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Am I the only one in denial that summer is less than a month away? Granted, the past couple of days we’ve had temperatures in the mid 90’s so it’s basically summer already, except kids aren’t running around like maniacs throughout the neighborhood… yet. Quite frankly I could do without all the rugrats disrupting my quiet time as I’m lounging beneath an umbrella pretending to tan on my towel, but well, a girl can dream, can’t she?
Being a California girl, I live for summertime. By November, I’m usually craving the warm summer sun, longer days, bonfires in the backyard and days spent in the swimming pool reading an instantly forgettable book from my pegasus float. You know the books you pick up for $2 and won’t cry if your asshole husband knocks you off of your throne? I mean float. Even though I look forward to my alone time in the swimming pool pretending to be a mermaid as I’m collecting torn pages from my book at the bottom of the pool, I also enjoy hosting family, friends and neighbors for barbecues when the weather permits.
Throwing parties doesn’t have to be a stressor on your bank account or your marriage, you just have to be open to delegating some vital elements to the lucky people who have found a way onto your guest list.
Choose a Theme
In the past, we’ve simply thrown together our annual summer barbecue with little thought or preparation. We’d purchase some tri-tip, whole chickens and pick up some sausage from our local sausage genius and call it a day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we typically found ourselves preparing and providing everything. By the time our guests showed up, we were so tired from doing everything that we took a hiatus from hosting any summer barbecues.
Last summer, friends of ours invited us over for a little backyard barbecue which got me thinking differently when it came to our own barbecue parties. She asked everyone to bring something specific (I was asked to bring red onions), and as everyone arrived, her husband was putting a beef shank on the grill to slightly char the edges. Her mother had made handmade tortillas (drool) and we spent the afternoon eating fantastic tacos and drinking sangria and Negro Modelo from the bottle (I think the can tastes funny). For the rest of summer, her taco party was the hot topic of conversation and I can’t wait to see how she tops it this year. If tacos aren’t your thing, grill up a bunch of burgers (meat or veggie) and ask everyone to bring a finishing element—just don’t assign the buns to someone who is known for being perpetually late or canceling at the last minute, otherwise people won’t be too happy with you.
If you’re hosting, chances are you will be providing some kind of main dish or dessert and beverages other than water—at least that’s how it happens around here. This year, I’m all about throwing traditions out the window. Alternatively, perhaps you’ve been invited to a summer backyard barbecue and usually find yourself stressing out over what to bring.
Other ideas for build your own stations: coastal, burritos/nachos, burger/hot dog, pizza, bruschetta and crostini, grilled cheese, margaritas and root beer floats, s’mores, trifle, sundae.
Not everyone wants to drink alcohol or stay sober, so try to mix things up with options for everyone. If you’re not comfortable with supplying others with alcohol, ask someone else to handle it.
During the summertime, people have a tendency to drink more than they eat. If you have a pool, you know just how dangerous that can be. Select an appetizer that won’t spoil in the summer sunshine or that can be easily prepared on the grill.
Again, it’s probably a good idea to prepare a dish that won’t spoil in the sun. Pasta salad is always easy to prepare and looks pretty in a bowl, as does a colorful spinach salad with ripe strawberries or peaches.
You don’t have to stick to the old favorites if you don’t want to. Salmon can be a great alternative for chicken or you can take our friends lead and buy a big ol’ piece of meat for a taco bar.
If you’ve been assigned the task of bringing a dessert and aren’t much of a baker here’s my “oh shit, I totally forgot about this party” backup plan: store-bought pound cake, fresh strawberries with some fruit-forward zinfandel drizzled over the berries.
Maybe I’m unique in the fact that I prefer to use actual dishes and bowls; I’m not really a fan of all of the paper and plastic waste. Sur La Table has some really awesome seasonable dishware shaped like seashells that are perfect for outside entertaining.
Beverage dispensers are always a good idea, and I like to have three or four beverage dispensers set up with water, lemonade, iced tea and some kind of alcoholic beverage such as sangria. For sodas, beer, wine bottles (even canned wine... just don’t be expecting at of that at my house), I like to use raised galvanized metal tubs to keep beverages cold and in plain sight.
The one thing everyone should own if they: a) eat outside a lot or b) entertain outside is an outdoor serving set to keep your food fresh and bug free.
If your parties tend to go into the evening, bistro lights or lanterns can keep everyone safe if you’ve got an expansive backyard like we do with lots of booby traps just lurking in the darkness to injure some unsuspecting drunk person. I also really recommend citronella candles to keep yucky bugs away.
For entertainment purposes, last year we purchased a corn hole and inflatable bowling set and it seems as though both kids and adults really enjoyed having something to do other than sit around and talk. It’s worth mentioning people do still play volleyball and basketball in the pool so if corn hole or bowling isn’t your thing, you can always fall back on the tried and tested old favorites.
Of course, we can’t host a barbecue without wine. As a general guide, steer away from full-bodied red and white wines unless your guests are legitimate wine drinkers. During the hotter months of the year, rosé is always a safe bet, as are wine spritzers, riesling, zinfandel, pinot gris. Though my favorite wine with a good, tangy barbecue sauce is a zesty malbec even though it may leave your guests with black-stained lips. Oops.
Be sure to check out more great recipes and inspiration on our Summertime Entertaining Pinterest board!