This week, we're sharing the ultimate guy's guide to backyard entertaining. In Part I, we created the game plan: getting your outdoor space ready to go, invites, music and entertainment.
Part II is about the centerpieces of any get-together: food and drinks. To help, we partnered with Murphy-Goode, a Sonoma winery that makes great wines for occasions just like this one: good times, good friends, and good food. Read on for lots of tips and ideas to make it happen.
Table of Contents
Planning the Menu
Cooking for a Crowd: A cookout is not a dinner party. No courses, no place-cards, no roast-carving. And that, friends, is a good thing.
There are two categories of food: what you made ahead of time, and what you make when guests arrive.
If you want to keep sane and actually hang out with your friends, try to put as much food as possible into the make-ahead category. Like, all of it.
The goal here is avoid being a slave to the grill, running around and making sure you're not burning stuff and checking food temperatures.
Make your food ahead of time!
Lots of food actually tastes better the next day. The trick is to pick a main protein that benefits from being cooked ahead of time, when you can attend to it to make sure it's done properly. You want something that needs to be cooked low and slow ... on a grill. We're talking barbecue, people. More on that in a minute.
Enjoying Wine at The Ultimate Backyard Barbecue
To come up with the ultimate backyard barbecue wine party, we worked with Murphy-Goode, a Sonoma County winery that's dedicated to creating great wines that are at home with food on the grill and music playing in the background ... no fussy cheese pairings need apply. They're all about living "The Goode Life," and that's exactly the ManMade commitment to outdoor entertaining.
We asked them which wines would work best with barbecue and grilled foods, and they suggested:
- A medium, well-rounded red that's easy to drink but has a refreshing balance of fruit and spice
- A bright crisp white that's versatile enough to be enjoyed with light appetizers and smokey foods from the grill
So, we went with the Liar's Dice Zinfandel from Murphy-Goode's Sonoma Country Collection, and The Fumé Sauvignon Blanc, Murphy-Goode's flagship white. Each wine is agreeable and friendly (but definitely not weak) and still full of personality. Here's a better description of each:
Murphy-Goode The Fumé Sauvignon Blanc: Bright citrus and lush tropical fruit aromas. Flavors of white peach and honeydew.
Murphy-Goode Liar's Dice Zinfandel: From Dry Creek and Alexander Valley AVAs, Liar’s Dice Zinfandel reveals deep aromas and luscious flavors of black cherry, blackberry jam, black raspberry and currants.
Tips for Entertaining with Wine
How much wine? A bottle of wine contains four generous glasses. Those are restaurant glasses, where folks pay per pour. But when there are many full bottles available and open refills, your guests will give themselves a much lighter glass. Which is a good thing for the wine, because the more space in the glass, the better the aroma is conveyed, and the more you can experience it.
Plan for a bottle of wine for every two people you're expecting, and then grab one more of each, just in case.
Have Enough Wine Glasses: Gathering enough wine glasses for a large group can be tricky. We've suggested asking guests to bring their own and using simple masking tape to identify them, but if you need more than your current selection, it's time to buy in bulk.
Look for affordable glasses that come in sturdy, divided boxes, and then make sure to keep the packaging for storage. These will be your party glasses, so you don't have to find a place for them in the kitchen cabinet. Get some thicker glasses that can stand a round in the dishwasher, and store them in the box for gatherings.
Our favorite source for sturdy glasses in bulk is the restaurant supply store, most of which sell to the public. These glasses are affordable yet designed to be used over and over again, so they stand up to the task and come perfectly clean. There are also some great options at IKEA- buy a case and keep the box -or online.
Serving Wine: Allowing your guests to serve themselves cuts back on your responsibilities. But be a good guy and walk around offering refills once or twice. Which, by the way, will be super easy, because you know exactly what everyone is drinking.
A couple of tips on enjoying your wine:
- Make sure all your whites are thoroughly chilled: Put them in the fridge the night before, and leave them there until your first guest arrives, then shove them into a big beverage tub or cooler full of ice.
- Open all your bottles ahead of time: This way, no one has to ask where the opener is, and your drinks are ready to go. This is especially important with red wine, which will actually improve as it's exposed to air. So, bust out the corkscrew 3-4 hours before guests arrive, and open all the reds. Do this inside, to prevent any bugs or grit getting in. Then, cork them lightly and take outside for your guests to enjoy.
