(BPT) - Tips from entertaining expert Libbie Summers
May is National Barbecue Month and signals the start of outdoor entertaining and fun. But how do busy parents find time to throw a memorable, good old-fashioned BBQ when there's so much to get done?
Food inspirationalist and entertaining expert Libbie Summers, author of The Whole Hog Cookbook, shares some of her best secrets for throwing an easy, extra-fun BBQ without a lot of stress - or mess! Here are Libbie's best BBQ tips.
The most important ingredient:It's the same answer for every party, fancy or informal. Four letters, L.O.V.E. The love you have for your guests and the love you put into your food and decor always make for a great event. Oh, and no bugs.
Time-saving tips:Backyard BBQs are meant to be casual, so make everything "help yourself'… from drinks to dessert. Also, don't offer a lot of different food choices - just make a few really delicious choices!
Get the kids involved:My son always loved helping at our parties. I'd have him fill fun containers with ice for beverages. He's filled up everything from a dinghy, his blow-up swimming pool and a wheelbarrow with ice. The great thing was it kept him busy for a long time and he had great pride in helping with the party! Kids can also help with the decorations (days in advance). Have them create simple decor like paper pinwheels and pennants to hang from string or stick into the grass.
Serve simple, delicious sides:I love cooking up sides that are great "mixed" with BBQ. Like a wonderful slaw that can pile on top of a BBQ sandwich, or how about baking up a bunch of potatoes (russet or sweet) and serving them alongside a platter of pulled pork or beef brisket? Your guests can make their own BBQ loaded potatoes!
Use shortcuts!There's a saying (and even a book) based on what you should and shouldn't spend your time making from scratch - it's called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. Sometimes when time is tight, it's a good adage to follow. For BBQ, I like to say Make the Baked Beans and Buy the BBQ! You can throw together a great dish of homemade baked beans or slaw and heat up an already cooked tray of delicious BBQ like Farm Rich Smokehouse BBQ. You can also create a lot of recipes using pre-prepared barbecue.
Create fun drink pairings:I'm a big fan of doing a great lemonade or limeade and adding other fruit and berries to it. A creative twist would be adding chunks of frozen watermelon. It says summertime BBQ all the way, is refreshing, the kids will love it and it's the perfect mixer for a mother's little helper cocktail! You can also freeze some watermelon cubes and drop them into a big pitcher of iced sparkling water.
Don't forget the games:Classic fair games, like an egg toss or a family sack race, are always a hit. The key is to ALWAYS have a trophy or ribbon to win to amp up the competition! When bragging rights are on the line everyone will get involved and have a fun time. You can even have the kids help out and make the trophy.
Sweet endings:I love sheet cakes for BBQs! They bake fast and feed a crowd. One of my favorites, Family Reunion Sheet Cake, I shared in my cookbook, The Whole Hog Cookbook. It's a riff on a Texas sheet cake but the cool thing is it's studded with pecans and bacon on top! Serve it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. I also love store bought ice cream sandwiches and drumsticks - they're fun, nostalgic and everyone loves them. And you can't go wrong with a big platter of homemade cookies. To raise the stakes with no effort, sit a big bowl of ice cream over ice next to the cookies for a make-your-own ice cream sandwich set-up.
One final tip:BBQ or formal dinner, my rules are the same. No one knows what you didn't get done, so don't sweat the details and give folks something to be excited about when they arrive (decor and your excitement to see them) and be sure to leave them with a great ending (dessert)! Remember: As long as you're having a great time and aren't stressed out, your guests will follow suit!