How to Ace Your Big Backyard Party
By Eli Wallace
Warm sunshine, the smell of the grill, a cold brew in hand and cornhole at sunset—true bliss is a backyard barbecue in summer. But between planning, prepping and cooking, plenty of party hosts have found themselves in over their heads instead of having a good time. Follow these simple tips to keep your party flowing with positive vibes.
First and foremost, don’t overcomplicate it. It’s a barbeque, not a wedding. Though making a thousand Pinterest-inspired decorations will make the event more photogenic, it won’t materially affect the quality of the party. Keep it fun and casual by acing two or three elements, like a mouthwatering main dish and a summer punch. If it tastes good, it’ll all work out.
To keep the pressure off, clear your calendar and be sure to open a big window for an all-day grillfest. If you’ve invited guests for 3 p.m., for example, put on the apron between noon and 1 p.m.; this ensures that the lion’s share of the work is done when guests wander in, about 30 to 60 minutes after their invitation time. The first feeding, which can be interpreted as lunch, a snack or an early dinner, will fall around 3:30-4 p.m.
Pre-party, delegate some tasks to your guests, especially side dishes. This takes work off your plate while giving people with dietary restrictions an opportunity to fulfill their own needs. Now you can invite your gluten-free neighbor, your vegan coworker and your paleo friend. As for that guest who can’t even make a PB&J sandwich? Enlist them to help set up or clean up. The potluck-style barbeque dramatically reduces the cost of the event, and it makes flaky guests more invested in coming. Be sure to communicate with everyone about who is bringing what; you don’t want to end up with 15 containers of potato salad and a pile of hot dogs.
Party Prep: Games, Lights, Dessert & Music
For everything to go smoothly, preparation is key. Buy supplies, like reusable or compostable cutlery and plates, ahead of time, and make side dishes the day before if possible. If you have any lawn games, like bocce, cornhole, horseshoes, croquet or even Twister, now is the time to dig them out of the closet. Most important, get RSVPs from your guests more than a day or two beforehand. This will help you figure out just how much of everything you need to make.
When it comes to decorations, simpler is better—but don’t forget lights. Assuming everything goes well, you and your guests will want to enjoy the party into the evening. Plus, is there anything more perfectly lovely (and non-work-intensive) than string lights or a line of tea lights on a summer night?
If you’d like to mix some additional fire into the evening, tabletop s’mores are a fun and easy take on the classic crowd-pleaser. Fill a container—it could be a rectangular planter, a box or a wide-brimmed bowl, depending on the size of the party—with pebbles, glass marbles or sand. Bury Sterno cans to make the flame, and get those marshmallows roasting on forks, skewers or coat hangers. Too much work? Beat the heat with the coolest dessert around: ice cream. Set up a make-your-own sundae bar with toppings and sauces to go that extra mile.
Unless you’re the local deejay of your friend group, it can be a huge time-suck to curate your music collection into a crowd-pleasing playlist. While you can always hit “shuffle” on your iPod, you run the risk of blasting Alanis Morissette or your embarrassing breakup-song collection in the middle of the party. A better solution is to head to the Internet. Music providers like Spotify offer free themed radio stations, or use 8tracks’ user-generated playlists to find some sounds for the party background.
Main Feature: Meat & Drink
While the traditional choices are hamburgers and hot dogs, nothing adds instant class to a barbeque like a different choice of meat. Getting away from hamburgers also gives the host a chance to stop grilling once in a while, since hamburgers require taking individual orders for meat temperature (rare or well done? cheese or no?). Barbequed chicken, especially with an added teriyaki glaze, makes for an easy and fast grilling experience, as do sausages and bratwurst.
If you really want to roll up your sleeves and get to the meaty heart of True American Barbequing, slow-smoked Texas-style brisket can’t be beat. Texas-style means packing heart, soul and sweet smoke flavor into the meat itself, so much so that the need for barbeque sauce disappears. The tried-and-true, droolworthy brisket recipe at right will transform your meat game into culinary heaven.
With everything else in place, it’s time to wash down the fun with an ice-cold drink. While light beers will do the trick, there’s no better time to try out a fruity cocktail punch. Try jazzing up a basic boozy lemonade by adding sliced limes and lemons to the mix. Replace ice cubes with frozen grapes, blueberries or raspberries for a colorful and functional fruit addition. Other cooling flavors to seek out are mint (muddled mint and lemon mix well) and cucumber. If your party is kid-heavy, be sure to label the punch bowl or make a mocktail punch by substituting soda water or grape juice for the alcohol.
Texas Smoked Brisket
(adapted from Traeger Grills’ “Award-winning Brisket” recipe)
Estimated cooking time: 9 hours
6-8 lb. beef brisket
Smoker (ideally with oak chips)
Dalmatian (black and white) rub mix
Disposable foil roasting pan
1. Start cooking in the early morning; turn on smoker with lid open. Rinse brisket and pat dry with paper towels. Trim fat to about ¼ inch. Fill bottom of a foil roasting pan with rub (see rub recipe below) and place brisket in pan. Flip brisket, making sure rub is applied evenly all over.
2. Place brisket on grill fat-side-up and let it smoke, covered. Turn every 2 hours for 7 hours, checking temperature. Meat needs to hit 195-205 degrees F by the end of the cooking period to become properly tender. If you still have a few hours, don’t turn up the heat; this is the brisket mind-game.
3. Pull brisket off the smoker after 7 hours. Empty roasting pan of leftover rub, and fill bottom with ¼ inch of beer, preferably medium-bodied. Cover pan with foil and let rest for at least 10 minutes.
4. Place pan with brisket on smoker at medium heat, or 350 degrees. Cook for 1½ hours covered, then an additional 30 minutes uncovered. Remove from heat and enjoy.
Dalmatian Brisket Rub
1 cup coarse salt
1 cup coarsely ground black pepper
½ cup cayenne pepper (optional)
Simplicity is the name of the game with this spicy rub. Mix equal parts coarse salt and ground black pepper. Adding cayenne makes the rub spicier, so adjust the amount to your taste.
By Eli Wallace