It’s Friday, so of course the weather gods decided to schedule a torrential downpour here in Seattle to really start our long weekend on the right note. But I’m already looking ahead to Monday (and praying for sunshine), when my boyfriend and I will be hosting our very first summer BBQ in honor of Memorial Day!
Everyone is a different type of party host. My weakness is that I get so excited by all the options for recipes, drinks, and décor that I end up taking on too much and burning myself out before anyone even arrives. So for this party, I’m making a conscious effort to scale back with recipes that are delicious but simple to execute, drinks that can be made in big, easy batches, and creating a fun atmosphere with smaller projects that make the biggest impact. After all, the first BBQ of the season should really be about enjoying great people, good food, and (weather gods permitting) plenty of sunshine.
Thinking about gathering your own friends and family for some grilling, sipping, and celebrating this Memorial Day? Here are the recipes, drinks, and DIYs I’ll be working on over the weekend, so come Monday afternoon, I can greet our guests with a smile—not my usual frantic, frazzled, “I’m not ready yet!” face.
1. Go potluck-style.
Since our BBQ was relatively impromptu, we sent out a short and sweet email invitation to all our friends, enticing them with the promise of grilled meats and cold drinks, and asking them to bring side dishes and drinks to share. For a laid-back BBQ, there’s no shame in asking for help—in my experience, most people like to contribute what they can, even if it’s just a bag of chips and a six-pack.
2. Pick easy, classic recipes—with a fresh twist.
I love barbecues, and I tend to overdo it, so my natural inclination is to make a 100+ item grocery list and cook all the things. But I also want to actually enjoy my friends’ company, so I’m consciously limiting my shopping list to five key recipes that are summer BBQ classics, but each has a unique twist—either in flavor or presentation—so they taste like they took a lot of effort, but (shh!) they totally didn’t.
Grilled Corn on the Cob with Jalapeno-Lime Aioli and Parmesan Cheese: Who doesn’t love grilled corn on the cob? We’ll be kicking it up a notch with this delicious, slightly spicy recipe that includes two of my favorite things: jalapenos and plenty of cheese. [From Brazil to You]
Tomato and Mozzerella Skewers with Basil Oil: These are basically caprese salads on a stick. Need I say more? (Can you tell I’m a cheese fanatic?) [The Kitchn]
Prize-Winning Baby Back Ribs: My boyfriend is the grill master, so he’ll be taking on the most important part of the meal: the meat! He likes to improvise with his grill rubs, adding coffee grounds, fresh herbs, spices, and whatever else strikes his fancy, and this recipe provides the perfect foundation for his creativity. There are literally six ingredients and the results are guaranteed to be delicious. (Don’t forget the homemade BBQ sauce! We’ve bookmarked this recipe in our copy of The Joy of Cooking for a reason.) [All Recipes]
Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint: Pure summer in a bowl. As sacrilegious as it feels to try to “improve” upon a recipe created by the legendary Jacques Pépin, I’m planning on skipping the olives and adding toasted pecans. [Food & Wine]
Apple & Poppy Seed Coleslaw: No BBQ ribs should go without coleslaw, and this recipe won me over with the addition of fresh, tangy Granny Smith apples. I’m planning on swapping the mayo for greek yogurt, so it’s secretly a bit healthier … that way I won’t feel bad when I finish off the whole batch. [Damn Delicious]
3. Pick pitcher-perfect drinks.
BBQs and beer go together like manis and pedis, but I can never resist the urge to craft a signature cocktail. So, in addition to stocking our coolers with ice and brews, I’ll be whipping up a pitcher (or two … or five …) of Sunset Punch. Mix together bourbon, lemon, vermouth, ginger beer, and sugar, and you’ve basically created the perfect summer-y, spiked lemonade in a cup. And since over-diluted drinks are sad drinks, the night before the party I’ll be using this awesome DIY to freeze my lemon slices and lemon juice and use those instead of ice cubes, so my punch will stay cold without getting watered down. [Food & Wine]
4. Set the mood with your music.
Certain songs just scream, “SUMMER!” and will keep your party guests in a great mood all afternoon and evening long. I like to shoot for an eclectic, feel-good mix of classic rock, Southern soul, 90’s hip-hop, and upbeat pop classics—think The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, A Tribe Called Quest, and Michael Jackson—and then throw in a little bit of delightfully corny yacht rock (Steely Dan, ELO, Kenny Loggins) for good measure. As long as the music makes you smile and dance, it should do the trick. Songza has a great selection of curated playlists specifically geared toward barbecues, so you don’t even have to make your own!
5. Bust out the yard games.
Adults and kids alike will be thrilled to see that you’ve set up a game of croquet, horseshoes, corn hole, bocce ball, or badminton in the backyard—but not every game requires so much equipment.
Four cans of spray paint are all you need to make this awesome outdoor Twister board, and something as simple as a bucket full of colorful sidewalk chalk or a couple of squirt guns has a way of bringing out the kid in everyone. Another fun DIY idea is lawn bowling: take 10 empty plastic soda bottles, fill them with water (add food coloring for extra pizzazz), and then just grab any ball and go for a strike!
6. Keep your set-up simple.
There’s really no need to overdo it with decorations at a BBQ. My plan is to string up some of our white Christmas lights around our patio, put out a few picnic blankets on the lawn to supplement our seating, and bring out some tea lights in mason jars after sunset. Done and done.
7. Don’t forget dessert.
Dessert is a very important element of any party, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. I was on the quest to find a group-friendly dessert that utilized the grill, required minimal clean-up at the end of the night, and fit the occasion—and the season—to a T. And I found it. Behold: Grilled S’more Banana Boats.
There are two distinct perks to making s’mores this way: first, when you add a plate and a spoon, you reduce the stickiness factor—my least favorite thing about classic s’mores. Second, each guest can personalize their banana exactly the way they want it. No need to stop at marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. You can keep it low-key with those three ingredients, or make a DIY station that includes peanuts and/or peanut butter, M&Ms, sprinkles, whipped cream, caramel … you name it! [Neighborfood]
Those are my tips for throwing a laid-back but totally killer summer BBQ. Do you have any favorite recipes or entertaining tips of your own? Share your wisdom in the comments!