Well folks, Memorial day is right around the corner, and what better way to spend the first long weekend of summer than in the back yard or on the beach, cookin’ up some memories (and some great food) with your friends and family?
The team over at Man Crates recently reached out to me to see what kinds of things I would suggest that people make sure to have to create the perfect grilling experience. These guys specialize in gifts for dudes which come in wooden crates that need to be pried open with a crowbar. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you my five tips to make your cookout stand head and shoulders above the rest:
Tip #1: Grill Up Some Options
People want choices. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter if you spend hours marinating and smoking the perfect ribs, and then a few minutes grilling up some store-marinated chicken; people want to have the options and they remember if you provide it to them. Hey, even in the barbecuing stone-age they had hot dogs AND hamburgers.
Do your research ahead of time, plan out some options, and make a decision. A great grilling book, like Weber’s Way To Grill is essential in this case, especially if you’re not totally comfortable controlling the outdoor cookspace, or coming up with recipes on your own.
Once you decide on your main dishes, make sure to tailor your sides to the theme. For example, were you to make my Sesame-Soy Marinated Flank Steak, it would stand to reason that you’d also whip up a batch of my Sesame Noodle Salad as a side dish. Likewise, a serving of Drunken Salmon and Rockfish Tacos would be incomplete without a helping of my Jicama and Grilled Corn Salsa or some Mango Guacamole.
Finally, make sure that you have a few different, delicious drink options. Thankfully (hopefully), the age of the “light beer” is finally waning, whilst the era of the full-flavored, sessionable brew comes into it’s own. With available craft beer like Day Hike and Trailhead ISA from Two Beers Brewing Co, Even Keel from Ballast Point, and even something more out there, like Hell or High Watermelon from 21st Amendment, its possible to have a happy, flavorful and hop-fueled day without having to take a nap in the early afternoon.
For those who don’t drink beer, a flavorful cocktail makes the perfect backyard bevvie. While I prefer the simple beverages (and barstool wisdom) provided in Old Man Drinks, my wife would probably encourage you to pick up a copy of Mrs Lilien’s Cocktail Swatchbook, which provides fun, easy to follow recipes for “classic cocktails with a twist.”
Tip #2: Provide Entertainment
You know what sucks? A party where there’s nothing to do. Don’t be that host.
Make sure that your friends have something to actually do; you can only watch a person grill for so long before you start contemplating the meaning of life, and you can only have someone watch you grill for so long before you begin contemplating the meaning of their death. Keep it light. Buy some games.
Since retailers in our kindergarten-country have for some (I’m guessing: legal) reason banned the sale of those badass metal-tipped lawn darts I played with in the 80’s, you’re going to need to come up with some other options.
For the more athletically inclined, would recommend a frisbee-based game, like KanJam (which you could buy on Amazon, or simply make by cutting holes in plastic trash cans), or my new favorite game: Spikeball. Either would provide you guests rounds and rounds of competitive fun.
Oh, and worst comes to worst, you can always grab a hammer and some nails for a rousing (and potentially life-threatening) game of stump, a drinking game that involves tossing a hammer above your head with one hand while holding a beer in the other. Don’t forget your steel-toed boots.
Tip #3: Make Sweet Music
No one wants to hear you talk for an entire afternoon, so make sure that your guests have something to listen to, and a way to listen to it. I don’t mean that you should go out and buy some fancy speaker system (although if you did, I would definitely consider starting with a few SONOS Play:1 speakers and building from there), and I certainly wouldn’t recommend handing out earbuds to your guests. I would, however, encourage you to get a simple portable speaker, like the Rugged Rukus, which is solar-powered, bluetooth-ready, and loud enough to annoy the neighbors. As an added bonus, you could throw on some early Wu-Tang, and repeatedly tell people to “Bring the Motha-F***** Rukus.”
Of course, you can pick whatever type of music you want, but I’ve always found that a nice ‘default’ station that pleases most listeners is Pandora’s ‘Laid Back Beach Music’. It’s free and easy to listen to, unless you happen to hate Jack Johnson, in which case you should pick a different station.
Tip #4: Have The Required Equipment
If you’re going to serve food and drinks to a yard full of people, you’re going to want to make sure that people have things to eat off of and drink out of. You DO NOT want to be doing dishes for the three days following your party because you forgot to buy paper plates and plastic cups. It’s bad for the environment, but it’s good for your sanity. Make a choice.
That part is simple. Pick a theme, buy plates, cups, napkins, tableware, decorations, etc. To be honest, that’s not really my department. I advise you to bring your significant other to Target and set them loose.
There are some grilling mainstays that I don’t think you should do without.
First, have a good grill brush. The best one I’ve found is the Tuff-Built Industrial Grade Grill Brush. I’ve had mine for two years. I use it year-round. I’ve scrubbed every outward-facing surface of my grill with this thing, and it’s still holding tough. Get one. They’re awesome.
If you want the perfect grill-marks on your meats, I’ve recently found that GrillGrates raised rails work REALLY well. They’re easy to use, easy to clean and provide a perfectly even cook.
Finally, make sure you have a useful, versatile knife that’s easy to use and easy to open, especially with one hand. Most importantly, make sure it opens beer bottles. In other words, you want a Leatherman Crater. I know, I know; I could be suggesting any number of barbecue cooking utensils, expensive knives or novelty bottle openers to add to your drawers full of kitchen junk, but this wonderful little tool is by far the best and most useful pocket knife I’ve come across. I love these so much that I gave them to my groomsmen as gifts before my wedding. Get one. Seriously.
Tip #5: Party Favors
Finally, you want your guests to remember your gathering, so give them something useful that they can take away with them. In my experience, the best useful party favor were the custom koozies that my wife had made up over at CustomInk. They’re useful, fun, and give your guests a reason to grab another beer (as if they needed one).
I hope these tips were helpful! Enjoy the grilling season, and happy Memorial Day!