Host a cookout with food, family and fun in mind
Forget the lazy days of summer. With Labor Day right around the corner—not to mention the beginning of prime tailgating season—there’s no better time to fire up the grill, invite your friends and perfect your recipe for a party that packs a punch.
To set the stage for your outdoor event, start with the right atmosphere. Entertaining outside already has that element of casual fun, but you can enhance the experience with a colorful menu and festive décor. “Hosting an outdoor party doesn’t have to feel or look like a rustic event,” says Joyce Caldwell, owner and lead designer for Rejoyce! Interior Design in Marietta. “Instead of a traditional hot-dogs-and-hamburgers cookout, consider spicing up the menu and adding ambiance with lighting, music and accessories.”
If you’re hosting an evening event, set the mood with soft, flickering candles and lanterns. Clusters of candles in varying shapes and sizes are ideal for flat surfaces, but you can get creative by stringing lanterns between trees or placing floating candles in your bird bath.
To add drama, music is a must. Consider the type of party you’re throwing, and play tunes to match. Inconspicuous wireless speakers surround the entire space with song.
Finally, accessorize your party with festive dinnerware. Try reusable melamine tableware that looks like real glass, silver and porcelain as an alternative to paper goods.
With the groundwork laid, kick your event into high-gear with a mouthwatering menu that will wow your guests.
“Traditionally, people thought of the grill as a means to cook meat,” says Sean Tegart, vice president of product marketing for Weber-Stephen Products. “But now the options are endless and grillers are experimenting with dishes that can only be classified as gourmet.”
While impressing guests is a worthy pursuit, remember that variety is the key to success. Proven favorites like grilled hamburgers and hot dogs are kid-friendly options that will satisfy young guests. But for those with a more discriminating palate, experiment with grilled pizza, vegetables and desserts for a new twist. Pair grilled food with standard munchies and non-grilled hot dishes that can be kept at temperature in a slow cooker for a well-rounded meal.
To accommodate parents and children, arrange food and drink stations so that guests can mingle from one to the next, choosing from a variety of offerings. Separate the children’s stations from the adults, so they can experience some independence. “Children like to feel grown up, particularly at an adult-themed party,” says Linda Beggs, a Marietta homeowner and neighborhood party planner. “Including them by incorporating child-friendly details makes for a pleasant party experience for everyone involved.”
Many homeowners have taken the pleasure of cooking outdoors and expanded their porch, patio or deck to include an outdoor kitchen. “Today, people are spending more time at home, so they want to create personal spaces where they can spend quality time with friends and family,” says Daniel J. Weidmann, CR, CAPS and president of Weidmann & Associates, Inc., in Roswell.
The Latest Dish
As grilling and outdoor entertaining have become national pastimes, manufacturers of grills and smokers are constantly redefining their product lines. “Lately, we’ve seen a trend toward infrared searing stations on our gas grills,” says Jeff Cleveland, marketing manager for Broilmaster. “With radiating heat of 1,500 to 1,600 degrees, the searing station seals the juices inside the meat while creating a flavorful crust that enhances the taste of steak, seafood and chicken.”
Another cutting-edge product from Broilmaster is its smoker shutter, which instantly converts the grill to an indirect cooker. Years ago, frying a turkey for Thanksgiving was the newest trend, but today’s gourmets are smoking their bird. An answer to demand, the smoker shutter features stainless-steel “blinds” that close above the burners, allowing the turkey to slowly roast in its natural juices.
For charcoal enthusiasts, Weber has created a gourmet barbecue system that triples the versatility of its standard charcoal grill. Using a set of three insert plates, the Weber Original Gourmet BBQ System combines a searing station, griddle and wok for an endless variety of cooking options. “With this new system, we wanted to make sure we were addressing the desires of our consumers, and that meant addressing their needs for a more versatile charcoal experience,” Tegart says.
