Now the weather is starting to pick up and we are starting to sweat, many of you are starting to plan BBQs. The idea of a BBQ sounds very simple, but it is in fact a complex Art, with you and your ideas being the key to success. Throwing any event can be risky business, potentially opening the eyes of your friends to the fool you may actually be (I’m only joking here, they probably know that already). Getting a BBQ right can, at least for an evening, make you seem like you are the greatest person in the world. So here it is, what I hope will be a nice and fun (yet informative) guide to throwing a BBQ party.
The first place to start is planning your BBQ. Poor planning has the potential to be fatal, not literally fatal, but at least socially. You need to figure out what you need, the minimums of which are:
· A BBQ
These may seem simple, but you will be surprised how many times I have seen friends get these wrong. I’m going give Food and Drink their own little section as they require quite some depth when discussing. First I will start with the BBQ.
You don’t really want a disposable BBQ you want a real BBQ, those disposable ones make you look like you don’t care for the environment, by using a more permanant BBQ you are still burning coal, but not throwing away as much cardboard and foil in the process. Plus they don’t stay hot for long, definitely not long enough to cook food to any sort of edible standard. What you need is something very big, something that will cook a lot of food. A product built to last.
(I think that maybe, just maybe, this may be a little too far)
When everyone arrives they will all pretty much want their food straight away. I am not an impatient person, but find me at a BBQ and I’ll probably be circling around the food like a vulture. As soon as the possibility of your food being cooked arises you will quickly find yourself getting very hungry, and so will your guests. This happens to more people than they realise. The quicker you can get the food out once your BBQ starts the better.
Timing is your next, very important, factor to planning. A great deal of this is which day you plan to do your BBQ. I recommend a Saturday. Each day of the week has advantages and disadvantages, so it’s all about working out which one is right for you. Monday through Friday, for many of your guests, will be days that they work, if you don’t finish until five o’clock and the traffic doesn’t allow you to get home until at least six o’clock, you will probably find yourself still setting up at eight o’clock, struggling with the instructions for an incredibly complicated and frustrating gazebo. The advantages of a Friday though is that it allows your guests to drink with the knowledge they are not at work the next day, the only other day that really allows this is Saturday, which you have to be very unlucky to work. There is one key issue with a Saturday though, which is pretty much unavoidable - sport.
Saturday, is synonymous with sport, at least for certain friends of mine. Ask them to do anything at three in the afternoon and the only response I get is “I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m watching the game” this is fine though, not really a big deal, you could if you like, even centre your BBQ around ‘the game’. This leaves you with the question of what to do with your non-sports-fan-friends, they probably won’t enjoy ‘the game’. The answer is simply inviting them and make sure you don’t forget about them, maybe make sure there is a little group of non-sports-fan-friends to entertain each other.
Another alternative is simply organising your BBQ to be after anything, which may be taking place in the afternoon that people may find difficult to avoid doing. A good time to aim for is about six o’clock in the evening. Six o’clock is good because it allows for different people’s eating patterns. I know many people who eat their evening meal around five and those that eat around nine. This way your BBQ should be hot and ready by around seven, making it equal for both extremes. Tell your guests to arrive for six. You may be thinking ‘won’t everyone turn up early?’ but, no, they won’t. A few will, but these will typically be those people, like myself, who don’t mind turning up early, we’re used to it, in fact, we like to turn up early, you can expect most people to run late, but arrive just in time for BBQ being ready at seven. These early comers will more than likely also help you with any tasks you still have left before everyone else arrives. It makes us feel good.
You want to make your garden have atmosphere for the BBQ, somewhere your guests feel like they can enjoy them selves. Gazebos are good because if the worst happens and it rains (and it always does!), your friends have somewhere to huddle and wait it out if they can’t make it indoors. Chairs are a must. If your friends are drinking, there will probably come a point were it is best for them to sit down, I usually have a seating area within the gazebo, I find this often helps with preventing your friends turning into lobsters. One word of advice, don’t try to BBQ under the gazebo (or next to a garden shed for that matter).
