Spice Up the Boring Summer Barbecue

grill top 560x315The glorious summer barbecue is the quintessential warm weather gathering celebrating food, friends and family. And yet such a tried-and-true formula for good times has fallen into a slump of overcooked burgers and dried out hotdogs grilled by dad or your favorite uncle, who slave away with beer in hand over the open coals. Having become more chore than relaxing afternoon, the following tips will liven up your barbecue without overly challenging the hosts or overwhelming the guests.

Bring on the Chicken!

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Admittedly, there is nothing wrong with the traditional burger and dog, but these days people are becoming more and more health conscious and even if consuming red meat isn’t the primary concern, the high fat content of burgers and dubious ingredients of hot dogs may well caution your guests against over indulging. Why not try something different?

The bold, strong flavors of the Southwest are easy to replicate and you won’t need to put your uncle out of a grilling job. Marinated and grilled chicken breasts or thighs alongside a variety of toppings such as grilled peppers, chopped onion and tomatoes, sour cream, cheddar cheese, guacamole and shredded lettuce make an easy to pull together build-your-own fajita bar. Sure, this requires a bit more effort compared to combating the grease flare-ups from your flammable burgers, but it is different, delicious and will have your guests raving.

Freeze the Fruit

%nameSure, canned beverages are easy – easy to purchase, to chill and to serve. But, they’re really high on the boring scale. Making a revival to home parties everywhere is the nostalgic beverage of choice, punch! With a plethora of recipes available for punches of all kinds, from those made with alcohol to ones with ice cream in them and every kind in between, the best and most refreshing punches are those made with a variety of citrus juices and not so heavy on the syrupy sodas. Easy enough to make alcoholic, vodka goes with many kinds of punches, so does rum. And the one for the kiddies can be kept totally separate. Punch up your punch with frozen fruit instead of ice cubes! Use a melon baller to carve balls out of the melon and freeze them on a cookie sheet. Frozen grapes also work really well. Not only with the frozen fruit act the same as ice, but your guests will rave about your ingenuity and they also make a great healthy snack for the kids!

Nothing Wrong with Potluck

%namePotluck contributions to a gathering have been getting a bad reputation, but this is more due to lack of communication rather than any sort of lack of culinary skill. Ask your guests to each bring a salad to contribute to your barbecue, but don’t be afraid to lay down some guidelines such as the required amount. There’s nothing worse than somebody showing up with a giant bowl of tuna salad compared to the tiny cereal bowl full of a different pasta salad. Tell everybody you need a certain amount of each, enough for everybody to have a spoonful or two. In addition, ask your guests to bring specific kinds of salad, such as leafy greens, vegetarian pasta salads or meaty pasta salads. This way you’re sure to have a variety of dishes available with amounts to feed everybody.

Entertain the Kids

%nameSummer gatherings are all about socializing and catching up with people not seen in a while. Bored children can be a huge hindrance to adults who want to chat, so the easiest way to handle this is to be sure that the kids have something to do. Entertainment for the kids does not need to be fancy or expensive. Things like sidewalk chalk purchased from the dollar store can be a wonderful distraction, or borrowing a variety of water guns from guests can lead to a friendly game of soak ‘em. Water balloons are another great, inexpensive distraction, especially if they have to fill and tie the balloons themselves. Have some of the older kids be responsible for setting up games for the smaller ones. There’s no reason why mom and dad should have to play babysitter if there is a responsible teenager around who can shepherd the kids into fun activities.

Themed Parties

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If you’re feeling especially adventurous you can plan your barbecue around a theme. Some unique theme ideas suited for outdoor entertaining are:

Surf & Turf – grill shrimp skewers alongside beef kabobs, and have all your salads and side dishes revolve around either the land or the sea.

Sticks – plan a fun menu where every item is served on a stick. From grilled kabobs to a variety of meat and vegetable skewers, even your desserts can be served on a stick with a pot of melted chocolate for dipping.

Hors d’Oeuvres – instead of a heavy meal, plan a variety of lighter dishes and enlist the help of your guests. Rather than heavy pasta salads consider the plethora of finger foods that can be made without much fuss. From simple cubed fruit to cheese and crackers, it doesn’t need to be complicated. Have several guests just bring dips with bread or fruit for dippers.

Beer Pairing – everybody knows about wine and cheese pairings, but beer and food pairing parties can also be a lot of fun. Ask your guests to each investigate a kind of food that would match well with a particular beer, and then to provide either the food or the beer for everybody to try.

No matter how entrenched you are with your regular summer barbecue routine, there’s no reason why you can’t change things up a bit to make the party more enjoyable for both you and your guests. Just a little bit of creativity and the willingness to try something new will open up many possibilities to create a memorable summer party.