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The Backyard BBQ Party
Real barbecue, during which tough cuts of meat cooked long and slow until they fall into delicious tenderness, is a grand American tradition, but so too is the BBQ party, a gathering in a backyard or a park or a beach (or a parking lot or a rooftop!) where food is cooked outside, shared, and eaten in a most casual of fashions.
In recognition of this fine American practice, I've pulled together BBQ party recipes, menus, and ideas to offer the best recipes for popular BBQ party items for you to... create your own menu, from a simple affair of grilled burgers and hot dogs to a traditional clam bake. Let the fires begin!
These themed menus can do the planning for you or just provide inspiration or a jumping off point for your own creation:
- Santa Maria BBQ is a California tradition involving tri-tip steak, beans, salsa fresca, green salad, and garlic bread
- Texas Barbecue involves smoked brisket, ribs, beans, and plenty of ice tea
- South American Grilling includes Patagonia-Style Tenderloin
- Whole Animal Roasting, cooking whole pigs or lambs, is a delicious tradition in many cultures
- Thai BBQ gets you sweet and spicy all at once
- Classic July 4 BBQ includes all the crowd favorites
No matter what kind of BBQ party you throw, be sure to check out these fabulous 10 Summer Party Tips (my tip is to buy way more ice than you ever think you could ever use). Keep things economical with these Tips for Summer Parties on a Budget.Continue to 2 of 20 below.
02 of 20
Not every BBQ party features steaks, but people sure do get excited when they do. First things first, you want to buy the right steaks:
- Steaks: Grades and Cuts for overall information about the types of steaks at markets
- What Is the Best Steak? gives more info on the best steaks (t-bone, ribeye, filet mignon, and strip steak), as well as cooking methods
- See the difference side-by-side with Comparing Popular Steak Cuts
Then you need to treat them right. I believe in bringing steaks to room... temperature, giving them a generous sprinkling of salt on both sides, setting them on a hot grill, and letting them rest for at least 10 minutes after cooking for the juices to settle. See How to Grill the Perfect Steak for details.
Want something more than straight-up grilled steak? Try one of these recipes on for size:Continue to 3 of 20 below.
03 of 20
If I could ask one thing this summer, it would be for people to stop pressing down on their burgers while they're cooking! Please, leave the burgers alone and let all their delicious juiciness stay inside them, where it belongs. That is my single best tip for making better burgers. Want to make better than better? Then you'll need these:
Once you have the method down, you can apply it to any burger recipe. Here are a few stand-out recipes for classic hamburgers and... cheeseburgers, as well as great twists on this American favorite, including delicious vegetarian options:
Want to make the best burger you've ever tasted? Start with meat you grind yourself. See How to Grind Your Own Burger for complete, step-by-step directions.Continue to 4 of 20 below.
04 of 20
Real BBQ is a regional thing. What flies in North Carolina won't look even remotely familiar in Texas. What they all have in common is some level of pork involved. As someone raised in Minnesota and living in California, I'm sure many people would say I can't possibly know a thing about it. I prefer to think that I can appreciate BBQ in all its forms, without bias.
Whether you choose to cook tough cuts of pork, like shoulder (learn more about pork cuts here), over low heat for a long time,... rendering it supremely tender or tender cuts, like chops, quickly over higher heat, these flame-cooked pork recipes will have your BBQ party guests salivating:Continue to 5 of 20 below.
05 of 20
Hot dogs are always a favorite at BBQ parties. My solution to a crowd of people coming over is often to pop bratwurst on the grill, set up a condiment station and a basket of buns, and call my work over. When you grill sausages, it's important to know if you need to cook them through or just heat them up. Knowing what kind of sausage it is helps. Fresh sausages need to be cooked through (they are raw meat), cured or smoked sausages can usually just be heated up. Learn more with this Guide to... Types of Sausage.
If the ease of grilling sausages for a party sounds good to you, too, here's some more information and tips to get you going:Continue to 6 of 20 below.
06 of 20
Too often grilled chicken gets overcooked (for fear of serving it uncooked) and dry. There is no reason for this popular BBQ dish to be anything but juicy and tender. My trick? Well, I have a few up my sleeve:
- First and foremost, I generously salt the chicken as much as a day or two ahead of time (the salt helps the meat hold onto its own natural juices as it cooks).
