Beyond Burgers and Dogs. Or: over-thinking a plate of barbeque.
May 26, 2010 7:57 AM   Subscribe

What’s the best / easiest way to feed 50ish people at a cookout? I’d rather not just do burgers and dogs.

I’m planning a party for 50 or so people and, it being summer and all, I’d like to use my grills. What are your best grill / barbeque recipes or ideas that meet the following criteria:

Relatively easy prep. Kabobs are generally my go-to meal but they’re pretty labor-intensive. If I can prep it the night before, that would be best.

Easy to cook. Something that I can pretty much put on the grill and maybe turn every few minutes. A roast maybe, or a pork butt. I don’t want to have to deal with intense grilling while I’m trying to socialize.

Easy to eat, especially standing up with a glass in your hand. Even though ribs are Nature’s Perfect Food™, a lot of misguided people don’t care for them because they’re messy. I agree that I should probably not be friends with these people but that’s a whole ‘nother AskMe question.

Not prohibitively expensive. Beef tenderloin is probably out.

No more than a few hours on the grill.

The short list so far:

A whole salmon

A few beer can chickens (tasty, but takes some effort to carve after the fact. Can also be stressful at the last minute.)

Pork butt (can finish a couple hours early and kept warm in an oven or cooler. Purists will tell me it can’t possible take less than eight hours but there will not be many purists coming. See the comment about ribs above.)

More ideas? I have both charcoal and gas.
posted by bondcliff to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Pork tenderloins are relatively inexpensive, cook within 45-90 minutes and because they are uniformly cylindrical, they cook evenly and easily. Then it is easy to slice this to make sandwiches.
posted by mmascolino at 8:02 AM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: You don't want to do dogs, but what about sausages? No prep, easy to cook, easy to eat, and not too expensive.
posted by spinto at 8:05 AM on May 26, 2010

You could grill pizzas. It's really easy, they take very little time, and can be cut into sizes that can be held in one hand. Plus, almost no prep work if you buy pre-made dough.
posted by xingcat at 8:06 AM on May 26, 2010

A whole turkey. (Brine it first, and use an indirect fire.) Yes, there's carving, but what a treat to have turkey far from November.

Alternatively, find a local sausage maker and get an assortment of different flavors.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:12 AM on May 26, 2010

As a meat-eater, I still find those saucer-sized mushrooms roasted on a grill the most delicious thing.
posted by griphus at 8:15 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't forget that often people expect burgers and dogs at a cookout. If you get too fancy, guests will think you're weird. :)

But chicken breasts are good on the grill too, so don't overlook that.
posted by thorny at 8:15 AM on May 26, 2010

You have a charcoal grill? Do you have cob corn available near you? This is my favourite way to cook corn for a crowd:

Don't shuck the corn, leave it in its husk.
Fire up your charcoal grill, and when the coals are white, spread them out.
Lay the corn, husk and all, down on the grill. Cook and turn till all the outsides are charred.
Wearing gardening gloves or welder's mitts, take a cob off the grill, shuck it, and lay it on your guest's plate.
Have butter, salt, pepper and whatever else standing by.
posted by LN at 8:16 AM on May 26, 2010

I love love love pork shoulder, but yes, it does take a long time. It's a tough cut, which is why it's often smoked for a half-day. Doing it over higher heat for only a little while makes it less pleasant to eat. What if you cook them in the oven at 200-250 overnight, wrapped in foil, then finish them on the grill over higher heat to get a nice "faux-bark" on the outside? If you do that, a good rub is your friend. (I'd go with sugar, salt, paprika, black pepper.)

Pork tenderloin is great, but it can get expensive per serving.

Failing all else, I'd say sausage. With grilled peppers and onions on a nice sub roll or sliced-open baguette... Okay, now I'm hungry.
posted by supercres at 8:16 AM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: I've had good luck with a ton of chicken breasts that were marinated/rubbed in a bunch of different stuff for a real variety of things. Cooks up quickly, is tasty, most people eat chicken. Coke can chicken is my favorite but it's really totally unworkable for stand around food. With chicken breasts, they cook really quicky and you can eat them on buns [get good buns!] or breads or cut them into smaller pieces and put them in hot dog rolls. I'm also a fan of the tasty local sausages option and the bratwurst boil-in-beer-then-grill optons. I've also found that things that are great on the grill that people don't expect include vegetables like asparagus, leeks, peppers [may need an extra basket to put them in] as well as more esoteric stuff like grapefruit, pineapple, eggplant and portobello mushrooms.
posted by jessamyn at 8:27 AM on May 26, 2010

A few clarifications, because I'm really a fan of pork shoulder for a crowd.

