Summertime…and the entertaining is easy. Well, it is if you plan well and don’t stress too much. When hosting a backyard barbecue or outdoor dinner party with family or friends, you already have two things working in your favor: the beauty of nature and the warmth of summer. Blue skies by day, twinkling stars by night. And as anybody who’s ever gone camping will attest, food tastes even greater in the great outdoors.
A few tips for the planning process. Figure out how many guests will be attending and make sure you have adequate space and enough tables and chairs to accommodate everyone. If lots of kids will be there, you’ll want to designate a play area for them, with some outdoor toys and games to keep them entertained. In the days leading up to the event, keep an eye on the sun, and the weather forecast. If it’s going to be hot, you’ll want to seat people in the shade, if possible. You may want to rent a canopy if the trees in your yard won’t do the job. If rain is in the forecast, you’ll want to have a backup plan.
Warm Days. Cold Foods?
Perhaps the biggest challenge of outdoor entertaining is keeping foods hot. One solution: limit the number of hot items on the menu. Instead, serve foods that are delicious cold or at ambient temperature, such as salads and antipasto-style sides. One serving suggestion: sliced fresh tomatoes alternated with slices of buffalo mozzarella cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
The Main Attraction
Let your main dish be the hot-off-the-grill hero, coming straight from the coals to your guests’ plates. If you’ve got enough grill space, you can prepare a side dish or two on the grill as well as corn on the cob, or sliced zucchini. Try our recipe for Grilled Corn with Chipotle Lime Butter. Your supermarket deli department can help out, too, with side dishes like twice baked potatoes that you can simply reheat in the oven shortly before dinnertime.
Speaking of vegetables, one major advantage of summertime entertaining is the availability of fresh seasonal produce. Head for your local farmer’s market or supermarket and pick up locally-grown veggies that are at their peak of flavor this time of year.
We recommend grilled steaks for your featured entree. It’s really hard to beat a sizzling New York strip charbroiled to perfection. A little salt and pepper is really about all you need with a good steak like this, but if you want something extra special, try topping the steaks with our incredible Chimichurri Sauce. It adds distinctive South American flavor and an exciting dash of color.
Steaks Well Done for Everyone
One challenge you face with steaks is that different people want them cooked to varying degrees of doneness. How to deal with that? Timing is everything!
For those folks who want their steaks well-done, put those on the grill first, followed by the mediums, then the medium rares, and finally the steaks for those who live life on the edge (the rare breeds). An instant-read meat thermometer is strongly recommended.
Use these guidelines to achieve proper doneness. (Note that the meat will cook another 5 degrees or so after removing from the grill, so try to remember to allow for that.)
MEDIUM RARE: 150º
Most grillmasters suggest that you start by searing the steaks directly over hot coals for 2 to 3 minutes per side (which will deliver great-looking grill marks), then move the steaks to another part of the grill away from the hot coals for the remainder of the cooking time. This will prevent the steaks from becoming too charred.
Some other quick grill tips:
Keep the grill well-oiled to prevent sticking (use no-stick spray or olive oil)
Use tongs or a spatula, NOT a fork (which can pierce the meat, and drain juices)
Save the BBQ sauce till near the end of the cook process (the sugar in the sauce will burn)
Use foil to wrap tender vegetables like tomatoes, or slower cooking veggies such as potatoes
A Sweet Summer Finale
For dessert, why not set up an ice cream sundae bar, with maraschino cherries, chocolate sauce and nut toppings? Try our Espresso Ice Cream Mix-In. It turns store-bought ice cream into a homemade delight. Grilled fresh fruit makes a terrific topping as well.
It’s (fairly) easy being GREEN
Dining alfresco shouldn’t be an excuse to use disposables. Go green by using real dishes, flatware, and glass or reusable plastic glassware. Real linens, too, like wipe-clean tablecloths, and cloth napkins. Not only are they eco-friendly, they’ll dress up your party, too. But leave the fine china in the hutch. Outdoor cookouts are casual by definition. Just keep things fun and colorful. And green!
Some real greenery can add nice touches to your table also. Flowers from your garden, leaves from your trees, or a sprig of fresh-cut herbs are wonderful for place setting decor. A platter of fresh, red-ripe summer tomatoes make a simple beautiful centerpiece.
Candles are a lovely mood-setter. A simple and inexpensive tea-light candle set inside a glass can work real magic, especially as twilight turns to evening.
Another important candle is the citronella. It’s a must-have once mosquito season is underway. An electric bug zapper will do the trick also.
Hook your iPod up to some outdoor speakers for some summer mood music, add maybe a few tiki torches, and you’re in business.
Enjoy the summer. It only comes around once a year, and it’s always gone just a little too soon.