Grilling at a party for friends and family can be one of the great pleasures in life. There’s no denying, though, that it can also put you under some pressure! Getting behind the grill means accepting a borderline-sacred responsibility at some gatherings.
But even in a more casual setting, you want to make sure everyone goes home happy and stuffed.
If you’re grilling at your next party, relax. With a little bit of planning, you’re going to have a great time! Check out these seven tips for managing large group cooking and making yourself the culinary superstar of the neighborhood.
1. Clean your grill beforehand and make sure it’s in good working order.
Priority number one is to make sure your grill is functioning correctly. Take care of maintenance tasks like scooping the ash out of your charcoal grill, testing the ignition and refilling the propane in your gas grill and so forth.
If you’re firing up a pellet grill, don’t forget to check that your pellets are in good condition and prime the grill if it’s your first time using it.
If it’s been some time since you fired up your grill, try a test run before the big day. Make sure your grill lights correctly and that it can reach the temperature you need.
Give your grill grates a good cleaning with a grill brush to banish built-up gunk that can affect the taste of your food. You might even try cooking a smaller batch of the recipe you’re planning to use at the party.
2. Choose crowd-pleasing foods.
Grilling at a party is the time to bust out your most crowd-pleasing entrees and appetizers. If in doubt, it’s hard to go wrong with hot dogs and burgers (along with some vegetarian options if needed).
Smoked BBQ meats like pork butt and ribs almost always go over well, as do game-day appetizers like jalapeno poppers.
However, this shouldn’t discourage you from thinking outside the box! There’s no reason you can’t bust out that new tarragon-habanero BBQ sauce you just created, but maybe offer your guests something a little more familiar, too.
Ultimately, it’s all about knowing what your guests will enjoy, so consider sending out a group message if you’re unsure.
3. Buy more ingredients than you need.
If something doesn’t turn out quite right, or unexpected guests show up, you always want to be prepared! Calculate how much food you need for your barbecue, and then make extra on top of that.
You can always use the ingredients in another dish or enjoy some leftovers if not everything gets used.
The rule of extra also applies to essentials like fuel. Get some extra charcoal, propane cylinders, or wood pellets — whatever you need to keep your grill fired up and cooking.
Running out of fuel mid-cook is the absolute last thing you want, so don’t take any chances! As with food, you can always use the fuel later anyway.
4. Get some assistance in managing other party tasks.
Running to answer the door or making cocktails are tasks you often won’t have time to do while you’re on the grill.
Delegating these tasks to another person can save you a ton of time and effort and allow you to focus on the food. Or, if they’re someone whose cooking abilities you trust, ask them to handle tasks like making sides.
Using technology can also make your life easier here. If you’re using a smart grill like a WiFi pellet grill, you might actually be able to control your grill remotely!
You can also use resources like group chats and social media events to coordinate who’s bringing what.
5. Have snacks available for your guests.
It’s easy to get nervous when you’ve got a backyard full of hungry guests wondering where the food is! Instead, have some snacks available for folks to graze on while you work your magic behind the grill. (Beer doesn’t count!)
If you’re cooking fast-grilling party staples like burgers and hot dogs, light snacks like chips and salsa are usually perfect.
On the other hand, if your main course will be the pork butt you’ve been smoking for 12 hours, bringing some more substantial snacks can be a good idea.
This will help keep people satisfied (and calm your nerves) if your meat ends up needing more cook time.
6. Prep ahead of time whenever possible.
The more of your food you can prepare beforehand, the easier time you’ll have cooking it when the time comes.
Obviously, you’ll want to start your marinating well ahead of time — usually the morning of the event or even the night before. Preparing sides that keep well in the fridge, like coleslaw or potato salad, is also a great move.
Consider pre-chopping your vegetables if you’ll be cooking a lot of them. Cooking skewers is a particularly smart way to get ahead of the game since you’ll be able to chop and prep almost everything ahead of time.
If you’ll be really pressed for time, you might even consider par-cooking, or partially cooking food beforehand to make grilling extremely fast later.
7. Pair beer and wine with the food you’re serving.
For some people, a cooler of cold, cheap beer is all that a cookout needs. But if you’d like to serve up a richer culinary experience, beer and wine pairings can be an outstanding way to do it.
Your pairings certainly don’t have to be overly fancy or expensive, either! It’s all about putting a little thought into how they complement the food you’re serving.
Start by reading up on the basic rules of beer pairings and wine pairings. In general, the simplest rule is pairing lighter-tasting drinks with lighter-tasting foods and vice versa with heavy ones.
If you’re serving food from a specific national cuisine, it’s also a great idea to research the traditional food and wine pairings of that culture.
And remember — it’s a party, so keep it casual. Unless you’re a true wine nut, there’s nothing wrong with wine from a solo cup!
The only potential downside of the successful grill session you’re going to have? There’s a good chance you’re going to be the go-to grillmaster in your social group from now on! However, for a lot of people, that’s a major point of pride, so enjoy it.