FOOD

These Are the 9 Cookout Shortcuts I’ll Be Using All Summer

By Jennifer Condon

As a professional stylist, setting the table is one of my favorite parts of entertaining. But the cooking, the prepping and the clean up? Not so much. So my guy and I tend to do most of our entertaining in the summertime, when the warm temps, garden blooms and outdoor grill can do most of the work for us. While I’m in charge of stocking up for cookouts and making sure everyone has a cold drink in hand, my husband takes the lead as DJ and grill master. Just a few years ago, we lived in the city with no outdoor space. But over the last three summers we’ve honed our entertaining routine, learned some shortcuts, and now we’ve got serious cookout cred. Here’s how we bring our gang together.

#1 Supplement your serving plates.

#1 Supplement your serving plates.
Diana Davis

Even though I’ve accumulated a teetering tower of platters over the years, I choose a few that work well together and are durable enough to go outside, and supplement with Chinet Classic White platters. We keep a stack near the grill so my husband has plenty available when meats and veggies are ready to come off the heat. Plus, having extra platters is handy when guests show up with unexpected — but welcome! — additions.

#2 Marinate the night before.

Almost everything tastes better on the grill, so we tend to use it all season long. I’ve found marinating the meats and in-season veggies the night before not only saves loads of time pre-party, it also gives much better flavor.

#3 Arrange appetizer “bouquets.”

#3 Arrange appetizer “bouquets.”
Diana Davis

Instead of taking the time to make a dip, I start with a favorite store-bought version and add a big dollop to the bottom of a Chinet Cut Crystal cup. Then, using pre-cut veggies like baby carrots, grape tomatoes, green beans and bell peppers, I fan them like a bouquet in the dip. I let them chill in the fridge an hour before my friends arrive and they can munch while they’re waiting for the meal.

#4 Make it pretty with plants.

I love using potted plants in place of flowers when entertaining outdoors. My daughters and I often spend Saturdays adding new plants to the garden, so we have plenty of potted flowers, herbs and edibles around the patio. I’ll just move a handful to the table. They can also be a sweet gift to send home at the end of the night.

#5 Encourage seconds and thirds.

#5 Encourage seconds and thirds.
Diana Davis

At the best cookouts, guests are always getting up and down for more food or another game of bocce. To ease the flow, I jot each friend’s name on a Chinet Classic White plate with food-safe markers. This way no one’s left wondering where their plate went after badminton!

#6 Get classy with your condiments.

 #6 Get classy with your condiments.
Diana Davis

I like to put all my sauces and toppings, like guac, salsa and sour cream, into small serving bowls and cups and corral them together on a pretty serving tray or Lazy Susan. It makes it easier for your friends to customize their meal, and looks cute, too.

#7 Make dessert DIY.

I like to serve something interactive that’s fun for everyone and moves the group around. The trick is to start with something pre-made — like chocolate chip cookies for DIY ice cream sandwiches or a sampling of chocolate bars and fillings for s’mores — and have friends build their own sweet treats. It saves me from baking in the heat (shudder) and it’s a fun way to end the night. I use small Chinet Classic White dessert plates, too. You can bet we’re not doing dishes when the party’s done.

#8 Save the cocktail shaker for another night.

#8 Save the cocktail shaker for another night.
Diana Davis

Running back and forth to refresh drinks isn’t any fun. I like to keep carafes of water and premixed options (Watermelon Sangria, Arnold Palmers, Basil Lemonade) right on the table. My friends can easily refill their own cups, which not only makes my life easier, it makes them more comfortable too. Win-win!

#9 Pick a date for the next one before anyone leaves.

Truth is, summer’s just as nutso for all of us as the other three seasons. To make sure you see your gang again before Labor Day — and avoid flinging 65 texts to make it happen — declare no one can head out before you make a date for the next time!