12 Hot Tips for Hosting a Summer Cookout
by Dan McCormick
For many, summer is the time of sun, beaches and working on that tan. For others, it is the best time of year to grill up tasty food for friends and family. If you find you’re among the latter, dust off the grill — here are 12 great summer cookout tips.
- Check the propane. If you’re using a gas grill, make sure there is plenty of propane before firing up the grill. Nothing snuffs out a rollicking cookout like running out of gas early!
- Start charcoal easier. If you’re using a charcoal grill, consider picking up a chimney starter rather than using lighter fluid. Lighter fluid gets the fire going quickly, but it can lend an unpleasant, acrid taste to the food. Chimney starters are affordable and quickly get the coals glowing brightly without the use of additional chemicals.
- Clean the grill. Whether gas or charcoal, a clean grill helps prevent food from sticking. Invest in a stiff grill brush with a long handle; it makes cleanup a breeze. Before cooking any food on the grill, let it heat up for about 5 minutes (preferably with the lid closed). Any food residue from the last cookout will fall right off with only a little pressure from the brush. Next, dip a wadded up paper towel into some vegetable oil. Using a pair of long spring-loaded tongs (see next tip), wipe the grill grate with the oiled paper towel.
- Have the right tools. A few more tools make a world of difference when it comes to manning the grill. Long, spring-loaded tongs are great for moving food around the grill while keeping hands away from the flames. A squirt-bottle filled with water is helpful for eliminating flare-ups that occur while grilling. These flare-ups can lead to uneven cooking and increased smoking. Lastly, keep a fire extinguisher close by just in case the fire gets out of hand.
- Consider your vegetarian friends. Some guests may not eat meat and will appreciate additional consideration. Find out if they can eat food that has been cooked on the same surface as meat and keep an area of the grill free from possible cross-contamination. It is a good idea to keep a box of prepared vegetarian patties in the freezer in case unexpected vegetarians show up. Many veggie burgers are prepared with soy protein, but varieties made with a black bean mixture tend to grill up best.
- Protect perishables. Cookout staples such as pasta and potato salads are perishable. Leaving them in direct sunlight or even at room temperature for too long can promote the growth of harmful bacteria. The USDA recommends discarding any food that has been sitting at room temperature for longer than two hours. Play it safe and leave the items in the fridge or in a cooler filled with ice.
- Make ahead. To save time on the day of the big cookout, prepare side dishes the night before. Many potato and pasta salads benefit from sitting overnight since the flavors have more time to develop and blend together. In addition, burgers can be formed, toppings like tomatoes and onions can be sliced and delicious drinks like sangria (see next tip) can be mixed and allowed to sit overnight, too.
- Sangria! A fun summer-time beverage is sangria, the Spanish-inspired punch of wine and fruit. Finely slice up some apples, oranges or berries and add them to a few bottles of light, fruit-forward red wine like a Spanish Rioja (or add melon and grapes to a white wine such as an un-oaked Chardonnay for a different take on the Mediterranean classic). Sangria can sit for a few hours or overnight. Before serving, add a touch of carbonated soda to each glass and serve over ice.
- Grill produce too. While cookouts are often all about the burgers and hot dogs, the grill can be used for just about anything. Visit the local farmer’s market for the freshest vegetables and ask the farmers for any tips on how to get the most flavor out of their produce — after all, they know best!
- Grill desserts — really. Even desserts can be made on the grill. Peaches and nectarines are great for grilling — choose fruit that feels just a touch under-ripe, slice in half and grill cut-side down until soft, about 4 minutes over medium/medium-high heat. Top with ice cream or ricotta cheese mixed with a small amount of sugar and enjoy!
- Repel pests. Keeping insects at bay allows guests to focus on the food rather than unwanted pests. Candles containing Citronella oil are a non-toxic way to keep bugs from crashing the party. Look for candle holders in the form of tiki torches to add some whimsy and fun to the cookout.
- Chill away from the grill. Remember to take a break every now and then. Standing in front of a hot grill all day can be grueling. Pass those tongs to a guest for a bit, pop open a cold beverage of choice and enjoy the warm summer evening.
Dan McCormick is still looking for a surefire way to cook bacon on a grill.