Best of all, summer entertaining is easy on the host. Summer party food focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients, simply prepared. Cocktails are made ahead, crisp white wine is chilling, and beers are self-serve in the well-stocked fridge. Even dessert is simple — who doesn’t love the chance to be a kid again with an ice cream sandwich?
“summer family barbecue” by jakub at foodiesfeed
summer entertaining tips
- The temptation will be to grill everything. Sure, grilling is easy, both in preparation and in the ability to make items to order based on guest preferences. My experience? Be careful with too much grilling. It locks someone up at the grill for the entire party if you’re not careful. Consider par-cooking options to make the final grilling time short; we love the sous vide method for smaller parties. Be sure to mix-and-match grilled options with other fare.
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- Focus on “bringing food together” rather than cooking it. If you’re hosting a party with guests that don’t all know each other, an assembly line is a great place to mingle and strike up a conversation. Bountiful plates of fresh breads, prosciutto and other meats, fresh mozzarella slices, tomatoes, herbs, slices of brie, and figs come together for a delicious summer sandwich.
- Pick a great cocktail, and put it on a drink station near the door. Choose a make-ahead option, like a Sangria, or a vodka- or gin-based refresher that steeps flavor in the pitcher and is topped off with sparkling water or champagne for fizz. For mojito lovers, try this lemon-basil variety from Cookie and Kate.
photo by Brooke Lark via unsplash
- If it’s a large party, make sure most menu items work for eating while standing up. Anything grilled on a skewer, popped on a toothpick, or held with a popsicle stick will work.
- Consider a pizza party, but make it special. For a party, it’s worth the [minor] hassle to order the best pizza in town, even if it’s take-out only. Arturo’s, I’m looking at you. Add a more interesting salad, and this is the time to bother with a more prepared dessert. Note I didn’t say you had to do the preparing — parties are a great opportunity to support one of our delicious local bakeries.
photo by jenn kosar
- I’m normally not a fan of potluck. If not led by a controlling hostess, it can result in a menu that is incoherent and best and downright conflicting at worst. Summer is the one time I make an exception. It’s not just about the ease on the host; summer menus are more collaboration friendly. Let your guests bring their favorite side dishes while you focus on the main event.
- While not entirely food related, this is one of my favorite tips: put a pretty bucket filled with spray sunscreens and bug sprays near the door (but away from the food). Your guests will thank you.
- And finally, relax. Everyone always loves a relaxed hostess, but this is especially important for summer parties. No one wants to feel like you slaved away in a hot kitchen. We all want that “thrown-together” feel, the joy of a few friends gathering in the backyard to enjoy the weather and each other’s company. As my entertaining hero Ina Garten says, “be cool no matter what’s happening in the kitchen”.
photo by moerschy via pixabay
summer party food
- Steak. Skirt or Flank steak works well for a party as it is hard to overcook and is typically marinated ahead of time to inject major flavor. This sweetly simple balsamic-marinated skirt steak always gets rave reviews from adults and children alike. For a smaller party with a more adult crowd, I like another Martha Stewart option, the Soy-Lemon Flank Steak topped with Arugula.
photo by pawel kadysz via pexels
- Shrimp. I love Ina Garten’s Grilled Shrimp with Mango Salsa from the Parties collection. It hits a few points: seafood option, one-handed eating, and easy to grill ahead and serve room temperature.
- Special salads. I like the Little Gem Salad from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza at Home, which features asparagus, sugar snap peas, and radishes marinated in lemon vinaigrette. The extra steps in this recipe may seem unnecessary but they do make a difference in the end result. Food and Wine published this slightly easier version of the recipe online. If you like blue cheese, try this one from Everyday Food, but swap walnuts for hard-to-peel hazelnuts.
photo by patrick tomasso of eaters collective via unsplash
- Pasta salad alternative. In early summer, when it’s not too hot outside, I love a risotto. Barefoot Contessa’s “Think Spring!” Risotto features all the best of the season. Pesto-based dishes are far more popular than mayo varieties, and Ina’s Pasta, Pesto and Peas is a delicious choice. When the temperatures get warmer I like a mediterranean option, like this one from Gimme Some Oven. While not pasta, Tabbouleh is another mediterranean alternative with a healthier grain.
photo by jenn kosar
- Corn. This is New Jersey, so corn is kind of required. Simple grilling is fine; check out my kid-friendly technique in my post on local farm shares. You can also sauté fresh corn for a make-ahead option, like this one from Barefoot Contessa, or this fire-roasted deliciousness from Williams-Sonoma.
photo by dragne marius via unsplash
- Tomatoes. Still in New Jersey. I love this tiny tomato salad with champagne vinaigrette from Better Homes & Gardens, or this tomato, avocado and onion salad. Both are colorful and beautiful on a table, and if you make the vinaigrette ahead of time, are a matter of simple assembly near meal time.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get some friends together and feast. What’s your go-to summer recipe or entertaining tip? Leave a comment and share!
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