- I always pre-heat the grill, getting it nice and hot before creating a cooler area to cook the chicken over.
- I let it sear, turn it... once, and wait until the meat firms up as I poke it.
- I take it off before it gets rock-hard, cover it, and let it rest off the heat for 15 to 20 minutes before serving so the juices can settle back in and everything can relax and get nice and tender.
Those principles hold true no matter which of these recipes you follow:Continue to 7 of 20 below.
07 of 20
Threaded chunks of marinated meat, working in pieces of onion, chunks of pepper, and whole button mushrooms, was one of my favorite summertime "chores" as a kid. My extended family would gather at my grandmother's cabin and grilled kebabs were an easy way to keep the cooking out of the small kitchen in hot weather. They're still a great way to feed a crowd with minimal fuss (especially if you have some small hands around that need to be kept busy!). What I know now, of course, is... that for the best-cooked kebabs, the best move is to thread single ingredients on any given skewer (meat on one, onions on another, etc.), and then un-skewer everything onto a big platter to serve. Whether you take this excellent advice or not, here are some fabulous grilled kebab recipes to bring a smack of delicious to your BBQ party this summer:Continue to 8 of 20 below.
08 of 20
Something about live fire and fresh fish is magical. While a whole side of salmon on the grill is a visually stunning delight to behold (and easy to cook-just put it skin-down, cover the grill until it's cooked through, and lift off, there is absolutely no need to try and flip it!), it's just as easy to toss a few whole sardines on a grill or use a fish basket with more delicate filets.
Ready to give grilled fish a go? Here are some basic recipes and how-tos to get started:
- 5 Fish to Grill
- How to... Grill a Whole Fish (Basic)
- How to Grill Halibut
- How to Grill Salmon Filets
- How to Grill Trout
- How to Grill Walleye
- Fish Grilling Basics
To my mind, fresh fish cooked on a live flame needs but a squirt of lemon juice and maybe a drizzle of melted butter, but for slightly more elaborate preparations, try one of these recipes:Continue to 9 of 20 below.
09 of 20
Their shells protect their sweet insides from the heat, the fire adds flavor, cooking them outside minimizes mess. All told, I can't think of a reason not to grill shellfish. One of my favorite summer tricks is to spread a layer of mussels (pictured) or clams on a grill, let the fire open them up, give them a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and maybe a drizzle of melted butter, if I'm feeling fancy, and then pass them around on a big platter.
Another crowd-pleasing favorite is barbecued... oysters. I like to use Pacific oysters, but European Flats and Atlantic oysters work well, too (see Types of Oysters for more specifics). I shuck them (see How to Shuck Oysters if it's new to you), set them on the half-shell on a hot grill, cook until they firm up and the edges curl a bit, and then lightly brush them with barbecue sauce.
A few more delicious grilled shellfish recipes:
Want to make shellfish the main event? See the next page for details on throwing a clamb bake or crab boil.
Of course shrimp is also a tasty, popular grill item. Yet it is almost too tasty and popular. Wild shrimp stocks are threatened in some areas, and farmed shrimp can cause horrible environmental damage. What's a shrimp lover to do? I always look for U.S. wild-caught or U.S.-farmed shrimp. U.S. shrimp fisheries are well-managed and U.S. farmed shrimp is raised without the environmental devastation that takes place many other places. Learn about different Types of American Shrimp.
As with all grilling, grilled shrimp are wonderful when grilled plain. Yet there's nothing wrong with mixing things up a bit with these slightly more elaborate recipes:Continue to 10 of 20 below.
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The Clam Bake, The Lobster Boil
The traditional clam bake—building a fire, heat stones, laying in seaweed, layering in shellfish and potatoes and sausages and corn, and topping the whole thing with more seaweed to let it bake—is a great New England tradition. Further down the Atlantic Coast, the crab boil takes over as the preferred method of celebratory summertime group-eating. Whatever approach you want to take, here are a few guides:Continue to 11 of 20 below.
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The Cole Slaw
Cole slaw is classically made with hearty green cabbage and a creamy dressing, and when eaten alongside grilled meats seems as if it were made for just that purpose. Find great recipes for cole slaw—both classic and new—below:Continue to 12 of 20 below.
12 of 20
The Potato Salad
Is it really a BBQ without potato salad? I know there are many people who would say "absolutely not." For them, here is a collection of delicious potato salads, from the American classic with mayo to one prepared on the grill to a sweet potato version.Continue to 13 of 20 below.
