Saturday, June 28, 2014

How to Host a Casual Summer Barbecue

Who wouldn't want a plate of that?

Recently, we decided to have a handful of friends over for some barbecue and an easy hangout. As it is, in fact, a million degrees outside, the goal was to put together a menu that would not require slaving away in a hot kitchen all day. Being an advocate of simple, casual get-togethers, I have detailed some tips and tricks for throwing the perfect casual gathering.

Have Glasses at the Ready

"Fill us!"

One aspect of our style of entertaining is... it includes a lot of beverages. This typically includes sharing beer tastes (we run with a craft beer-loving crowd), wine and/or a cocktail that can be made in large batches. Also, copious amounts of water. More on that momentarily.

This little sideboard is actually a makeshift piece of party furniture. Spoilers: it is an old Ikea media console covered in a cute red tablecloth. It came out for a dinner party, and has been so useful that it lives in our dining room until we find a 'real' sideboard alternative. It is convenient to have something set aside purely for a party, on which you can set food, drink or, in this case, glasses, without crowding up your dining room or coffee table.

The glasses are ones I got in bulk. The steins are from a family friend and have a flat side where guests can write their names with whiteboard markers (if you aren't too lazy to find a whiteboard marker, as we often are). The stemless wine glasses are perhaps my favorite entertaining coup, being $1 each from Dollar Tree. Having these out and ready for self-service really opens up your time.

Pitchers of Beverages

Ice, ice, baby.

First, the water. I like to make sure that there is always a pitcher of water filled, namely because of the aforementioned Summer heat.

This party marked the first appearance of the ice bucket, which turned out to be quite useful. I was really impressed with how long the ice stayed solid in there, and only had to be refilled once. This was a cheap find at TJ Maxx that my mom gifted us, and likely won't run you more than $10 or $15. Periodically, I would refill the water pitcher and add more of the ice cubes to make sure it stayed chilled.

Imagination exercise: picture a pitcher filled with lemonade above, as if I had remembered to take a photograph of it. This mythical pitcher was filled with mint lemonade I had made that morning. The base recipe is quite easy, and I simply muddled some mint and tossed it into the lemonade to chill a couple hours and add a minty flavor. This served double-duty as a non-alcoholic option, as well as a cocktail alternative to beer. By putting out some vodka and bourbon, this gave guests the option to spike lemonade if they felt so inclined.

Table Setting

Placemats and all!

Typically, I like to use real plates and some inexpensive, bulk black cloth napkins I bought on Amazon, but this is barbecue. The day before, I went through over ten paper towels eating half a pulled pork sandwich. Let's be real, paper towels are the way to go.

Also, while I don't follow the classic "every party needs a flower arrangement!!" rule of thumb, I do think they are nice and pretty if you feel like indulging. We just snipped some roses from our yard and put them in this vase for some color.

Oh, fork it. Let's just eat.

I believe that barbecue also calls for paper plates, roughly three per person if you want to factor in the inevitable repeat visits to the food. Costco almost always has some variation of a hearty, holiday-themed individual-sized paper platter. Being a few weeks away from the 4th of July, an American flag design it is. Paired with the barbecue, let's just say it added an air of patriotism to the occasion.

The silverware I tossed in a wide-mouthed mason jar glass so people can grab them easily.

The Menu

"I want to eat the meat!"

The food was all about comfort food. No, we didn't eat the dog (as the photo above might suggest). Our good friends Christie and Adam (purveyors of all things delicious) introduced us to Bludso's BBQ, a delicious little hole-in-the-wall in the heart of Compton. We picked up an obscene amount of meat and planned to make the sides ourselves, excepting the big batch of beans the same two friends brought us from Gus's Barbecue (aka: the South Pasadena rival of Bludso's for our meat-loving hearts).

Sides included...

The Dudes' Apple Fennel Slaw

So fresh and so clean.

As I have previously mentioned, the Two Dudes, One Pan cookbook is one of my absolute favorites. Their recipes are simple, foolproof and unique. Their Apple Fennel Slaw recipe is utterly divine. We omitted the jalapenos this time as we wanted it to cool down the meat, but typically we like it nice and spicy.

Pioneer Woman's Macaroni and Cheese

Artery clogging goodness.

I highly recommend Ree Drummond's recipe for some down home, cheesy comfort.

Word to the wise, the six servings she mentions are HEARTY six servings. This made an enormous pot of mac and cheese, which we proceeded to graze on for hours.

Pecan Bars

I chose this recipe because each step of it included bourbon and, well, that is pretty awesome. Admittedly it didn't yield pecan bars as flavorful as I like them to be, but a sprinkle of brown sugar or sea salt perked those right up.

The Timeline

For those curious, here is the timeline I followed to keep things organized and low-stress:

Day Before
  • Pick up BBQ
  • Make slaw (better if sits, anyway)
  • Run glassware through the dishwasher and set out
  • Top off decanters with vodka and bourbon for spiked lemonade

Four Hours Before Guests Arrive
  • Set the table
  • Snip flowers (if using)
  • Make pecan bars (although easily could be made the day before)

Two Hours Before Guests Arrive
    • Heat BBQ on low, 230*
    • Get beverages ready and put in fridge to chill

    Forty Five - Thirty Minutes Before Guests Arrive
      • Set out ice bucket and beverages (make sure the beverages are filled with an adequate amount of ice so they stay chilled)
      • Make mac and cheese and keep warm on low

      ...and there you have it! What are your secrets for a quick-and-easy Summer party?!

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