If you are planning your next big epic cookout and are expecting the whole family to be there, chances are good that you are going to need some help.
It’s never too early to get organized when the stakes are this high and everything has to come out right.
Preparing for a cookout, whether large or small can be a stressful experience when there are so many hungry mouths to feed.
But it doesn’t have to be by coming up with a plan ahead of time.
In our preparing for a cookout guide, we’ll show you how to prep for your cookout like a pro, so you can save time and enjoy the party.
Table of Contents
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Preparing for a Cookout, Here’s the Scenario
It’s a perfect afternoon: sunny, light breeze, the kids are in the pool, the adult guests are spread across the back yard talking and laughing, the grill is ready and the coals are spot on, and you are in sheer panic.
You know people are getting hungry, and your son just asked when the burgers are going to be ready. The chips and salsa are depleted, and you are still preparing the burgers, skewering the shrimp, chopping the veggies, and the hot dogs are still in the package.
You want everything to be perfect. And for you, perfect means doing it your way.
And that is where you went wrong.
Sure, there are things that only you can do, to get your world-famous, or at least neighborhood-famous, burgers ready. But all those other things? Why didn’t you ask for help?
How to Prepare for a Cookout
For the home cook, whether for a small get-together or a neighborhood party, prep time saves time. And the first part of any preparation process is to make a list. Not in your head, but on a piece of paper, or whiteboard, or something else others can read and access.
First things first, let’s get organized.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your cookout:
- Make a guest list and send out invitations in advance
- Plan your menu and make a shopping list
- Check your grill and make sure it’s clean and in good working order
- Stock up on charcoal, propane, or whatever fuel you’ll need
- Set up tables, chairs, and any other necessary equipment
- Prepare for the weather – have a plan B in case of rain or extreme heat
- Decide who will be assigned to specific tasks
Proper prep is a team effort, and you are the coach. If you want the onions cut a certain way, does that mean only you can do it? Handoff that step to a spouse, a friend, or a child (if they know how to be safe). On that list, you made, put some names on there. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes. So, use them.
Add a little fun to the assignments. If your cookout is based around a football game, make it look like plays. Xs and Os and arrows to where everything goes. Gathering to watch a race? Make it look like a pit assignment. The wheels become the buns; the fuel becomes the condiments etc.
See where I am going with this? A little creativity will add to the fun.
For a Really Successful Cookout, It’s Time Think & Go Big
Think for a moment about that grill classic, the simple cheeseburger. Meat, cheese, buns, condiments, toppings. Sounds simple, and at its base level, it is. But to go big, to really make an impact and impress the masses, even if they are just your family, is usually worth the effort.
The key to a great cookout is to think big and go all out.
Here are some tips to help you take your cookout to the next level:
- Invest in quality meat, seafood, and vegetables
- Consider using a smoker or grill to add flavor and depth to your dishes
- Experiment with new recipes and techniques
- Serve a variety of dishes to please different tastes and dietary needs
- Don’t forget the drinks and desserts!
Cooking is like any technical skill, in the sense that doing a good job is frequently its own reward. You want to be appreciated for your efforts, and you also want time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you spend all your time running around, none of that will happen.
Save Time by Prepping Ahead of Time
Tips for Prepping Burgers | Tips for Prepping Veggies
What can be done ahead of time? Step back and get it done.
One of the best ways to save time on the day of your cookout is to prep ahead of time.
Here are some tips to help you get ahead:
- Marinate meat and vegetables the night before
- Cut up vegetables and fruit in advance
- Make side dishes and desserts the day before
- Set up the table and decorations the night before
Tips for Prepping Burgers
Make the patties at least a couple of hours early. One extra benefit of this is any seasoning will really work its way into the meat. And what do you put into your seasonings? Experiment a little.
One thing that can happen with little warning is that grilled burgers will dry out quickly. With the leaner meats found in most stores, there ends up being less moisture than you may have grown up with. Adding only dry seasonings will worsen this.
