Hosting a cookout is a bit more involved than simply throwing your favorite barbecue fare on the grill. Proper planning ensures you'll have everything you need for the occasion, from cutlery to cooking surfaces, condiments and chairs. Make a checklist if you don't entertain often, and discuss the items on the list with close friends or family to ensure that every necessary item is on hand before the event begins, including trash bags for cleanup.
A Friendly Feast
Cooking out, whether for a small group or large gathering, requires having enough main courses for everyone in attendance, extra food for surprise visitors, and a smattering of second servings. The main course in this case includes standard grillable food, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken or steak, and veggie burgers or portabella mushrooms, for instance, for vegetarian guests. Side dishes such as ears of corn, baked beans, potato salad and snack foods go along with the main course. Delegate some of the food-bringing activities to others, or ask guests to each bring a dish. Don't forget the condiments!
Key Cooking Supplies
A cookout requires ample cooking surfaces to prepare the food while guests wait -- in most cases, a gas or barbecue grill. For a large gathering or if a number of vegetarians are mixed in with the carnivorous guests, consider a separate grill or grills for nonmeat items to avoid cross-contamination. Keeping several large grills going at once ensures a steady stream of cooked food is ready for guests. Keep an ample supply of propane or charcoal and lighter fluid handy, along with spatulas, tongs, meat forks and trays for uncooked and cooked foods. Use foil to cover the foods to protect items from insects and to keep hot foods hot.
Room to Relax
Cookouts require ample seating and table space for all guests; otherwise, they may feel awkward trying to eat while standing or while seated at a chair away from a table. Guesstimate the number of attendees and have enough chairs for everyone and table space for a majority of the group, since some may be mingling or playing games while others sit at the table. If hosting the cookout at a public place such as a pavilion in a park, check the table and seating space beforehand, bringing plenty of extra chairs anyway, or encourage families to bring extra seating for their clan, just in case. Arrive at a public cookout location well in advance to secure your space, unless you booked it ahead of time.
A cookout requires plenty of plates, cutlery, and cups or glasses so guests can enjoy their food. Disposable or recyclable items, along with trash bags to gather the mess afterwards, ensure an easy cleanup. Supply more napkins than you think may be needed, and keep a roll of paper towels handy in case of spills. Coolers filled with ice along with a vast assortment of beverages keep guests refreshed during the event. Plastic tablecloths are a good idea if using public picnic tables, as they ensure a clean surface to set plates and cups upon.
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