The main ingredient of any great BBQ, kind of speaks for itself, but is often taken for granted. You have too opposing options when it comes to the food – economy or up market. I suggest something in the middle. Why this middle ground you may ask. Well, going down to the supermarket and buying the cheapest food you can, has obvious advantages. But if you want to impress, you want to provide food people will actually enjoy. This doesn’t mean buying the best you can from an organic butcher’s shop though because at the end of the day, your guests are more than likely going to drown the poor thing in ketchup. A nice middle ground offers burgers and sausages that won’t be several times smaller than they first appeared whilst making your guest feel less guilty when pouring that mustard in. You can always tell people to bring their own food, leaving the choice of quality up to them, but this often leads to chaos and confusion about who’s food is who’s and a mad rush to get theirs on the BBQ first. You can also guarantee that some people will just not bring any. By buying your own you have complete control and can just keep cooking away.
I would recommend asking any vegetarians you know to bring their own food. This isn’t some sort of anti-vegetarian statement or anything; it’s more of allowing them their personal preference. I was vegetarian for many years and throughout this time there were many brands I encountered that were very nice, but also many brands that weren’t. If I turned up to a BBQ and the host had bought vegetarian food for the vegetarians, you could guarantee it was going to be one of the brands I didn’t like.
Next on your list, are sauces. Everyone loves a good sauce, yet everyone differs in their favourites. Classics such as Ketchup, Mayonnaise, Mustard, Brown Sauce, and Relish are all musts. What I like to do is throw in sauces that may surprise people, throw them off guard. These include, Sweet Chilli Sauce, Horseradish, Salad Cream, Hot Pepper Sauce, Pickle, Piri Piri, Reggae Reggae and strange variations of traditional sauces, this way you allow your guests to create whatever they want. You will be surprised at some of the concoctions and this will ultimately start many conversations.
(Just thinking about BBQ food makes me very hungy.)
The other decision you have to make with food is elements such as Salads and side dishes. This comes from knowing your guests, but I have never thrown a BBQ were these were really eaten. I often fall back on the classics such as coleslaw and potato salad because at the end of the day, any leftovers I will happily eat on my own. Thinking about salads I am always reminded of a Simpsons episode with a wonderful song “you don’t make friends with salads”. I have to admit, The Simpsons are right.
No party is complete without drinks, whether these are alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Many people, like with food, will not bring any, but I have generally found that most people will. It does help to be stocked up. If you have drinks to offer your guest, you will instantly win friend points (more than likely you will also be able to get them to return the favour), creating a better atmosphere. Stick with the classics – Cider, Beer and Wine for the alcoholic and Cola, Lemonade and Juice for the non alcoholic. You may also need some extra of these non-alcoholic drinks for those that like to drink spirits. Always buy much more than you need and keep a reserve. This way your guests will not be able to abuse your generosity and you will be able to offer more if the supply has run down, but your gathering, is nowhere near over. Like the food, don’t go for anything too cheap, I would usually go for drinks that I like, so any leftovers are there for me to enjoy.
Don’t forget the ice. Ice alone will make you a legend.
I left this from the list earlier, because it is an almost strange anomaly. Sometimes you need music, sometimes you don’t. If conversation is booming, music can often end up being a distraction, getting drowned out in the background. Sometimes the music is the life of a social event. I have to agree with the latter. The problem with music though is that everyone like something different and you can’t please everyone with the same genre (it is things like this that make people so interesting and fascinating). I find nostalgic music is your best bet. Music from a specific time gone by that you all have connections to, not only sparks conversation, but makes people very happy. Whenever I hear a song from my youth for example, I just want to dance. When I hear this song with my friends, we do dance. Find these songs for your group of guests and run with it, trust me on this, I’m an expert.
And there we have it, a guide to throwing the perfect summer BBQ. Have fun and remember, to wear sunscreen because as well being more embarrassing than you realise, sunburn can have very serious long-term effects.
(Thom holds no responsibility for your BBQ not being a success)