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How to Host the Ultimate Stress-Free Cookout

Smart tips for keeping cool at your backyard barbecue.
July August 2023

Few things are more quintessentially summer than cooking outdoors for friends and family, but it can  be stressful if you’re not prepared. Check out these tips and tricks to help you host  a fun, totally stress-free cookout guaranteed to be the talk of the neighborhood.

Stock up on supplies.

A few days beforehand, make a list of everything you’re going to need, from food and drinks to compostable utensils and napkins. This is also the time to check your grill and propane tank or charcoal supply, especially if it’s your first time using it in a while. Nothing adds stress to a cookout like losing the flames halfway through grilling.

Prep and cook ahead of time.

It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the main secrets to a successful cookout is how much isn’t cooked in front of your guests. Do as much prep in advance as you can, such as marinating meats, making cold salads and sauces, or assembling veggie kabobs. The only things you should cook the day of are your MVPs – most valuable proteins – such as  steaks, chicken thighs, and skewers, and things that won’t hold up to cooking in advance, like tender vegetables.

Choose simple recipes.

A barbecue is not the time to try to impress your friends and family with fancy dishes that require a lot of ingredients and steps, especially if you’ve never made them before. Stick to tried-and-true classics that don’t have complicated cooking methods, like burgers, hot dogs, or grilled chicken. You can elevate these with make-ahead elements, like a deluxe toppings bar for your hot dogs or a bright herb sauce like chimichurri for your grilled chicken without adding stress to the big day.

Keep your cool.

To avoid food spoilage and bacteria growth, keep all perishable food cold until you’re ready to serve it. If you’re in the backyard that means in the fridge, if you’re grilling elsewhere, like the park or beach, use  coolers with ice or ice packs . Frozen water bottles or juice boxes work as ice packs that double as drinks. Frequent opening and closing will let all the cold out, so keep your drinks in a separate cooler from your food.

Skip the guesswork.

An instant-read food thermometer is a grill master’s best friend. It  will save your bacon – or more accurately, your burgers, steaks, chicken, etc. – by guaranteeing that  everything is cooked to the right temperature. Before guests arrive, brush up on the proper internal temperature of whatever’s on the menu to ensure meat is totally cooked through and safe to eat, and to avoid overcooking.  If you’re grilling more than one kind of meat, use sticky notes to label what they should be cooked to, especially if you’re delegating the grilling to someone else.

Enjoy yourself and have fun.

Using our tips and tricks should take most of the stress out of the cookout, but there shouldn’t be much left to do but spend time with your guests once everyone has arrived. If people ask whether they can help, say yes, and don’t be afraid to delegate. Let guests  bring their favorite side or dessert, or help you set up tables and umbrellas before everyone else arrives. Then, all you have to do is put on a good playlist, have a drink, take some pictures, and make some memories. 

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