Summer Showdown: Tips To Keep Your Cookouts Hassle-Free

Dust Those Tables Off.

We never thought it would come, but sign of the season are ringing out: The (scary) park geese have returned, squirrels are trying to jack me for my ice cream, sunsets are happening AFTER Wheel of Fortune, and spontaneous car wash parties to Will Smith’s “Summertime” are prevalent. Summer is near, friends! With that said, I know hemlines are elevating as people find more and more reason to be outside. One of the most popular outdoor getaways during the season include the cookout. Memorial Day (in the US) is coming up, and because I care, I have compiled a list of tips to help your summer cookouts go a little bit easier:

The invite- Make sure to give people notice when planning an outdoor grillfest. Summer is also the season for impromptu road trips and getaways, and the last thing you need is to show up all dressed up for a party: population 1. Decide if you’re going to host, or if you’ll provide an arena and the basics, leaving guests and well wishers room to bring a dish.

Accepting- If someone has been hospitable enough to invite you to their shindig- a prompt response is not only a suggestion, but a requirement. Not to mention, if you plan on bringing your plus one (or two, or twenty), you should double check with the host to make sure that’s cool- don’t bring all of those folks if the host didn’t get enough hot dogs at Sam’s Club! That’s just rude. Also, if invited to someone’s home, bring something- a side dish (desserts and snacks count), a ‘thank you’ gift for the host, a smile and a helping hand… anything helps.

The setup/service- Personally, this is the area where I have the most issues with, mostly due to disorganization and an act I call ‘hovering’- After you’ve served yourself, you continue to hover in the general direction of the food service area, blocking other people’s way to the goods. Please, please, PLEASE don’t do this! Between that and sitting at the same table(s) where food is being served, nothing gives me the heebie jeebies more in an outdoor service station situation. For your convenience, I made up this diagram designed as an aerial view of your serving space (below; click to enlarge)to help your service line flow a little easier. The key is sticking items and their complements alike; ain’t no reason the hot dog buns need to be on the next to the desserts if the hot dogs are 15 serving trays before.

Food etiquette- If you read my Thanksgiving post, you’d know I don’t advocate you trying out new things on unsuspecting crowds. Just because Sandra Lee made a Kwanzaa cake with corn nuts and Cool-Whip doesn’t mean you can (or SHOULD) even think about trying1. Make something easy, and try to label your dish in some way if it isn’t easily identifiable. If you’re going through the line and don’t know what something is, don’t poke and prod and say, “What IS that?” in a loud voice to no one in particular. It comes off as super rude and insensitive. If you’re not sure about something, just take a small serving, find the person who made it, and politely ask them what’s in it if you have allergy or similar concerns. Speaking of small servings, keep in mind (especially if you’re among the first in the line for your first round of many) how many people are behind you, and even those yet to arrive. With that said, don’t pile your plate like you haven’t eaten all day, even if it is true. Save some for others! That goes for you, too, you serial “make a to-go plate for home first, then make a for-now eating plate” makers. Just cut that out entirely.

The fun- Bring stuff! Bring your volleyballs, basketballs, or if you’re like me and sporting goods randomly end up hitting you in the face… the badminton rackets and shuttlecocks *stifles laughter*2. Bring your board games and your card games3. The goal is fun, and don’t let the rain be a deterrent; just have a backup plan just in case. If you don’t have suggestions of making things happen, you have no right to complain about the quality of entertainment. Your bad. *shrug*

Disassembling- Try and be a bit helpful in the cleanup, and not just run off after you’re all tired and sweaty from whatever calorie burning activities you’re engaged in. This is usually the time when your host(s) are playing “Match the leftovers/dishes” to the owners, and the longer you take gloating about your high school volleyball skills before that thing happened to your knee, the longer it will be before your host can call it a night. Ideally, you would have kept an eye on whatever you brought (WITHOUT hovering the serving table), and known what was left. If you have leftovers, make arrangements for them- are they going to your house, someone else’s house, or the trash? If you’ve brought a dish, do you want it back? This is even true for the disposable ones (It’s a recession, and folks are trying to be green with ev.uh.ree.thang.). Help out with some of the cleanup- empty ice from coolers, put the fire(s) out, and make sure the kids are still visible. Offer thank-yous, swap recipes, and promise to do it all again!

With these rules, I hope your summer gatherings can be full of light, love, and happy bellies. Happy Memorial Day, too.

Yours in Trying to Figure Out Why These Coals Didn’t Light Again (Eff it, we’re going wood!), 

1 For video of the offensively infamous Kwanzaa cake experiment, click here. Not for those with weak stomachs.
2 Yes, I know I am a child. *snorts*
3 With cards, be careful. A wary game of spades can mess up friendships, marriages and mortgages. Consider this your warning. Stick to lesser games if you’re not that fancy.

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