You should rub the shoulder, leave it in the fridge overnight, re-rub, then cook. This is the mix I use, taken from the excellent Smoke and Spice:

1/4 cup ground black pepper
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup Turbinado sugar
2 Tablespoons table salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

That does about an 7-8 pound butt.

The slow cooking should take about 2 hours per pound, calculated based on the largest single mass of meat. You're cooking to an internal temp of about 190. (A meat thermometer with a probe you can leave in the smoker/over is extremely useful.) Of course, since you'd be finishing on the grill, you can go a little lower, assuming that you can move them from the oven to the grill quickly (big coolers are you friends).

Finishing in the grill can be as quick or as slow as you want. The key in that step is texture of the crust, one of the best parts of a slow-smoked shoulder.

I think that's about all I know, but feel free to MeMail.
posted by supercres at 8:29 AM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Gr. "smoker/oven".

I'm done now. But really I'm just going elsewhere to plan my next shoulder smoking.
posted by supercres at 8:31 AM on May 26, 2010

Someone already mentioned pineapple, so I'm going to mention peaches.
posted by spec80 at 8:35 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have a bbq rotisserie? You can put chicken wings & drummettes in it and let them spin to cooked bbq nunniness. Healthier than frying as well!

Boneless chicken pieces are easy (breasts are good put more pricey, thighs work well) and are also really good on the bbq. As are simple veggies - cut up a load of red potatoes into 1 inch slices, spray with olive oil and add some kosher salt, and then just cook a few minutes per side.
posted by cgg at 8:40 AM on May 26, 2010

Boneless ribs! Far less mess.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:40 AM on May 26, 2010

Fajitas for the win!!!!!
posted by jasondigitized at 8:45 AM on May 26, 2010

Chickens. Butterflied. You can spice each bird differently, sauce some, dry-rub others. Under an hour total cooking time (ideally flipping the birds just once), and the prep isn't too bad once you've figured out the first. Use sharp scissors or shears, and it takes under 5 minutes per bird for the cutting.

Corn on the cob is good, and will take a little less time than the chickens. Baked potatoes on the grill take just a little longer and you've got a complete meal.

I've also done small (2-3#) pork roasts. I have my butcher cut them out of the larger pork-butt, and it's possible to do them in a little over an hour (I generally rub 'em with spice and wrap them in foil after an initial sear).
posted by DaveP at 8:50 AM on May 26, 2010

Chicken drumsticks can be bought super cheap in bulk at Costco (or comparable places). Marinate overnight in a basic marinade in a big plastic box in the fridge. If you're looking for something that will limit both the time and money that you'll spend, this is the way to go.

Chicken breasts are better in several ways--but also more expensive. Depends on your comfort level with costs.

Something I've had good luck with: buy a bulk supply of the pork they sell as "boneless country style ribs". Marinate overnight, be sure to include a little tenderizer. Cut into big cubes, like 1 1/2 to 2 inch lengths (the meat strips are usually long and squarish anyway). Grill the chunks and serve. This is similar to the pork butt or tenderloin suggestions above, but you don't have to fiddle with slicing the meat and serving, you just let people deal with the big chunks. Or looking at it another way, you're making great big kebabs, but not spending lots of time putting them on skewers.
posted by gimonca at 8:51 AM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: Super easy and awesome chicken breasts:

1) Buy a bunch of chicken breasts.
2) Trim the crap parts off (if any). Cut them in half.
3) Put the breast halves in two Zip-Lock bags. To one add Lawry's Teriyaki marinade, to the other add Lawry's Lemon Pepper marinade (or whatever brand you like, I just know Lawry's turns out good).
4) Let bags sit in the fridge at least two hours, but not much longer than over night . Squish 'em around occasionally if you want.
5) Grill 'em up!


Instead of putting them in the fridge, put them in the freezer. You can dump the whole frozen block in a crock pot with a cup or so of water for 8-10 hours on low and end up with a pretty decent dinner with hardly any effort.
posted by Menthol at 9:16 AM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For a little more hand-eatable food than chicken breasts, go with bone-in thighs and drumsticks. They'll cook a little faster too. All previous suggestions about rubs and marinades apply.

Also, corn on the cob!
posted by dnesan at 9:53 AM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: If there are kids in the group, do some burgers and dogs for them at least.

