"In the beginning, the barbecue gods created the hamburgers and the hot dogs." Any good barbecue flies or dies with the quality of the food yet there's much more to hosting an elite barbecue than food alone. But we begin with the food and the sides, and for purposes of this article, we'll assume that you're both hosting and serving as Grillmaster. Get your apron ready...
1. The Main Event
On a diet? No, you're not. Pick another day or defer food preparation responsibilities to someone else. Don't skimp on beef or hot dogs (for dogs, we like Nathan's, Boar's Head and Sabrett). You get what you pay for. Check out burger master Bobby Flay's perfect burger recipe here, and follow his 5 Burger Commandments:
1. Use beef that is 20 percent fat for the right balance of moisture and flavor.
2. For food safety, keep the patties in the refrigerator right up until it's time to grill them.
3. To ensure a good crust, use lots of salt and pepper and make sure the grill is extremely hot.
4. Always use soft, toasted buns.
5. Keep toppings simple and fresh. Flay says it drives him nuts when people pile on tons of toppings.
On the last point, we'd like to add that there's scientific evidence that bacon makes everything better. Everything. Especially burgers. Other popular items for the condiment tray: mustards, ketchup, sauerkraut, chili, relish, pickles, onions, tomato and lettuce.
Also, a common grilling mistake that warrants attention: Don't press down the patties while they're cooking. By doing that, you'll squeeze out the flavorful juices. Maybe it'll cook faster but at far too great a cost.
Feel free to display foods from the Munching Family (e.g. chips), but you don't want revelers to fill up on carb-loaded snacks before you deliver the heavy artillery. While burgers and hot dogs are staples, barbecue chicken and sausages are nice complements or alternatives to traditional fare.
2. The Sides
Barbecue feasts without an array of awesome sides is like the Hall of Fame without Pete Rose: it can still stand, but it's bullshit. Here are 10 of our favorites:
-Grilled sweet potato fries
-Fresh corn on the cob (or try BBQ corn if you have a smoker)
-Root beer baked beans
-Peppers and onions
-Vegetable kabobs (use zucchini, assorted peppers, summer squash, red onion)
-Bacon potato salad
-Tomato, onion, and cucumber salad
3. The Beverages
It may be easier to pick up a keg of Bud Light but one size does not fit all, plus your guests deserve better. Something on the lighter side is ideal for summer barbecues, something with plenty of flavors too. Before we forget: Remember to leave out plenty of water. Keep people hydrated so they can drink, cool down, and enjoy themselves longer.
Speaking of water, don't skimp on ice. These beers must stay cold, so cover them well with cubes. Anything but ice cold beer, particularly in the summer, is un-American. One of the U.S.'s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, is often quoted as saying (perhaps inaccurately because he may have been talking about wine, but the point remains): "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Keep your guests happy with some of these offerings:
Victory Summer Love
21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon
Shiner's Ruby Redbird
Dogfish Head Festina Peche
Goose Island Summertime
Sierra Nevada Summerfest
4. The Music
Be prepared. Set a long playlist in advance (about 7-plus hours, or 105 songs) so you can focus on grilling and avoid a musical hijacking by an antsy guest. You are the master of ceremonies, captain of the ship, and director of the great barbecue symphony. Every barbecue needs a solid soundtrack. Good speakers set up outside is key.
To an extent you need to play to the crowd, so keep that in mind, but there's plenty of songs that will keep people spirited and singing. We recommend a good mix of nostalgic songs, summer beats, hip-hop, classic rock and some current tracks. Here's a bunch:
"Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful
"Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
"Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Jungleland" by Bruce Springsteen
"School's Out" by Alice Cooper
"In The Summertime" by Mungo Jerry
"Dani California" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
"What I Got" by Sublime
"Anotha (BBQ)" by People Under the Stairs
"Gin and Juice" by Snoop Dogg
"The Boys of Summer" by Don Henley
"Alive" by Pearl Jam
"Buffalo Soldier" by Bob Marley
"Regulate" by Warren G
"All Summer Long" by Kid Rock (two -- Lynyrd Skynyrd and Warren Zevon -- for the price of one!)
5. The Games
They're an integral part of the summer barbecue package. Props if you're organizing a wiffle ball or softball game, but in lieu of that or even in addition, it's a clutch move to pepper the backyard with leisurely games. FYI, lawn darts plus beer equals possible hospital trip. Avoid. We recommend:
Cornhole (do it yourself or order a set)
Beer pong (or flip cup; just get plenty of solo cups, extra ping pong balls and some cheap beer you won't mind spilling)
6. The Water
Ideally you've got a pool in the backyard, in which case, you've also got a floating basketball hoop, right? Excellent. If you don't have a glorious pool oasis, consider a small inflatable pool. A kiddie pool is better than no pool at all.
Other option: super soakers. Get a bunch of super soakers or modern equivalents. Pick teams. Lay waste to opponents with cold water. Soakers provide a perfect combination of water, nostalgia and opportunity for girls to get their shirts wet.
7. The Theme
It's not imperative but this is a way to put your signature on the barbecue and distinguish it from the rest. We're partial to a "Pirate Party." Bonus if you have a parrot.
The other day, reddit users offered their best party themes. Let's highlight a few that would work for a barbecue:
1. Rubik's Cube Party: "Turn up wearing different colored clothing, then swap with people
and leave wearing one color."
2. The Player Hater's Ball: "Everyone dresses as ridiculously pimped out as they can, and you spend the night insulting each other."
3. I Can't Believe You Wore That: "We all just dressed up as ridiculously as possible and watched as the hilarity ensued. It probably wasn't the most original but holy shit it provided for some good laughs. I went in an 'Elvis Presley Sex Fetish costume'; flares and ALSO assless chaps. Other costumes: someone wearing nothing but an adult diaper and a pacifier, somebody wearing a Borat bikini, people dressed as Pimps, Hoes and a vast sea of horrific Hawaiian shirts as far as the eye could see. It was a spectacle."
You get the idea. Be creative and your guests will follow.
8. The Rest
Check out these miscellaneous odds and ends that don't fit neatly into the other categories:
1. If possible, provide a place for heat relief. A pool will suffice, but on a really hot day your guests will appreciate a spell indoors with air conditioning blasting.
2. Tiki torches. They're inexpensive and add a nice touch to the outdoor setup.
3. Tables and chairs. Seems obvious to set up plenty of tables and chairs but we've been to parties where the host didn't have enough, forcing people to eat standing up. Set up a few more chairs than you think you'll need. While you're at it, make sure you have umbrellas for tables to block the sun.
4. Citronella candles. They help keep bugs away, smell nice, smell like summer. Do it. Also have bug spray handy.
5. Have some police-happy neighbors? Give them a heads up that you're having a barbecue and will be playing music. Better yet, if they're decent people, invite them over.
6. Dessert. Unless you're inviting total freeloaders, they'll offer to bring something (or you can ask). To that end, dessert works well.
7. As if you're not doing enough already... set up a fire pit (surrounded with stones) for the nighttime. Nothing says summer and "this party rocks" like Smores by an open fire.
8. The finale: fireworks. But do not leave them near the fire pit.
Rememeber, have fun out there.