13 of 20
It's a real shame that so many BBQ parties completely ignore all the great summer vegetables that are in season. Let's change that! Here are some delicious seasonal summer salad recipes to add some crunch and color to your BBQ:Continue to 14 of 20 below.
14 of 20
Along with tomatoes, sweet corn makes its own convincing argument for eating locally with every bite. Truly fresh, local sweet corn knocks the socks off corn that's traveled to get to you every time. Simple corn on the cob is a classic BBQ party food.
For classic corn on the cob, shuck it, drop the ears into unsalted boiling water, cook for 1 minute, cover, and take off the heat. The corn will keep warm without overcooking. Pull out of the water and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper... towels before piling onto a platter and serving while still piping hot, with plenty of butter and salt, of course.
Of course, there's no reason not to try something new, even with corn on the cob:
If you're willing to take the corn off the cob (see Cutting Corn Kernels to see how), you expand your options in some delicious directions:Continue to 15 of 20 below.
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The Side Dish
Need something besides cole slaw, potato salad, or other kind of salad? My go-to item for a side dish at a BBQ party is simple grilled vegetables. Brush them, whatever they are, with oil, put them on the grill, turn them around until they're browned and tender, sprinkle them with salt, and call it a day:
Or, try one of these delicious BBQ sides:Continue to 16 of 20 below.
16 of 20
Giant bags of potato chips and bowls of peanuts are the standard fare for BBQ parties, but just in case you want to step it up a notch&mdashor maybe you're the guest at this BBQ and want to bring something special—here are some delicious homemade BBQ party appetizer-type dishes:
Like the sound of those? You might want to consider ditching the BBQ and throwing a Summer Appetizer Party instead!Continue to 17 of 20 below.
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Along with homemade snacks to get things started, these dips not only give everyone something to eat before the grilling is done, but they also double as sauces and spreads for the main event.
Continue to 18 of 20 below.
- Baba Gannouj
- Grilled Eggplant Dip
- Jalapeno Popper Dip
- Homemade Pesto
- Romesco Sauce
- Seven Layer Dip
- Walnut Red Pepper Spread (Muhammara)
18 of 20
Salsas are made for BBQ parties. They work as an appetizer, as a condiment, and as a salad. You can always buy them, of course, but homemade ones are so easy and fresh (see how easy with this guide to How to Make Salsa), why not make them yourself?Continue to 19 of 20 below.
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If it's hot out, be sure to have plenty of water on hand and encourage your guests to partake. Along with staying hydrated, however, beverages can delight. These selections make excellent use of the fresh produce available in summer to add great flavor and sweetness:
- Cherry Gin and Tonics add a fruity note to these summer classics
- Cherry Margaritas are what won me over to fruit margaritas (usually I stick with the classic lime version, on the rocks)
- Cucumber Martinis are quite powerful, so be sure... to encourage your guests to try them on the rocks if it's hot out
- Party Sangria
- Pimm's Cup is the classic British summer refresher
- Raspberry Lemonade Sangria (or see more Sangria Recipes)
- Tinto de Verano, literally "red wine of summer" is a simple mix of lemon-lime soda and red wine and goes down like lemonade-watch yourself!
Want to keep it simple? Serve one of these Top 10 Summer Beers.
Not every BBQ party need be raucous, and having plenty of soft drinks on hand is always a good idea. Try one of these delicious Iced Tea Recipes. I often keep it simple and just make a pitcher of Homemade Lemonade. (You can let people combine the lemonade and iced tea to make their own Arnold Palmers.) Looking for something new? Unexpected? Try one of these "mocktails" and other non-alcoholic options:Continue to 20 of 20 below.
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My favorite BBQ party dessert solution is to simply put some fruit on the grill and serve it with ice cream. If I'm feeling ambitious, I make the ice cream myself!
Homemade Ice Cream
Making ice cream is easier than you may think—you don't even need an ice cream maker!
Red, White, and Blue Desserts for July
Feeling patriotic? Try one of these red, white,... and blue desserts for a memorable highlight to your July 4 BBQ.
Summer Fruit Pies
A homemade pie is another great summer treat. Whether you buy the crust or make your own, a freshly baked fruit pie or two will definitely grab your guests' attention!