If you do chicken parts, brine them (at least the white meat) and use a dry spice rub. The brine will give you a bigger window when they'll be done and not dried out. The brine and the rub will give plenty of flavor, and the rub won't scorch like a sauce. Don't remove pieces and add pieces continuously on one grill -- got food poisoning once that I'm pretty sure was from people doing that (adding drippy raw pieces and then taking other pieces off). Probably easiest to do whole batches of similar pieces, dark and white on different grills if you can.
posted by madmethods at 9:56 AM on May 26, 2010

Seconding fajitas!

You do all the work ahead of time, and if you need anything on-the-spot, it's straightforward to delegate.

Make sure to provide a variety of fillings to cover your vegetarians and other picky eaters.
posted by whatzit at 9:58 AM on May 26, 2010

Carne Asada.

Even easier if you can find a good, local Mexican market/carniceria and buy the skirt steak already marinated. Just add tortillas and condiments (and fire) and you're off.
posted by notyou at 9:58 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why not just outsource it? Pay a local catering company to roast half a pig (or whatever). It'll have the added benefit of allowing you to socialize with you guests rather that cooking.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:09 AM on May 26, 2010

If you still want to do kabobs you could just out out the ingredients in bowls and have people make their own.
posted by nestor_makhno at 10:26 AM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: As an alternative to kebabs (the kind where you have to use meat and different vegetables) is the simple meat-on-a-stick kind, plus a vegetable side (such as the grilled corn, or potatoes/rice from the indoor kitchen)? I'm a big fan of chicken satay with peanut sauce, and that's really easy to cook, once you've got the messy prepwork done and the meat's all skewered, the night before.
posted by aimedwander at 12:33 PM on May 26, 2010

Butterflied leg of lamb in yogurt marinade. Leg of lamb is fairly cheap, esspecially if you have access to a Sam's or CostCo. Its a bit of work the night before, but the grilling itself is quick and easy.
posted by rtimmel at 1:05 PM on May 26, 2010

Bacon Explosion with Moink Balls [scroll down] as a finger food?
posted by chazlarson at 1:06 PM on May 26, 2010

Seconding carne asada. So good. And people like making up their own tacos from the fixings you lay out.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:35 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of the early seasons of the Naked Chef was about a house party and Oliver went out and got a whole pork loin, seasoned the hell out of it, then roasted it. I'm planning, at some point, of doing the same on a grill. Leave the fat on, so people who like crisp delicious pork fat will be happy.

Warm pita bread (or even tortillas), grill some sliced onions and bell peppers on the side. When you cut the pork, don't worry about slices, just make oblong hacks at it, so you've got chunks and strips that will fit better in the pita. I'd go with garlic, sage, salt, pepper, maybe a little brown sugar, paprika and oregano. Maybe switch the paprika for chipotle powder for a warmer, spicier flavor. Stick a meat thermometer in there, and grill, turning occasionally.

You could also do a couple butterflied boneless legs of lamb in the same style, use garlic, rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, pepper, and a little smoked paprika. Serve a cucumber/yogurt sauce on the side.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:01 PM on May 26, 2010

Response by poster: Party was a huge success. My brother-in-law provided pulled pork and I provided chicken pieces, salmon, and hot dogs.

Chicken was brined in a salt / brown sugar mixture for an hour or two. Half of it was cooked on the gas grill with salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. The rest of the chicken I applied a basic brown sugar / paprika / salt / other stuff rub and slow cooked it over indirect heat on the charcoal grill with hardwood coals and apple wood chips. At the last minute I slapped some sauce on it and cooked it directly over the coals to caramelize the sugars in the sauce a bit.

The full-size salmon fillets were grilled with lemon slices and dill, served with a Dijon / dill / lemon sauce made with mayo, yogurt, and Dijon.

The chicken was 10x as much work as the salmon but everyone raved about the salmon. I'm still getting emails about it. Next time I skip the chicken and just cook salmon.

Thanks for all the suggestions. I'll probably be using a lot of them in future cookouts.
posted by bondcliff at 8:15 AM on June 23, 2010

Did you do anything special to the salmon? Marinate it?
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:46 PM on June 23, 2010

Response by poster: Nothing. I put some thin slices of lemon and a few fresh sprigs of dill on it and kept in in the fridge for an hour. Right before slapping it on the grill I put some kosher salt and pepper on it.
posted by bondcliff at 11:06 AM on June 24, 2010

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