Summer calls us outdoors and turns any yard or park with a grill into a potential party ground. Add a few things to your grocery list and take rest knowing that you will attend your next weekend BBQ in proper form. Bringing something packaged, like a bag of chips, is an obvious sign that you stopped by a convenience store en route in a fit of panic, realizing the only preparation done before leaving was putting pants on.
First, find out what is being served and contribute something that shows some class, and improves the menu. Here are 5 creative offerings that require little skill, little time and may even generate some buzz.
1. Fruit Dish
Chilled fruit is a refreshing complement to grilled food. Fruit salads are easy to put together, visually appealing and make everyone feel healthier. Try this variation of a watermelon salad recipe for something bright and unique. The spice and citrus flavors will surprise you and blend perfectly with the texture and natural sweetness of watermelon.
Jalapeno Watermelon Salad
- 3 Tbs. lime juice
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 tsp. lime zest
- ¼ large seedless watermelon, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 2 cups fresh blueberries
- 2 seeded jalapenos, sliced into rings
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into thin strips
- 2 Tbs. black sesame seeds
- 1 tsp. sea salt
Whisk lime juice and oil together, set aside. Place jalapenos along the bottom of a large baking dish, or something shallow and broad. The watermelon is going to soak so you want to spread it as thin as possible to maximize the number of cubes that absorb the juice and oil. Spread the watermelon evenly in the dish, on top of the jalapenos. Drizzle the juice and oil over the watermelon and put in the refrigerator. I recommend letting it soak for at least ½ an hour. An hour is ideal but the flavors will still set in after 30 minutes.
When ready to serve, transfer to a large bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. White sesame seeds work just as well, but the black ones make the dish look more interesting.
2. Vegetable Side
Potato salad and coleslaw are usually somewhere in the buffet lineup at cookouts, and side dishes are always a must. They can be boring, however, and the mayonnaise that often holds these dishes together can be foul on hot, summer afternoons. Here is a crisp and clean, mayonnaise free version of coleslaw that is delicious on its own or on a grilled sandwich:
Sesame Lime Coleslaw
1 medium sized green cabbage (or ⅔ to ½ of a very large one) – remove the thick core and cut into bite sized strips. A useful, visual guide to carving a cabbage can be found here.
- 2 cups carrots, shredded (you can usually find these bagged in the produce section)
- 1 cup chopped cilantro
- ½ cup sesame seeds, toasted
- 2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup sesame oil
- 1 Tbs rice wine vinegar
- 2 Tbs grated ginger
- Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350. Combine cabbage, carrots, cilantro, jalapenos and ginger in an enormous mixing bowl. Whisk lime juice and oil together and stir into cabbage mixture. Spread sesame seeds out in a baking dish, on foil or some non-stick surface. Place in oven for about 5 minutes or until the aroma becomes intrusive–remove them before they turn dark brown. Sprinkle salt over cabbage mixture, add toasted seeds and stir. Take a bite and drizzle more oil or lime juice if needed.
Desserts are probably the most underrepresented type of dish at outdoor parties. They are often just too high-maintenance or don’t do well sunbathing on a picnic table. There is one, however, for the grill, that you can preload and will leave you wondering why it wasn’t a staple in the backyard BBQs of your past.
- Aluminum foil
- Graham crackers
- Large marshmallows
- Chocolate (something flat and easy to break into pieces)
The list speaks for itself but, for a step-by-step guide to the perfect s’more, read on.
For each serving, pull out about a foot of aluminum foil, tear and set aside. Take 1 graham cracker and gently break it in half on the line that is conveniently provided for you. Place first half of cracker in the middle of the foil sheet. Break off the desired amount of chocolate and add to the cracker. A piece wider than the cracker will overwhelm the foil with gooey chocolate and burden the eating process. Take 2 large marshmallows and tear them in half. Arrange them on the chocolate rendering a flat surface to place the other cracker half on top of. Add more chocolate to the top, if desired, before putting the cracker top on. Carefully fold the edges of the foil over the top of the sandwich. Fold the other edges over, covering the sandwich completely. Leave some extra foil on at least one side of the sandwich and crumple it– this will serve as a handle and tighten the foil enough to keep the sandwich together. Foil cools down so fast that by the time open your grill, the handle will have lost enough heat to be touched, bare-handed.
To cook, place the foil block on the hot grill and turn after a couple of minutes. If you push your finger down on the foil and it compresses easily, your marshmallows have melted and the sandwich is ready. Don’t push too hard or the cracker will break. Unwrap the foil and enjoy a perfectly melted s’more. It will probably be messy but, if done properly, shouldn’t be too hard to consume.
4. A Pitcher of Booze
If your BBQ is alcohol free, first ask yourself why you are going. Otherwise, drinks are always a welcome addition and it’s fun to have something festive that everyone will try, and want more of. Mojitos and Sangria are always great, and usually well received.
For something a little more on the tropical side, try a rum punch. This punch is a Caribbean style drink and stays mostly true to the formula from this common idiom: “1 part sour, 2 parts sweet; 3 parts strong and 4 parts weak.” Scale this recipe up to fit the size of your gathering. It’s a forgiving recipe, so exact proportions are not crucial.
Strawberry Rum Punch (serves 10)
1 cup = 8 ounces
- 1 quart fresh Strawberries
- 1 cup fresh lime juice
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1 cup simple syrup
- boil equal parts sugar and water until dissolved
- 2 cups light rum
- 1 cup dark rum
- 2 cups ginger ale
- 1 cup orange juice
Muddle strawberries in a large pitcher or punch bowl. Add the liquids and stir. Serve chilled or pour each serving over ice. Garnish with lime wedges, pineapples slices, orange wheels or strawberries.
5. Shish Kabobs
Food on a stick is, hands down (not literally), the easiest thing to eat at a BBQ. Shish kabobs are easy to assemble and shopping for skewer ingredients is as simple as it gets – you may already have what you need in your kitchen. Here are some food items, ideal for stick stoking:
- Bacon wrapped around anything
- Honeydew melon
- Plum tomatoes
- Onion wedges
- Bell peppers
- Firm mushrooms
- ”New” potatoes
You can put virtually anything on the shish but there is some technique involved constructing the perfect skewer.
Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes before adding the ingredients. This helps prevent them from catching fire on the grill. If using metal skewers, coat them in vegetable oil.
Season ingredients before skewering. This can be an involved process, preparing a marinade and soaking meat for hours, or simply adding a rub that will be seared into the outside. Cut items into similarly sized pieces to ensure they cook evenly. For meat, cubes with sides between 1 and 1 ½ inches are ideal.
Group items with similar cooking times together. Shrimp will cook much faster than potatoes and if on the same skewer, you’ll either have dried up and burnt shrimp with perfect potatoes, or raw potatoes with perfect shrimp. Peppers and onions are versatile since they are great raw and still tasty when cooked for a long time.
Thread the ingredients for each shish kabob onto 2 skewers. This makes them easier to flip on the grill, prevents morsels from spinning and helps keep meat from diving into the fire. For optimal flavor and aesthetic value, alternate the order of items by shape and color. Charred chicken looks mighty fine followed by a blackened green pepper, a chunk of pineapple, then an onion wedge, and so on.
Packing for transport
Line a container that is easy to load and unload with wax paper and fill with skewers. They are ready for the car and eager to be grilled.