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.
Preparing For A Cookout, Here’s The Scenario
It should be 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 a sheer panic.
You know people are getting hungry, your son has asked when the burgers will be ready, the chips and salsa are depleted, and you are still making 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 on stove or grill, 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 white board, or something else others can read and access.
Because 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? Hand off that step to a spouse, a friend, 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.
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 And 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.
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
What can be done ahead of time? Step back and get it done.
Make the patties at least a couple 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. 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.
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, and 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
Have someone else, again a great choice for a younger child, make sure all the condiments are ready and available ahead of time. 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 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 (you can use a charcoal chimney starter for that), 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? 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 white board is a huge plus. Put it out by the grill, and let your guests put a check mark 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!
There are really two goals here: Make sure everyone has a good time with some great food; and give yourself a chance to enjoy the day and relax some as well.
A solid prep effort really makes both of these goals much easier to attain.
Taking the time to step back and prep first, and that really means plan first, makes the entire process more enjoyable for everyone.
As always, if you or someone you know find this information useful, please consider sharing it with your Grilling friends and on social media!
If you would like to leave a comment or have useful prep ideas of your own to share on preparing for a cookout, please do so below. We always welcome your input.