Not to be outdone, Weber also has addressed the needs of its gas-grill consumers. With increasing interest in more functional, permanent outdoor cooking spaces, Weber has created a grill line that offers a built-in look. The Summit Grill Centers feature cabinets for storing everything from grill tools to tableware and an expanded L-shaped work-and-entertaining space for a kitchen-like experience.
As the fundamentals of grilling continue to be challenged and expanded, marketers are eager to meet the demands. “People have taken outside cooking more seriously than they did years ago,” Cleveland says. “There’s a philosophy that if you can cook it, you can cook it outdoors, and the experience will be much more enjoyable.”
The great debate
Is it really just personal preference, or is there a clear-cut winner in the gas-versus-charcoal debate? While there are advocates on both sides, we need to take an in-depth look at both before answering this burning question.
In the beginning, charcoal was the only option, and it was relatively cheap and easy to use. With small briquettes, some lighter fluid and the strike of a match, anyone could recreate the ambiance of cooking over an open flame. As the method improved to meet consumer demand, flavored chips to enhance the earthy taste and smell of charcoal-cooked meat were introduced.
As grilling became an American pastime, gas-powered grills were introduced in the 1960s. Arguably more expensive than its charcoal predecessor, the gas grill enticed the mainstream market with its fast, even heating capabilities and easy cleanup. Over the years, as gas grills were perfected, they too became more sophisticated with taste-enhancing add-ons such as flavor bars and chips.
And, here we are today, with devotees on both sides advocating for their preferred cooking method. “If you ask both sides what they prefer, the charcoal griller will say there is a huge difference in taste, with charcoal winning hands down,” Tegart says. “However, with the advent of technology, the gas griller will insist there is virtually no taste difference between the two.”
As the debate continues, one thing is certain: Whether you’re a gas or charcoal fan, we can all agree that food just tastes better when it’s grilled.
Serve outside-the-box recipes along with traditional grilled favorites
Georgia Peaches-and-Cream Grilled Pizza
1 pre-baked whole-wheat or sourdough pizza crust
1 log of chevre goat cheese
1/8 cup powdered sugar
zest from one lemon
8-12 fresh Georgia peaches, peeled, seeded and sliced
4 Tbsp. raw sugar
Preheat grill on medium–high for about 15 minutes. Mix cheese, powdered sugar and lemon zest in a bowl until smooth (Add a splash of milk or cream if too thick to spread.) Place pizza crust on preheated grill for about 5 minutes. Use a pizza peel or a very large spatula to rotate the crust a quarter-turn for another 2-3 minutes. Cook until browned, but not black. Remove crust from heat and cool for a few minutes before spreading cheese mixture on top. Then, place peach slices in a circle on top of cheese, working from the inside out. Lightly sprinkle with raw sugar and return to grill (If grill is too hot, turn down to medium–low.) Rotate pizza a quarter-turn after about 4 minutes, being sure not to let bottom of pizza burn. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Note: Cream cheese may be substituted for chevre. Pears or apples can be substituted for peaches, and fall spices can be added for a seasonal twist. For more even cooking, use a Viking pizza stone and pizza peel (paddle.)
—chef Jared Swift, HADCO
Grilled Bourbon Corn Pepper Relish
4 ears of sweet corn-on-the-cob, grilled in husk and cut off of cob
½ orange pepper diced
½ red pepper diced
1/2 purple onion diced
¼ stalk celery diced
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
½ cup beef stock
¼ cup bourbon
2 Tbsp. butter
salt & cayenne pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
Melt butter in medium saucepan or sauté pan, add celery, peppers, onions and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes. Add cut corn and mix well. Remove pan from heat (3-4 feet) and add bourbon. Place pan back on heat, turn flame up to high and ignite the bourbon while swirling pan to burn off alcohol. Add beef stock and bay leaves, bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat until liquid is reduced by half. Adjust flavor with salt and cayenne pepper and serve.
—chef George Laudun, Sub-Zero and Wolf Showroom Atlanta
70% of Americans say cooking out gets them in a healthier routine than cooking in.
—Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association
In 2010, 57% of consumers bought gas grills, while 41% purchased charcoal and 2% purchased electric