How To Plan Summer Cookout Menus

Summer cookout menus should be appealing on a variety of levels. Not only do you want a menu that tastes delicious, but you also want the dishes to complement one another and look good on the plate.

To get started planning your menu, think about what you hope to accomplish during this cookout. If it's a backyard cookout, will you be showcasing your flowerbeds and vegetable gardens or the new deck and outdoor space you've spent all winter saving up for? Or, will you simply be kicking back and enjoying some good company? If your goal is to accomplish all of the above, the cookout menu can help set a tone.

Gearing Up To Grill
Planning ahead doesn't mean hours of homework, but it does mean being on top of your game. Write out a simple checklist, and then follow through. No matter what you serve, you have to be ready to grill. The best grilling tip of all is to make sure you have the materials you need, such as charcoal and lighter fluid.

Gas grills call for some extra effort. If you're making a slow-cooked brisket, for example, check the gas tank. The best way to make sure you never run out and ruin the brisket is to maintain two gas tanks. When one tank becomes empty, it takes only a minute or two to switch tanks. However, keeping an extra tank filled with gas sitting around is not smart, either. Make sure the extra gas tank is kept in the garage, away from anything that is remotely hot and away from items that could short out or spark. As a final resort, post several "no smoking" signs in the garage.

Plan Menus Around The Weather
While it might sound strange to try to plan a meal around the weather, it's really not. You can't always know when the weather will turn and can't always change dates and times, especially if you've already sent out invitations. But you can make sure you have a shelter to accommodate guests should there be a weather change.

Make sure you have enough room so that guests can spill into the living room, basement or garage should that summer shower turn into a thunderstorm complete with hail stones the size of golf balls. And, if possible, make sure the meal is something that travels well. Grilled corn on the cob is a round object and can easily roll off a plate when your guests are scurrying to find shelter from the rain, so you might want to skip that.

Hotdogs and hamburgers hold up best on the plate, as do creamed salads, such as potato or macaroni. Gelatin desserts are precarious, at best, and too much jiggling is not a good thing when a guest is moving from the backyard to a living room with light-colored carpet. The last thing you want landing on your carpet is red gelatin. If you know the weather might turn, serve pie or one-layer cake for dessert, and save the gelatin and pudding-type desserts for another day.

Plan Meals Around Time Constraints
If you're holding a barbeque for the neighborhood yard sale event, make sure you either grill food that can be kept warm or are able to cook in shifts to accommodate all neighbors. If you have the means to set up some way of shipping the hot food to any of the neighbors who cannot get away in time for dinner, everyone will love you. Send a note along with the plate announcing that, once the yard sale signs have been taken down and items moved back into the garage, everyone is welcome to your backyard for a continuation of the cookout.

If you're holding a birthday party cookout that is intended as a surprise party and you already know some of your guests won't be able to make it until after church, or after their son's softball game, it's up to you to accommodate late-comers. Grill the extra meats, and keep them warm until late-comers arrive, or be prepared to stoke up the grill a second time. If salads are going fast, make up several plates, and place them in the refrigerator so that, when your guests do arrive, there will be a full plate waiting for them.

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