As Fourth of July weekend approaches, I find myself in a constant state of daydreaming about the Independence Day BBQ that we are hosting for family and friends in Tennessee. I just love a good party…the food, the fun, and the planning.
I know…it's weird, but I love to sit down with a stack of magazines and cookbooks, my moleskine journal, and a pencil to plan a party.
Planning and organization are the real recipes for a successful event, because I actually want to enjoy my friends and family at a party, not run around scrambling to figure out what else I forgot to do.
Here are some tips for throwing a Fourth of July BBQ that you and your guests will enjoy:
- Consider your audience. There is a big difference in hosting a sit-down dinner for adults and an outdoor picnic with families. If your guests include young children, serve foodthat they will enjoy, too. Over time, I have learned that a big veggie tray and buttermilk dressing brings a smile to faces of moms and children alike. Also, most kids want “plain”food, so if you are cutting up a watermelon for your grown-up watermelon salad, set aside some plain watermelon cubes for the kiddos. They will be grateful, and you will be happy to have kids eating at your party.
- Create a menu of dishes that can be made-ahead. There is just no reason to wake upon the day of your party and try to beat the clock. On the day before your party, create a list of dishes to prep in two columns: (1) the ones that require use of the oven and (2)the ones that don't. That way you can alternate your prep work around your oven needs. One dish goes in the oven, and you start a non-oven dish while the oven is in use. Multi-tasking at its best! Also, it is too hot to be around a grill or smoker in July. We smoke our pork shoulders the day before and reheat them over low heat in the smoker on the day of the event. It makes for a much more enjoyable party for the hosts.
- Be thoughtful of your guests’ diets. Being a good host means creating a menu for all to enjoy. These are your friends and family. You are (probably) not a chef. Take care of them. For this weekend’s BBQ, we have vegetarians, gluten-freers, my sister with a chickpea allergy, and my sweet nephew who is allergic to eggs, strawberries, tomatoes, and red-dye. Plus, it's summer, so there are always a few guests watching their waistlines. Admittedly, everything on my menu does not meet the needs of every guest, But every guest will be able to enjoy a meal with multiple options.
- Don't be stuck up. For years, I've joked with my sister about buying her beloved Smirnoff Ice Grape and hiding it in the grocery cart for fear someone would think it was mine. In all seriousness though, I do it because she loves it. Our cooler of drinks will be an eclectic collection of the drinks we know our friends and family love with the patriotic additions of Sam Adams and PBR.
- Remember it's hot outside. Serve cold salads…and make them without mayonnaise. You may not be worried about it, but someone at your party will be.
- Making everything isn't necessary. I am clearly the kind of person who enjoys making everything, but even I know that is not always the best policy. I’ve tried for years to duplicate Ridgewood BBQ’s sauce to no avail, and be assured that I've given up. I am not making my own BBQ sauce. I am buying two quarts from Ridgewood.
- Plan the serving dishes and table set-up before the day of the party. There is just no reason to discover that you don't have enough room on your table for the dishes you made as you are setting up your buffet. If you are serving cold dishes, plan to set the serving dishes inside larger containers filled with ice. We’ve discovered that boot trays work well for this as they are somewhat shallow and quite large.
- Set-up games and activities. Outdoor games that can be enjoyed by both young and old are the perfect way to get everyone interacting. We like croquet, cornhole, and giant jenga.
- Have a schedule in mind. Some guests arrive early, others on time, and then there are the ones who are always late. That's just how it is, so plan accordingly. Serve light snacks and have your activities set-up a few minutes before you expect guests to arrive.
Plan your meal time at least an hour after the party begins. Don't set out your desserts with the meal. Wait until later. There's no rush.
These suggestions are tried and true. Follow them, and your Fourth of July shindig is sure to be fun for everyone, including you.
Curious to know what and how I've planned our Independence Day BBQ? Here's a snapshot.
Cooler #1 - Coke, Pepsi, Diet Coke, Sprite, Ginger Ale
Cooler #2 - Sam Adams, PBR, Michelob Ultra, Hard Cider, Grape Smirnoff Ice
Cooler #3- Water
Smoked Onion Dip w/ kettle chips
Buttermilk Dressing and Vegetable Tray
Baba Ghanoush and Pita Chips
Mixed Olives and Roasted Artichoke Hearts
BBQ Pork w/ buns, RIdgewood sauce, and vinegar slaw
Cucumber Watermelon Salad
Mixed Bean Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette
Macaroni and Cheese
Planning / Prep Schedule for the Day Before:
o Smoke Pork Shoulders, Onions, and Eggplants
o Table Set-up
o Tray / Serving Dish Placement Plan
o Hang Decorations
o Set-up games
Make pecan bars
Make buttermilk dressing
Make bean salad
Make macaroni and cheese
Wash/prep vegetables for appetizer tray
Make smoked onion dip
Make baba ghanoush
Day of BBQ Schedule
- 9:00 am Make cucumber Watermelon salad
- 10:00 am Remove Mac and cheese from fridge
- 10:00 am ice down drinks
- 10:00 am pulled pork covered with foil in smoker to reheat
- 10:30 am make vinegar slaw
- 10:45 am Set up appetizers
- 11:00 am Guests Arrive
- 11:45 am preheat oven to 400 for Mac and cheese / add bread crumbs to Mac and cheese
- 12:00 pm Mac and Cheese in oven / set timer for 30 minutes
- 12:30 pm check on Mac and Cheese
- 12:30 pm Set buffet tables for lunch
Start by removing appetizers and then set in order on long table:
Watermelon and cucumber salad
Set in order on end table
Macaroni and cheese
1:00 pm lunch
After lunch, set out desserts