Independence Day is gone, but a lot of people like myself enjoy firing up the good old BBQ grill to entertain family and friends all summer long at our own leisure. By the pool, at the park, or right out on the back porch, wherever you decide to get your grill on, make sure to be prepared. Here are a few pointers to help you maintain order and impress your guests the next time they swing by for a party. Summer time is here, so let’s get grilling!
First things first, get your grocery shopping done early, and don’t leave the house without a list. That’s right, a list, because nobody likes round two at the store, and all of us forget that one, vital, thing. Not to mention, the lines are always outrageous this time of year.
When making a list, always plan for leftovers. Chances are there won’t be any, because let’s face it, BBQ is just plain delicious. Don’t take the chance of running out before you even get done cooking. The grill master almost always eats last, so better safe than hungry.
Always keep in mind it never hurts to ask for help, so get everyone involved if you can. Have a few reliable people bring drinks and buns, disposable place settings, and plenty of napkins. If your friends aren’t so reliable, ask anyways; just have a back-up plan in case they “forget.” Most importantly, always show appreciation for any help you can get.
With leftovers in mind, try to incorporate a variety of different options for your variety of different guests. It’s best to have a couple of simple staples like hot dogs and burgers that you know will cook quickly. Slap the burgers on the main grill and place the dogs on the upper rack if you have one. This way it’s all finished at the same relative time, and the really hungry ones, a.k.a. small children, will have something to munch on while the “good stuff” grills.
Speaking of “good stuff,” over the years it has been my experience that the one item I am most excited to eat, is equally sought after by the majority of my guests. What does this mean? By the time I finish grilling all the different meats for the party, my special recipe ribs are all gone. So, I have developed a system to eliminate this worrisome problem.
You’ve got to choose the pecking order wisely. Hot dogs and burgers should always be the first to hit the scene. As mentioned, they cook quickly and fill hungry mouths. But beyond that point, you want to have a plan. Steak, chicken, ribs and bratwurst will all cook at different rates, so it’s important to stay organized and keep the food-flow steady.
I typically prepare the chicken after the first wave passes through, offering the choice of boneless white meat and drumsticks. With chicken, it’s essential that the meat is cooked to the proper temperature, all the way through. So, I recommend using a product that is fresh, never frozen. Otherwise, time is wasted during defrosting, and reaching the ideal temperature becomes difficult without over-charring the skin.
To keep the chicken nice and juicy, slow cooking over slightly lower heat is the best way to go. Cooking the chicken too quickly will dry everything out. With poultry sizzling on the main grilling surface, place a few bratwursts on the upper rack, but make sure they aren’t going to drip onto the other meat. I also recommend saving one or two brats that can be cooked up at the end.
This method of preparation operates on very basic principles. Chicken requires more heat and/or cook time than bratwurst, just like burgers require more than hot dogs, so by placing burgers or chicken directly over the flames with hot dogs or brats above, shielded so-to-speak, both items will turn and come out at the same time, usually... Perfecting the flame takes practice, and there will be burnt BBQ at some point or another, but don’t be discouraged!
Once you achieve a good sear on each side, it’s time to add your sauces. I always add my BBQ sauce just a few minutes before I know my chicken will be completely done. This way it thickens and caramelizes in the extreme heat without burning to a blackened crisp. Be sure to keep a close eye on the bratwursts above, since they may finish cooking a bit sooner. When the sauce thickens to your liking, serve ‘em all up and take a moment to enjoy your guests’ satisfaction.
With your second wave of tasty food down, the time for the grill master’s favorites has arrived. This is the time to bring out the steak and ribs. Make sure to clean those grates well before slapping down a few choice cuts of beef, or better yet, invest in a non-stick grilling matt for the cleanest grill marks possible.
Because you did your shopping early, the steaks should already be marinated and ready to go. I leave mine in the refrigerator over-night with my favorite dry rub on a few and my home-made marinade soaking into the rest. Like I said, variety is your friend, so spice things up! As for the ribs, a little bit of seasoning salt, garlic salt, and black pepper is all they need until it’s time to hit the grill.
With ribs on the top rack, they need much less attention as they slowly cook through, allowing more devotion to the steaks on the main grill. So, prep the ribs first and place them on the top rack, bones down, with the grill left open. Meanwhile, add any final touches to the steaks, a sprinkle of chopped green onion and the occasional slice of pineapple are great for surprising new flavors.
Steaks don’t take long, especially if the crowd likes them more on the medium side, so if you want those beautiful grill marks you have to pay close attention. Every few minutes, lift the edges to check on the progress, and don’t forget to rotate the meat once on each side for those awesome diamond patterns.
Just before you are ready to rotate your steaks for the second time, give the ribs a flip and allow the meat on top to sear until the steaks have finished cooking. You’ll want to give your steaks time to rest so that they retain all of their juicy goodness. When done, set them aside and cover them with foil while you tend to the ribs.
Flip your ribs back and turn your flames to low. Bring all the ribs down from the upper rack and commence the application of your favorite BBQ sauce. Not a fan of sauce? These bad boys will taste great plain as well, and let’s not forget dry rubs. This is the final round of grilled meat to make your celebration a success, and with such impeccable timing, your steaks should be ready just as the sauce on the ribs thickens.
Everyone’s grill operates a bit differently, so practice a few simple meals leading up to any sort of main event to make sure you are ready for the big show. All of us have our own favorites, and adding a personal touch to yours is highly encouraged. This basic set of guidelines is great for bringing everyone together without stressing the little details, and the plan is designed to allow every grill master more time to spend with friends and family.
We have covered organization and execution of the meal, but for those in need of more cooking tips with specific temperatures, times, and expert tips, be sure to take a refresher course with Grilling and Summer Chilling. You will be a master in no time!
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