Use charcoal not gas. Skip the mayo salad. You’ll probably need more ice. Here are 35 tips to help you host the ultimate barbecue.
Don’t go crazy with the guest list.
A few close friends is perfect. A dozen is a decent show. Twenty is your absolute maximum. You want it to be a casual get-together that still gives you the chance to chill out. Don’t take on the mammoth task of feeding a horde, unless you really know what you’re doing.
If it’s going to be a large crowd, it’s kosher to ask guests to bring extra chairs if you won’t have enough for them. Likewise, you can ask guests to bring platters or serving implements with any food they bring. And tell your guests what you’re planning on making, so they can match sides.
Be prepared for emergencies.
Fatty meats drip fat which, if you don’t have a proper drip tray, will pool and catch fire. And if you spray water on a fat fire, it will spit everywhere. Know where the hose is, or have a bucket of water or even a fire blanket tucked away, and be aware of your surroundings.
‘Don’t drink and fry’ applies to operating a barbecue, too.
The Clean Up
Set out bins to take recycling and rubbish (but avoid cleaning up around your guests during the BBQ) and make sure you have clean-up equipment in the house, so you don’t have to go out on a hungover mission the next morning.
Sort out lots and lots of ice. Drinks need to be properly cold. This is the single most important rule of hosting a barbecue. If you get everything else wrong, but the drinks are cold, you’ve still won. (I could watch a house burn down at a barbecue, but if my drink was cold, I’d probably remember it fondly.)
Drinking in the sun can be punishing. Have low or non alcoholic options available and consider serving shandies or spritzers.
Don’t bother with complex cocktails or punches that require a lot of fannying about. Two-ingredient drinks like an Aperol spritz (Aperol and prosecco) or Campari and orange juice are the way to go. You don’t want to be spending your time slicing up cucumbers or limes.
Don’t be afraid to mix high-brow drinks with low-brow food. Champagne goes well with hot dogs. Burgers go well with fine Burgundy or Belgian-style beers.
It is fine to chill red wine for 15-30 minutes (especially light, fruity varieties like pinot noir or syrah) to serve with juicy red meat on a hot day.
Ease in gently. Let your guests get their bearings and break the ice with each other before you start in on the big tunes. As excited as you may be to be hosting the ultimate barbecue, start with some chilled background beats.
Play some familiar ones. Your guests will feel at ease with a few tunes they recognise so include some nostalgic oldies. But throw in a few new or notable ones, too. There’s nothing better than discovering your new favourite song at a friend’s party, rather than from an algorithm or a car ad.
Don’t blast the music too loud. Your neighbours, who are already tolerating delicious smells and diminished parking, probably won’t appreciate it.
Don’t get stuck in a rut where you play Drake or reggae or 60s soul classics for hours. Mix it up.
WHAT TO SERVE AND & HOW TO COOK IT
A proper barbecue is cooked over charcoal or wood, not gas. That’s the only way to get the distinctive flavours — wood, fire, smoke — that make a barbecue a barbecue.
Use wood to add flavour. Fruit woods like cherry or apple give a slightly sweet taste. Manuka is popular for good reason and is readily available. Steer clear of anything that might be treated and be careful of using natives, which can have high levels of toxins.
Indirect heat is the name of the game. Don’t let any food make contact with flames — you’ll just burn the outsides and leave the insides undercooked. Cook sausages slowly over indirect heat, then crisp them up at the end.
What to serve? Brisket and ribs should be your go-to dishes. For a larger crowd, cook a pork shoulder, a butterflied chicken or make mountains of sweet, sticky chicken wings. Skirt steak, cooked fast over very hot charcoal, thinly sliced and served with a piquant chimichurri (made by blitzing together oil, vinegar, garlic, parsley and coriander) is always good. Or barbecue unshucked ears of corn, then peel back the husk and douse them with miso butter.
Burger patties should be at least 20% fat. This is not the time or place for lean meat, and they’ll just dry out.
Have your charcoal lit before your guests arrive and prepare all your non-BBQ foods beforehand. Condiments like mustards, barbecue sauces, and crunchy pickles will make a big impact. Have a plan as to what you’ll cook when.
Similarly, don’t plan to cook anything in the oven as you don’t want to have to be running inside. But it’s handy to hold foods in there on 100 degrees to keep cooked food warm, or finishing something you’ve messed up.
Go for a mustardy potato salad over a mayo-based one, and cold soba noodles over a pasta salad. No one likes sun-warmed mayonnaise. Anything that can form a skin in the sun is bad news.
Choose your oils carefully. Don’t put your nice extra virgin olive oil on the BBQ and don’t use your canola oil in your salad dressing.
Successful BBQing requires focus. Don’t wander off or let others take over.
WHAT TO WEAR
You’ll be wanting a brimmed hat like the Portobello hat to keep your face and neck shades, a broad spectrum sunscreen, and shades that are robust with good UV protection, like the Mapua or Fletcher sunglasses.
A denim jacket like the Jacob jacket is casual but stylish (and can be machine-washed if it gets splattered with sauce or oil). Breathable linen will help keep you cool — go for a shirt like the Tyler or Parton.
If you want to go a little fancier, a structured linen blazer like the Corvetto works with shorts or jeans.
Get rid of the ash before it congeals (old, damp ash goes claggy) and prise off any big bits of food stuck to the grill, but don’t scrub it down until the next time you use it.
Start your clean-up by taking out the trash. Collect all the empty bottles and recyclables in one sweep, then walk around with a black rubbish sack and chuck whatever you can. Don’t start on dishes until you’ve done this, as you’ll want to use the sink for emptying beer bottles.
Take the rubbish out so smells don’t marinate overnight. With all of the rubbish gone, things should already be looking more manageable.
Next, get all of the mess into one place. Carry all the dishes and glasses to the kitchen, and quickly rinse and stack them. Soak anything sticky. You can leave the rest till the morning, if you like.
Before you go to bed, you might like to patrol the party area to hunt for spills or stains that need immediate attention. You can look for valuables like phones and joint ends at the same time.