This week, we’re sharing the ultimate guy’s guide to backyard entertaining. We’ve covered preparing your backyard and getting ready for guests, as well as some easy DIY tricks to improve the space and create the right vibe. Then, we shared some ideas for the food – moving beyond hamburgers and hot dogs to create some seriously tasty grilled goodies, as well as tips for finding the right wine to bring everything together.
We were excited to partner with Murphy-Goode, a Sonoma winery dedicated to making great wines for gatherings just like these – fun, festive opportunities to get together with your friends and have a good time.
In this final installment, we’re offering ideas to cook the food (and do all the work ahead of time), prep your home, and then…sit back, and have a great time with your guests.
Table of Contents
The Day Before
As we suggested in the menu planning section, you want to have nearly all of your food completed before the guests arrive. This works for two reasons: 1) it eliminates the stress of trying to have everything come out piping hot at once, and it allows you to try tasty, slow cooked foods that can take longer (but not more work) to cook. 2) Preparing food is really messy.
When you cook, there’s chopping involved. Spices spill, olive oil gets on stuff, your blender and your food processor and you mixer sit on the counter. You’ll dirty nearly every bowl and pan in your kitchen. Doing all this the day before – and before you clean your house – frees up your kitchen for actually use during with your guests, not a place to hide from them.
The night before the day before (so, if you’re hosting on a Saturday and doing food on Friday, we’re talking Thursday night), head to the grocery store and get your ingredients and bottles of wine. Mix your BBQ rub and apply it to the meat up to 24 hours in advance to allow it to form a crust in the fridge.
The next day, when you get home from work, start the food. Build your fire, get some smoke from some wood chunks going, and begin the barbecue. While it cooks and its still light out, hang your lights, get your fire pit and tiki torches in place, and set up the chairs. Chop or slice any vegetable that won’t brown – things like onions, your cabbage and carrots for slaw, and prep your pickles. Make the sauces and dressings that will finish you meals, then cover and refrigerate everything.
The Morning Of
Crank up the tunes and get going.
What to Clean?
Your house does not need to be spotless to host guests. Don’t worry about your bedroom, office, garage, kids rooms etc. No one’s gonna go in there. Just shut the door and move on. People are gonna be outside.
Do, however, pick up in the places where people will go – the path from the front door to the back, your kitchen, and, most importantly, the bathroom. Your guests will be mostly outside, but your bathroom’s gonna take a beating with people coming and out. So, wipe everything down, and stock with extra toilet paper.
Change your towels, and light a candle. It definitely gives out the whole “company is coming over” vibe, but it also helps neutralize any scents that come from heavily used guest bathroom. There are lots of quality, “masculine-friendly” scents out there.
Finish the Food and Wine
Get your wine ready. Place all the white in the refrigerator and open to red to let it breathe. Make sure none of your wine glasses have spots.
Then, finish all your dishes – make the things that need to be hot hot, bring refrigerated items to room temperature if needed, and place everything in their final bowls and serving dishes. If don’t have a ton of platters and such, aluminum pans in the foil and wax paper aisle of the grocery store work wonders.
We like to design our menus so only one-two things needs to be grilled when guests are around. When you’re cooking for 10-20 people, that’s probably all the space you’ll have on the grill anyway. So, do in pre-grilling ahead of time. For our menu, the pork, the carrots, and the potatoes and scallions can all be done ahead of time, leaving just the grill-roasted corn for when its time to eat. Which is good – cause it smells amazing and your guests will love it.
On the subject of grilling, we presume you know your grill and its quirks and features best. But, in case you haven’t ventured out much beyond burgers and hot dogs, here are some tips:
The Ten Commandments of Grilling
1. The only way to start charcoal is with a chimney starter – Lighter fluid is the devil. Just get a heavy-duty chimney (in the grilling aisle at the hardware store) and use a piece or two of newspaper soaked with a little vegetable oil to get things going.
2. Safety First – Keep a fire extinguisher handy whenever you’re working with fire. A long hose attached to a spigot also works well, just make sure it reaches the grill. A spray bottle filled with water is a good tool to handle flareups.
3. A digital thermometer is the most important barbecue and grilling tool – Understanding the temperature of your grill and the food is the single best thing you can do to create great food while you’re learning. Bi-metal analog thermometers (like the one that comes in your grills lid) can be off by 50° or more. They still respond to temperature change, but you need to know what your baseline is. An instant read digital thermometer is the way to go here.
4. Cast iron cookware is a grill’s best friend – We regularly extoll the virtues of cast iron on ManMade, but it deserves repeating here: cast iron makes your grill into a stove AND an oven. Use it to sear food for a great crust, or to hold smaller items that might slip through the grates. It’ll still taste grilled, and can help promote browning.
5. Use spring-loaded tongs for 95% of tasks – they’re like a heat-proof extension of your hand, and can be used from everything to flipping and moving food to redistributing hot coals and turning the grill grate. 12″ models can be found under $15.00. Buy two.
6. You can create amazing barbecue at home without a dedicated smoker – With some wood chips or chunks and a low heat source, you can make awesome smoked foods. Your existing grill is, essentially, a box with a heat source – a place to smolder wood and keep the smoke surrounding the food. This is easier on a charcoal grill than a gas one, but both can work. If you have a Weber charcoal grill, the Smokenator insert is amazing device made by some buddies in California, and it will change the way you grill. Highly, highly recommended.
7. Enjoy the grill session – speaking of heat proof extensions of your hands, most grilling tasks only require your dominant hand. Make sure there’s a drink – like a glass of that Liar’s Dice red zin – in your other hand at all times. It’s your party, too.
8. Wood is good – charcoal tastes better than gas, and wood tastes better than charcoal. Wood smoke is the flavor of outdoor cooking. You can create the best of both worlds by using wood chunks (for charcoal) or chips (for gas) to infuse your food with smoke. Just keep things smoldering and smokey, not ablaze. Flare ups create an unpleasant char on food.
9. Clean and oil your grates frequently – before and after every grilling session. This not only prevents build up, but also creates a non-stick surface over time.
10. The two-zone fire gives you the most control – whether using charcoal or gas, setting up your grill to super hot on one side and medium on the other allows you to create the perfect crust or grill marks without burning the food. Simply bank the hot coals on one side of the grill, or turn one gas burner to high while others to medium, low, or even off. And always keep the lid closed on a gas grill.
Put the white wine on ice, lay out the food, and get things started. Start the music, light the candles and tiki torches, and heat the grill.
Then, have a good time. The hard work is done, and now it’s time to enjoy yourself, welcome your friends, meet some new people, and get down with all that tasty food and wine. As the party moves on, they’ll be a few tasks to manage – keeping the water pitcher full, replenishing the ice, starting the fire as dusk approaches – but chances are your friends will notice these sorts of things, and ask how they can help.
(The Liar’s Dice Zin. Details are here.)
Remember – the point of hosting is to provide a space to hang out, enjoy some tasty food and wine, and enjoy yourselves. Don’t go overboard so you’re stuck working the whole time, but do put in a little extra effort to make it a special event. Just do the work ahead of time, and you’ll be good to go.
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! The post was originally published in August 2014. We’re excited to be collaborating with Murphy-Goode wine again this year, so we’re sharing again for this summer. Enjoy!