Barbecues have long been a mainstay of summer with classics like burgers and hot dogs being the most readily available crowd pleasers. But after countless cookouts serving up the same old flame-grilled fare, it’s high time to switch things up with unconventional barbecue dishes, drinks, and activities that are sure to satisfy.
Rub a Dub Dub
Seasons change but barbecue is forever. Keep your cookout fresh with unique flavors that embody the spirit of summer. Instead of playing it safe with traditional barbecue sauces and seasonings, opt for flavors that are less common but just as delicious.
A mustard rub is the simple solution to bringing some fresh flavor to your menu. Best suited for ribs, pulled pork, or grilled chicken, this rub will add a whole new dimension of flavor to your meats. All you need for this simple mixture is:
- 2 cups mustard
- 1 cup parsley
- ½ cup orange juice
- ½ cup rosemary leaves
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Spread over meat of choice, making sure to coat evenly. Let the rub marinate at least two hours at room temperature or 4 hours in the refrigerator. Any excess rub – or if you make the rub in advance – can be stored in the refrigerator for up to ten days in an airtight container.
Seafood is a main course option that bucks the land-based meat trend. The sheer number of options in this culinary category provides you with plenty of possibilities and is the ideal choice if you happen to invite any pescetarian guests.
When creating your unique barbecue menu, fresh seafood markets are your best bet for finding high quality fish and other delicacies. Salmon, tuna, and even shrimp fare well on the grill, while more tender options like tilapia and flounder should be avoided. Seek out filets that are firm, unblemished, and at least one inch thick.
It’s important to remember that seafood has different grilling properties than red meat or poultry. Seafood loses moisture quickly on the grill, making it prudent to keep that precious moisture. Opt for a garlic butter for basting (½ cup salted butter, 1 pressed garlic clove, 1T chopped parsley, 1 minced shallot) or an olive oil/pressed garlic baste. Another good rule of thumb? Cook your fish for 10 minutes per every inch of thickness, dividing the time in half for each side of the piece.
Turn the Vegetables
One of the simplest ways to put a twist on your backyard barbecue is by opting for vegetable based meals for the main course. While some may be skeptical about forgoing meat, there are plenty of grill friendly vegetable dishes that are just as satisfying as burgers and bratwursts.
When deciding which vegetables to grill at your cookout, opt for heartier veggies that will satisfy your guests’ appetites. Standout options include squash, bell peppers, asparagus, and eggplants. Be aware that every vegetable has a different grilling time depending on its shape and size. For example, asparagus have an average cook time of 4-6 minutes while bell peppers need 8-10 minutes on the grill.
It’s important that your barbecued vegetables offer a strong flavor profile for your guests to enjoy. Prior to pulling off the barbecue covers and laying your veggies on the grill, season and sauté them with a combination of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a squirt of lemon. You can even drizzle them in a wide variety of homemade sauces for fully developed flavor. Whip up some teriyaki, barbecue, hoisin, lime & tequila, or any other sauces you feel fit the veggies of choices.
Fun in the Sun
The most successful barbecue hosts know that you need to provide more than just food and drinks to keep your guests happy. Games and outdoor activities give your guests the chance to have some fun in the sun in between bites (or sips). And instead of sticking with the old standbys of cornhole and horseshoes, consider coloring outside the lines when it comes to backyard fun.
The Hunt is On
If you’re looking for an activity that will keep everyone occupied while you tend to the grill, a backyard scavenger hunt is the way to go. Write up a list compiling common and more unique outdoor discoveries, with a limit around ten finds. Instead of having your guests bring back each item, opt for phone photos instead in order to keep your spring garden undisturbed.
The War Zone
With the weather warming up, the spigot in your backyard will start to offer more than just irrigation for the grass. Use it to fill up some high-tech water guns and turn your backyard into a wet and woolly war zone.
A DIY backyard water slide can be put together with the help of custom tarps, a garden hose, and dish soap Protect your outdoor accessories from getting wet with chair covers and machine covers, and be sure to have plenty of towels on hand so your guests can get dried off before dinner.
Many backyard barbecues stick to serving up cold beers and not much else in the way of libations. In your role as cookout host you should be thinking outside the drink cooler and embracing unconventional – yet delicious – drink options for your guests to indulge in.
One drink that will get your guests talking? A zingy strawberry vodka lemonade that’s perfect for cooling down simmering summer days. To whip up this refresher, you’ll need:
- 4 sliced medium strawberries
- 1 ½ oz vodka
- 3 oz lemonade
- Sliced strawberries for garnishes
Muddle the strawberries in the bottom of either an old-fashioned glass or a tumbler. Add ice and vodka. Pour in freshly squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup before garnishing the rim with a slice of strawberry.
One way to make your cookout the most memorable is with drink ware commemorating the event. Much like custom tarps or machine covers, plastic stadium cups can be personalized with graphics and text that celebrate your cookout.