Our beloved Houston summer is showing lots of signs of permeant arrival! This usually means one thing for many of us; it’s cookout time.
For most of us, cookouts with friends and family in the summer are one of the things we look forward to the most. This year you may have to so a little social distancing, or limit the number of guests, but even COVID-19 can’t stop a good old Texas backyard cookout.
As a professional home organizer I like to – no surprise here – make sure my cookouts are as organized and streamlined as possible. And as y’all are probably at least thinking of getting the grill out as you read this I came up with this guide, using many of the tips I share with clients (and family and friends.)
From food hygiene preparation tips to shopping to gathering the tools you need to do your very best culinary work, this covers a lot, so grab a cool drink and let’s dive right in.
Theme and Decorations
We all need some cheering up at the moment – the world has been (is) a crazy place right now – so getting creative around the house might just help. It will even occupy the little ones for a couple of hours and could be a fun learning activity involving crafts. Some great themes include:
- Garden tea party.
- Tropical; think floral shirts & flower garlands.
- Decades: 70s, 80s and 90s are big crowd pleasers.
- A fiesta.
- Beach theme.
- A favorite film.
Much of what you need to create these themes can probably be found around the house, and any extras you need can almost certainly be sourced from the local dollar store or, if you have a little planning time to work with, purchased from Amazon.
Preparation and organization are the keys to ensuring your cookout goes smoothly. Let’s take a look…
Any great chef needs great tools. And while taking the whole kitchen with you is’nt a great idea, I usually like to have at least all the following:
- Sturdy tongs
Spatulas (at least two)
Meat thermometer (to make sure that meat is cooked, especially the chicken)
Metal skewers (wood skewers have a limited life, so metal skewers are far more environmentally friendly.)
Rimmed baking sheet
Cast iron lidded skillet
Cooling racks (again, at least two)
To make getting all this stuff outside easier make yourself a cookout tool caddy. You can buy one, or use something as simple as a lidded plastic storage box (a wheeled one is often easiest)
Cookout Shopping List
Need some ideas about what to cook? Here are some things I consider musts
Burgers (…and don’t just think beef! Chicken, lamb and veggie are great options)
Hot dog rolls and burger buns (why not try brioche buns for a street-food feel?)
Chicken wings and thighs
Burger garnish: lettuce, tomato and onions at the least
Mixed Salads – basic salad, cous-cous, potato salad, egg salad etc
Meat / Fish Skewers: make them with steak, shrimp, chicken or chorizo chunks
Corn on the cob – could get messy so make sure you’ve got some holders handy!
Mustard, ketchup, mayo, BBQ sauce, relishes
Depending on the dietary requirements of your household and your guests, you may want to have a separate vegetarian and vegan grill and another for meat-eaters.
Pre-Cookout Food Prep
Prepare the foods that you can in the morning before the cookout. This will give you more time to sit back and relax later. The following prep ideas will save you loads of time:
- Create salads. Refrigerate but don’t add dressings. Let your guests do that later.
Chop onions, meat, peppers and fruit ahead of time and get it all ready in bowls.
Glaze and marinate steaks, breasts, fillets and other portions of meat the night before.
Pre-cut bread for hot dogs and burgers.
Get your skewers ready for the grill.
Gather all your supplies. Plates, cups, cutlery and napkins. Disposable is popular, and easier, but very bad for the planet. Try picking up hardier plastic utensils and plates etc as well. It’s a little more work at clean up time but so much greener.
If you’re the cook, wear clothing that’s suitable for grilling. Don’t forget your mitts for handling anything hot and use gloves if you’re going to be handling a lot of raw meat. You can change your gloves more easily than you can wash your hands in the great outdoors.
Avoid wearing clothing with long sleeves, as they might be a fire hazard and no-one wants grilled cook on the menu! And if you are going with the bikini look at least wear an apron, as those little sparks hurt like heck if they hit you, and grease burns are no fun either.
Good Food Storage
Invest in cool bags – forgetting to store meat safely is dangerous. You can’t store meat in heat for long. Use ice packs in combination with a cool bag to chill your food. Also make sure you have plenty of Tupperware and kitchen foil for preserving freshness, reducing contamination risks, and storing unwanted garbage.
If you’re mostly just using disposable materials, then you’ll need garbage bags for your trash, and of course, the all important provisions for cleaning your hands.
Make sure you have hand sanitizer close by and other hygiene provisions. And wash your hands after handling different types of food especially raw meat.
However, if you aren’t using disposable materials – and please choose this route if you can as it’s so MUCH BETTER FOR THE PLANET – simply make use of another plastic storage container – maybe one prefilled with soapy water – so guests can place their dirty plates there – after they have scraped any leftovers into a nearby bucket.
BBQ Food Hygiene
Here are a few key tips to grill with food hygiene in mind:
- Thaw frozen meat and food fully before cooking. Proper thawing will prevent dangerous cold spots.
If you’re using a charcoal grill, don’t start cooking until the coals are glowing red with a powdery gray colored surface. This is when the heat is evenly distributed. It’ll stop your meat being over-charring on the outside and raw inside.Cook meat to a minimum core temperature of 158°F for at least 2 minutes.
Cut into meat to check whether it is cooked; if you have the slightest doubt, use your meat thermometer.
Be careful if you lean across the grill to turn meat – flame grilled sleeves are for rookies.
Use a cool box filled with ice packs to minimize bacterial growth on raw or chilled food outside the fridge.
Don’t leave food out of the refrigerator for longer than half an hour, and don’t leave food in the sun. Hot weather encourages bacteria growth.
Use separate utensils for raw and cooked meats and ready to eat food, like salads and bread.
These good practice guidelines may seem obvious, but they are easy to forget in the heat of the moment as you rush around trying to get everything ready.
Taking the time to plan ahead, prepare and make sure the items you need are within reach and organized are all measures you can take to make sure your barbecue is still enjoyable and relaxing.