How to Host a Late-Summer Barbecue

By: Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Growing up in the Southeast, we always called them cookouts (barbecue is a noun where I come from). See also barbecue, barbeque, BBQ, grilling out. The name is almost irrelevant since the sentiment is so universal—long conversations over wine and warm food eaten with sticky fingers, running barefoot in thick, almost leathery grass, the electric hum of bugs.

Relish the last of the warm nights of the season with a late-summer barbecue. Here’s how to host the evening.

On decor Keep it simple—let the food do the decorating for you.

Allow people to chip in

It’s perfectly appropriate to ask your guests to bring simple complements for a barbecue (dinner party etiquette is different)—a six-pack, a soccer ball, sparkling water, ice. Make sure that whatever you ask them to bring should be either something they likely have already on hand or can be easily picked up at the store for less than $10.

Plan a seasonal menu

Peaches, tomatoes, and corn are falling out of season at the end of the summer, so always take advantage of ripe produce while you still can. A farmer’s market, rather than a grocery store, will have the best seasonal crops for your area. I love tomatoes and peaches because they’re sweet, decadent, simple to prepare, and are vivid and playful. Corn is crisp and begs for toppings like cilantro, cayenne, and cotija. All of the above pair well with pork or dark-meat chicken with a simple garlic salt dry rub.

I love herb-heavy meals late in the summer—I grow thyme, basil, cilantro, and mint in my kitchen window, so I chop some stalks and lay them out on a board for the night. Pair these herbs with crusty bread, soft butter, tapenade, roasted pumpkin seeds, and guacamole. I also love to use mint for dessert—try it on top of vanilla ice cream with warm salted caramel and grilled peaches.

On the table Set out a board with herbs, bread, tapenade, guac, and pumpkin seeds.

Picpoul de Pinet (or Picpoul Blanc) is perfect for late-summer meals outside. It’s bright, easy, and mild and agrees with most foods, especially lighter meats. If you prefer beer, I recommend an amber ale, which is usually medium-bodied and drinks nice and slowly.

Set the table

Eating outside doesn’t require sub-par dinnerware—you’re barbecuing, not ordering takeout. Don’t opt for your finest dishes, but choose sturdy glassware and flatware. Guests only notice plates and silverware when they’re cheap. Set with warmly colored cloth napkins.

Good food will properly decorate a table, but a barbecue can stand some table accents. I like a vase of fresh sunflowers and tea lights in jars.

Choose simple settings with warmly colored mismatched napkins

On drink Choose a pleasing white like Picpoul de Pinet or an easy amber ale.

Keep plans to a minimum

Don’t plan too much for one evening. Hearty food and drink should be enough of a nucleus to bring everyone together, but if you must plan something, keep activities simple. I throw a soccer ball in the backyard and make bubble solution for kids. The fewer choices to be made, the more people will draw together.

A carving board of herbs, bread, and cheese as a centerpiece will keep guests’ hands busy and involved.

Keep the pests away

A simple citronella candle on the patio or in the yard (but not among the food and drinks) will reduce the number of pests during the night. There are a few natural ways to repel summer insects—like lavender, sage, and rosemary oils, which can be pooled in a small ramekin and placed near foods.

Enjoy the night

The most important part of being a host is partaking. You’re there to guide the flow—you set the tone for the night, so enjoy it, and your guests will as well.

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