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 warm nights of the season with a late-summer barbecue. Here’s how to host the evening.
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.
Keep it simple—let the food do the decorating for you.
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 food, 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 notice plates and silverware only 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 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.
Entertaining in your home doesn’t have to be expensive, labor intensive, or formal. The best gatherings are often informal affairs, sometimes thrown together at the last minute. Here’s how you can master the art of hosting last-minute guests.
When you have unexpected guests due in a few days and a spare bedroom that’s more storage space than guest room, you have to be pretty scrappy. Here's how to create a complete guest room in under a weekend.
We talk to photographer, educator, blogger, and author of The Forest Feast cookbooks, Erin Gleeson, about her golden rules of gatherings—those nuggets of wisdom that make hosting that much easier and that much more enjoyable.