the kitchen during an indoor party,
people will naturally want to gravitate toward the grill during a
cookout, says Acevedo. Instead of slaving over the heat alone,
embrace that. Set up drinks near the grill and start the party with
a grilled appetizer like shrimp with a dipping sauce.
Whenever someone asks to bring something to his
parties, Acevedo always replies "Ice!" There is never too much ice at a backyard barbecue, but
hosts should never turn down offers to bring food or help at the
party. "My general theme is all about lightening your load,"
Managing time and temperature are
the most important aspects of grilling, says Meathead Goldwyn, a
barbecue aficionado from Brookfield, who created the grilling website
amazingribs.com. (Goldwyn, who says everyone calls him
"Meathead," won't reveal his given
"By far the most important thing you
can do is spend $25 on a quality digital thermometer, from both a
safety standpoint and a quality standpoint," Goldwyn says.
The sure way to become a grill master is to create a hot and
cool zone on your grill, Goldwyn says. This way some meats can cook
slower and longer and other meats can be seared hot and fast. For a
gas grill, turn two burners on high on one side, and turn two
burners on low or off on the other side. For charcoal grills, stack
charcoal high on one side and low on the other.
Become a grill master by getting to
know your grill or smoker, says Goldwyn.
Using a digital thermometer,
determine which areas of the grill are hottest and coolest. Another
method is to place white bread on different areas of the grill.
Heat the grill at different temperatures and certain areas of the
grill will brown the bread faster.
Before the party, practice cooking
various meats on the grill or smoker. Not only will you figure out
the ideal grill temperature and cooking time, but you can
experiment with seasonings. Also try out any new recipes before
serving them at a party.
"I'm a big fan of practice
runs," says Barry Sortman, owner and chef
at Smoque BBQ in Chicago.
Depending upon your yard size, set up a variety of games for
kids and adults. Volleyball, croquet and badminton are fun games to
involve a number of people at once. Bocce Ball, horseshoes and
Blongo Balls (also known as ladder ball and a variety of other
names) are other good games. A craft table works for kids, says