What to CookOutdoor Entertaining

Your Game Plan for a Stress-Free Backyard Barbecue

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With so many summer gatherings in your future, we've partnered with Peapod to bring you a go-to menu and a few strategies for streamlined hosting.

Nothing beats a backyard barbecue with friends: It’s by far my favorite way to entertain. Every summer, my husband and I fire up the grill, fill our coolers with ice and drinks, and open up our yard to our friends and neighbors any chance we get. We’ve picked up lots of ideas over the years, from ways to streamline meal prep to having lots of games and activities ready for the kids. We’ve learned not to take on too much, or get too fussy with the food, so we can relax and have as much fun as our guests.

Tip 1: Get your shopping out of the way a few days in advance.
Tip 1: Get your shopping out of the way a few days in advance. Photo by Rocky Luten

Below I’ve laid out some of our tried-and-true strategies, starting with the menu, which works so well because every component can be prepped in advance and finished whenever you’re ready. It features a superhero tahini-yogurt marinade that can be used for two dishes: a big, bold, gutsy grilled broccoli salad that holds up well hours after it’s assembled (not every salad can make that claim!) and chicken and beef grilled on skewers for easy serving. An assortment of vegetables and flatbread are easy to grill up alongside the proteins, so you can offer lots of options to your guests.

the menu

Crudités with Feta Pistachio Dip

Crudités with Feta Pistachio Dip by Sara Jenkins

Zahav's Hummus Tehina

Zahav's Hummus Tehina by Genius Recipes

Grilled Flatbread

Grilled Flatbread by Erin McDowell

Tea Thyme Soda

Tea Thyme Soda by hardlikearmour

Grilled Broccoli Salad with Bread, Basil, and Almonds

Grilled Broccoli Salad with Bread, Basil, and Almonds by EmilyC

Chicken and Steak Skewers with a Tahini-Yogurt Marinade

Chicken and Steak Skewers with a Tahini-Yogurt Marinade by EmilyC

Alice's Vanilla Ice Cream 2.0

Alice's Vanilla Ice Cream 2.0 by Alice Medrich

Rhubarb and Blueberry Galette

Rhubarb and Blueberry Galette by Food52

Pulling it All Together

Give yourself a game plan. So you don't have to think too much about the planning, I've outlined what you can prep ahead at every step of the way, starting up to 3 days ahead of your party. (Check out the schedule below.)

Keep the apps simple. For apps, hummus and other dips with pita chips and crudités are always good bets for backyard gatherings. I like to purchase pita chips from the store, and cheese, olives and other pickled things are a nice way to round out a big platter.

Opt for a beverage that works for everyone. This tea-thyme soda is lovely on a warm, sunny day...and it can be spiked with bourbon if that’s the way you roll. Keep the two separate so guests can make that choice on their own. If children are coming, consider a kid-friendly drink like lemonade to serve alongside the tea-thyme soda.

Skewers and a sturdy salad that share the same marinade mean streamlined prep.
Skewers and a sturdy salad that share the same marinade mean streamlined prep. Photo by Rocky Luten

Make dessert in advance. You can never, ever go wrong with a fruit pie or galette, especially served a la mode. Bake the galette the day before your gathering. I like to purchase ice cream to streamline prep, but if you want to make your own, go for it!

Don’t forget about the non-food prep you can do in advance. Gather up everything you’ll need for serving the day before: platters, bowls, cutlery, plates, cups, and napkins. Buy (or make extra) ice. Plan activities for the kids (or young at heart!): bubble wands, yard games like bocce ball and cornhole, scavenger hunts, and jars for catching fireflies are favorites at my house.

Up your game with skewers, your best (grilling) friend. Skewers let you offer a lot of variety with minimal work, because everything is prepped the same way. Turn to flavorful cuts of meat that won’t dry out on the grill (think chicken thighs and top sirloin), and mix-and-match different vegetables on the same skewer as long as they have similar cooking times. Check out more tips below!

Set the mood. Twinkle lights strung up outside or flameless votives in mason jars are simple, affordable ways to make things festive and can be reused all summer long.

Get creative with how you serve the food. Don’t have outdoor furniture? No problem. Arrange your food buffet-style on a card or folding table covered with a nice cloth, and set out lawn chairs or big blankets for seating. You can also leave the food inside so people can fill their plates and then eat outside.

The Game Plan

Here’s a no-stress, step-by-step schedule for the menu.

Up to 3 days in advance:

  • Get all of your grocery shopping done.
  • Prepare the feta dip, crudite, and hummus; cover and refrigerate.
  • Make the syrup for the tea-thyme soda.

Up to 2 days in advance:

  • Make the tahini-yogurt marinade (one batch for the broccoli salad and a second batch for the chicken and beef kebabs); cover and refrigerate. Optional: Make a third batch, with a little less olive oil, to serve as a sauce on the side.

Up to 1 day in advance:

  • Make the galette.
  • If you're using metal skewers, you can prep the skewers now. (If you're using wooden ones, you'll want to wait until a few hours before your party and soak them in water for 30 minutes before threading.)
  • To prep the skewers: cut up the chicken, toss it in the tahini-yogurt marinade, then thread on two skewers for easier turning on the grill. Repeat process for beef. Place in casserole dishes or sealable plastic bags (the 2-gallon size are super handy for marinating kebabs), topping with any extra marinade. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Assemble vegetable kebabs: prep vegetables and thread on two skewers (except for the eggplant, which will discolor if cut in advance). Wait on salt and olive oil until you’re ready to grill. Cover and refrigerate.

The morning of:

  • Marinate the broccoli in the tahini-yogurt; cover and refrigerate.
  • Prep the rest of the ingredients for the broccoli salad: Shred the carrots and toast the almonds. Put all of the supplies and ingredients you’ll need on a sheet pan for easy assembly later on.

Up to two hours in advance:

  • Brush the vegetables you're planning to grill with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • If you're using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes.

Up to an hour before serving:

  • Assemble the snacks on serving dishes.
  • Grill broccoli and assemble salad.
  • Grill kebabs and flatbread.
  • Assemble tea-thyme soda in large pitcher.

Here's an extra tip for even easier prep: Have someone else do the grocery shopping for you by ordering online from Peapod. The grocery service has everything you need for pulling off this menu, and can deliver right to your door.

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!