Memorial Day weekend is almost here—and with it comes the official kickoff to summer grilling season. But if you’re worried about the safety of gathering with family and friends, how about hosting a smallish barbecue, rather than the usual big bash? The key is to keep your guest list to close family or friend pods who’ve been fully vaccinated and to serve up the fun outside on your patio, deck or in the backyard. (Fingers crossed for good weather.) For some help with this year’s dialed-down but still delicious Memorial Day cookout, check out these easy tips and recipes that’ll make it all come together.
Dip and Dunk
A large bowl of chips with dip was never the most sanitary idea (you just know people are going to double dip). The better bet: Create individual bundles of veggies (about 10 celery and carrot sticks per bundle) and serve to guests small in individual leak-proof containers that include a separate compartment for storing dip (about three tablespoons each). The result? Fewer germs are spread and you’ll eliminate any fears of soggy snacks. A few yummy pairings to feature include carrot and celery sticks with a sour cream-based herb dip, crackers and homemade hummus or tortilla chips and chunky guacamole. Don’t forget to have a fresh green salad on your table as baby lettuces are finally hitting the market—try dressing up your greens with grilled fruit and chopped herbs for a sophisticated twist.
A good marinade takes ordinary proteins to new levels and portioning the right amount is easy for a small crowd. For a party of four, plan on four to six chicken thighs and coat them in a teriyaki glaze; lamb chops pair well with oil, garlic and rosemary (eight to ten small Frenched chops are just right). Marinate shrimp and veggie skewers in an olive oil and oregano mixture (plan on two or three small kebabs per person). There’s no exact amount of time to marinate for, but as a rule, 15 minutes is the minimum to allow meat to absorb the flavor. For maximum zing and juiciness, let the chicken or lamb marinate overnight, then baste it with leftover sauce as it cooks on the grill. (To protect your picnic table from hot brushes and spatulas, consider this grilling tool rest made from heat-resistant silicone.)
Serve a Festive Punch
Skip the big keg of beer and a full bar in favor of red, white and blue sangria or fruit punch—just pour it over ice. Plan for two glasses per guest; for a party of four, you’ll want to work with two bottles of white or rosé wine (four glasses each), ½ cup brandy and ½ cup triple sec (more if you prefer it sweeter). Garnish with strawberry halves, blueberries and honeydew stars (cut the melon using a small star-shaped cookie cutter). Fruit punch can be made with or without alcohol (use a bottle of sparkling wine or liter of ginger ale) and mixed with two cups of cranberry juice and two cups of pineapple juice. Pour your concoctions into steel cocktail shakers sealed with two silicone gaskets to keep beverages cool and leak-free while you finish that game of Wiffle ball!
End on a Sweet Note
A flag cake with white icing, strawberries and blueberries is a classic Memorial Day dessert, but it’s often made in a cake pan for a large crowd. Instead, make a sweet that suits your smaller gathering, such as individual cupcakes with vanilla frosting that are tinted with red and blue food coloring. Other mini patriotic desserts for small cookouts include parfaits (layer raspberries and blueberries with whipped cream in small clear cups) or mini hand pies (use store-bought pie dough and fill with strawberry jam).
Set the Scene
Decorate for Memorial Day with seasonal paper goods and accessories for your tables. Add mini American flags to utensil bundles (for grownups and kids, too), red and white striped paper napkins or a blue table cover with silver stars. Before your event, craft a playlist that’ll satisfy the crowd. Add lawn games to the mix to occupy both kids and adults and help your guests work up an appetite (or work off their meal).
Want more cookout ideas? These smart prep tips will help streamline your grilling process.