So, consider a splash of olive oil in the meat mixture. Pesto, which is largely olive oil, adds a nice, herb flavoring to a burger, with a little extra moisture as well. Look for a liquid, or at least a moist addition, that helps with binding. A dash or two of Worcestershire sauce will do the trick nicely.
Just a warning, BBQ sauces or things like teriyaki sauce can go too far and make for a soggy mess.
If you do end up using an oil, watch for flare-ups, since the oil can burn.
Tips for Prepping Veggies
Another seemingly simple prep idea that frequently gets overlooked is to have all the veggies sliced beforehand, which is a great job for a kitchen novice to handle. Show them what you want, and let them go, without staring over their shoulder the whole time.
And if working with kids, make sure to compliment them regardless of their final product. Making a child happy is worth an ugly avocado slice. And it doesn’t really change the flavor anyway.
Make sure to store any items properly beforehand, so they still look crisp when serving.
Save Time by Sharing the Load
Don’t try to do everything yourself!
Here are some ways to get your friends and family involved:
- Ask guests to bring a dish or drink to share
- Assign tasks to different people, such as grilling, serving, or cleaning up
- Hire a caterer or food truck to help with the cooking
Have someone else make sure all the condiments are ready and available ahead of time. Again, a great choice for a younger child.
Have a new bottle of mustard? Remember to remove the safety wrapping and that little foam inner lid before putting it on the table, to save a guest’s embarrassment when they squeeze and get either nothing or too much.
Don’t forget to have another person prep the buns. Dropping them in the package on the table is a rookie mistake. Make a nice display on a plate or in a basket, for excellent effect. And it makes it easier to keep an eye on how many have been used.
Having a 4th of July cookout? A couple of flag-design napkins spread out under the buns is a great way to add some color and patriotism to the festivities.
Now, while the others are doing their tasks, you can keep your focus on the meat. Start the grill, either gas or coals, while the rest of the team is doing their thing. It keeps you out of their hair and means you have control over a very important step.
Be Ready for Special Orders by Being Prepared
And one last thing about burger prep. Are you ready for specialty orders?
It’s important to be ready for any special requests or dietary restrictions.
Here are some tips:
- Have a variety of vegetarian and vegan options available, as well as gluten-free and nut-free dishes.
- Label your dishes clearly so guests know what’s in them and can avoid anything they’re allergic to.
- Have a separate area for grilling vegetarian and vegan options to avoid cross-contamination.
If you have multiple kinds of cheese, do you know who wants what? Do you have guests that may not want the cheese? Does everyone want bacon?
Here’s where another whiteboard is a huge plus.
Put the whiteboard out by the grill, and let your guests put a checkmark next to their choice. It takes stress off you and lets you focus on your part, which is making sure everyone gets the best you can offer.
Preparing for a Cookout Will Help You Reach Your Goals!
Well, folks, we’ve covered a lot of ground in this preparing for a cookout guide, and we hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. We’ve shared tips and tricks that will help you plan, prep, and execute a cookout that will make your friends and family think you’re a BBQ pro. But before we wrap things up, we’d like to leave you with a few final thoughts.
Planning is Key
As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide, planning is key to a successful cookout. Whether you’re hosting a small gathering or a big party, taking the time to plan ahead will save you time and stress on the day of the event.
Prep Ahead of Time
We cannot stress enough the importance of prepping ahead of time. From marinating your meats to prepping your sides, doing as much as possible in advance will save you time and ensure everything is cooked to perfection.
Share the Load
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or delegate tasks to others. It’s always easier when you have a team working together to pull off a successful cookout.
Be Prepared for Special Orders
There’s always that one guest who has a special dietary restriction or request. Make sure you’re prepared by asking ahead of time and having alternative options available.
Enjoy the Moment
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the moment. The reason we love to cook out is that it’s a time to relax, unwind, and spend time with the people we care about. So, take a deep breath, pour yourself a cold drink, and savor the moment.
With that, we wish you all the best in your cookout endeavors.
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