Summer is around the corner and the warm weather is beckoning us outdoors for barbeques, parties, family and neighborhood gatherings. But these fun outdoor escapes can quickly become stressful if you aren’t adequately prepared.
How often have you found yourself dashing into the house to grab something while the food was cooking on the grill? That’s the perfect recipe for rubber hamburgers. Yuck!
Let’s talk about grilling for a second. If you want a perfect steak, you need room temperature meat, a hot grill, a timer, a meat thermometer, and some practice. But one of the best ways to ensure that you have the perfect steak is to be prepared before you begin. Create a grilling station by gathering any spices, sauces, and tools before you start heating your grill.
Create a Grilling Station
The first thing you’ll want to do is find a wire tote for your favorite grilling spices. This doesn’t have to be big as long as it holds the seasonings you plan to use for the meal. I’ve also seen people use larger plastic tubs filled with spices designated only for outdoor cooking. (A dash of barbeque rub on your grilled corn on the cob is delicious—but if you have to run into the house to find it, your corn will be dried out before you get back.)
I also use a wire basket or plastic tote for all my grilling tools and keep it beside me while I cook, so I never have to leave the food cooking while I find my spatula or long-handled tongs. Wire baskets are great because sauce, seasonings, and dust fall through the cracks and don’t collect to soil my grilling tools. But plastic totes from your local hardware store are nice too, because you can secure them against the elements or the neighbor’s cat. When I’m not working at the grill, I can hang the wire basket on a wall in the garage or keep the plastic bin on a garage shelf. I like to cook with gas, but I also love charcoal. Which method I use really depends on the dish. I have two gas grills so I keep three tanks of propane. That way I won’t run out in the middle of a party. I also suggest you find a clean garbage can with a tight-fitting lid to keep your bags of charcoal dry and ready whenever you need them.
Transporting your food
It’s a good idea to thaw and rest your meat in a large dish, like a cake pan, so any drippings remain contained and don’t contaminate your counter top. Cut your vegetables and raw meat on separate cutting boards to avoid contaminating your food. Once your food is ready, carefully carry the meat to your pre-heated grill. Designate an area on one side of the grill for raw meat and the other side for cooked food and vegetables. Don’t let them cross. Make sure you have a fresh platter on your clean side to place the food once it’s cooked.
Plan your cleanup before you begin cooking. Make sure you have a roll of paper towels on hand to wipe up any spills or to clean out your Dutch ovens. Grills and cast iron are easier to clean when they’re still warm. I also like to keep baby wipes or disinfecting wipes for my hands so I don’t have to deal with sticky fingers or worry about spreading germs while I’m cooking.
Serving the food
When I cook in a Dutch oven, I serve either directly from the oven or from the lid, depending on the dish. Both of these are hot, and they’ll leave marks on your picnic table. I have a square board that I place beneath my ovens to reduce damage, and I make sure I serve younger children myself so they don’t get burned. Grills stay hot for quite a while after they’re turned off, so you’ll have to establish boundaries so your kids avoid them while they cool down.
Meat is best if it has time to rest after it’s been cooked for anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. This will allow the moisture to settle back into the meat and give you a much better tasting meal. I also like to place a pat of real butter on each cut and let it melt while the meat rests.
Cool spring and summer evenings can cool your food almost too quickly. It doesn’t hurt to heat a separate Dutch oven just for your meat to keep it the perfect temperature while people are preparing their plates. Cast iron holds heat for quite a while, especially if it has hot food inside.
Involve Your Kids
Outdoor cooking doesn’t have to be left to the adults. If you involve the kids, they’ll be more likely to taste their creations and develop a greater appreciation for good food. They’ll also learn important lessons about cooking and fire safety. Give them an apron and find age-appropriate activities that they can do to help. Before you know it they’ll be as addicted to the grill as you are.
Hopefully these suggestions have sparked a few organizing ideas of your own—and even worked up your appetite for some barbeque. What are some ways you prepare for an outdoor gathering?