Serve Plenty of Water and Non-Alcoholic Drinks
Of course, one does not party on wine alone. Or shouldn't. And as the host, if you're serving alcohol, it's also your job to make sure your guests are drinking enough water, especially when you're outside. Wine is designed to enhance that amazingly smokey pulled pork sandwich, not to be gulped to wash it down.
So, do three things:
- make a super appealing non-alcoholic drink
- put out lots of water, and
- make sure your guests are drinking #1 and #2
If it's summer, a lemonade or limeade works perfectly. It's a classic for a reason. For our party, we created a tasty fizzy basil limeade that cut through the bold flavors of the food perfectly.
To get people to drink water: make it cold, and put stuff in it.
I know it might seem a little fussy - more like a baby shower than a man's all-out backyard barbecue - but the infusions inspire people to drink it and make it feel festive. They'll want to know how all those things floating in the water have changed its flavor. And if someone seems to have had a little more than their fill of wine, you can give them the infused-water as an offering without embarrassing them.
Put in anything fresh and summer-y. Cucumbers might give off a day-spa vibe, but they taste darn good. Lemons, limes, and oranges look great, strawberries are seasonal, but we think herbs are easiest. Mint, verbena, thyme, basil, cilantro all work well for warm weather. Just be sure to wash everything first, especially citrus rinds, and use lots and lots of ice.
Regionally, backyard entertaining events are called a cookout, a barbecue, a picnic, a weinie roast, and the like. The common theme throughout? They're named for the food, particularly, food cooked outside.
While standard images of hosts manning the grill all night are common, this doesn't have to be true at your house. You can infuse lots of grilled, smokey flavors into your food without having to be chained to the coals all night.
For this type of party, stick to party food classics that everyone loves, but add a little twist to bring in the grilled and roasted element, and lots of extra flavor.
Here's our menu, with notes. You'll see the twist and added grilled element to each item.
Wine and Drinks
- Fizzy Basil Limeade
- Verbena Mint Ice Water
- Murphy-Goode The Fumé Sauvignon Blanc
- Murphy-Goode Liar's Dice Zinfandel
Apps and Starters
- Grilled Carrots with Harissa Yogurt - A twist on the standard crudités platter. It's veggies and dip, but with actual flavor.
- Guacamole and Chips with Grilled Limes and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds - Party classic, and a nod to California cuisine.
- Charcuterie and Cheeses and Smoked Olives - Works with wine, tastes delicious. #curedmeat
- Barbecue pulled pork - prepared the day ahead, reheated and sauced so it's delicious
- Smoked "pulled" mushrooms - for the vegetarians and non-pork eaters. And anyone who loves awesome food.
- Caraway pickles and pickled onions - some acid and crunch to match the tender, smokey pork
- Grilled corn with roasted pepper butter - Summer classic with added smokiness from the roasted peppers and grilling the corn in the husks
- Cilantro-Lime Coleslaw - a must with barbecue
- Grilled Potato Salad - a picnic classic, but with a great depth of flavor from grilled potatoes and scallions
- S'mores - Duh, there's a campfire. We stepped ours up with high-quality chocolate bars with added flavors and crunch like pretzels, caramel, and sea salt.
With this menu, only thing has to be made once your guests have arrived: the grilled corn. Well, that and the s'mores, but your guests will be able to make 'em on the spot. So, there's still a "hey - we're grilling out" vibe, but all the work has been done before your cleaned up your kitchen...and yourself.
In our final installment, we'll be sharing how to actually prep the food ahead of time while still tasting delicious, our favorite grilling tips, and a basic game plan for getting your house ready for guests.
While you're waiting, check out our dedicated How To Host an All-Out Backyard Barbecue Pinterest board:
Stay tuned. (Or sign up for our free e-mail newsletter to get notified of new posts! It's 100% spam free!)
Event photos by the amazing Margaret Jacobsen.
This post was sponsored by Murphy-Goode Winery, but all opinions are mine alone. We're grateful to our sponsors for helping us make long-form, in-depth content like this possible. And for the good wine!