Make a master list of needed equipment before game day and check it twice before leaving home. Remember, you can’t just run back into the kitchen to grab a missing tool or ingredient. Nothing will make you look worse than running out of fuel! Carry an extra tank of propane upright in your vehicle in a milk crate, or pack twice as much charcoal as you think you’ll need.
Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Segregate meats and beverages in separate coolers. You don’t want raw steak juices dripping over your canned beer or soda.
Build your menu around a large chunk of meat that serves lots of people but needs little tending, such as a pork loin, tri-tip, brined turkey breast or ham. All can be cooked over medium heat (350 degrees) in two hours or less.
Plan to do the entire meal on the grill, from appetizer to dessert, emphasizing foods that can be held easily in one hand. Personalize your barbecue (and impress your guests) by making your own rubs and sauces. Do as much of the prep work at home as possible so you can enjoy your own party.
If burgers are part of the menu, and they should be, use a 50-50 blend of ground chuck and sirloin with an 18–20% fat content. Form the patties and then use your thumbs to make a wide, shallow depression on one side of each. This will help the burgers maintain an even thickness as they cook. Never press on a burger with a spatula, as it forces all the natural juices into the fire, resulting in dry burgers.
Making kebabs? Fold a sheet of heavy-duty foil into thirds like a business letter and slip it under the exposed ends of bamboo skewers to keep them from burning.
For the best flavor and appearance, grill sweet corn with the husks off, then brush with melted butter.
Do use smoking chips (soaked in water or beer for an hour and then drained) to add incomparable smoke flavor to food.
Invest in a good-quality instant-read meat thermometer and memorize recommended temperatures for meat and poultry. (Note: 125 degrees for rare beef or lamb; 145 degrees for medium rare beef or lamb; 160 degrees for medium beef, lamb or pork; 170 degrees for poultry; 195 degrees for brisket and pulled pork shoulder.)
Leave the barbecue forks at home. Use tongs or a spatula to turn food. Stabbing food will only cause juices to fall into the fire.
Preheat your grill before cooking, and when the grates are hot, use a stiff-wired brush to clean the grill grates. Then lubricate with a folded paper towel dipped in vegetable oil and held in tongs. Position a fire extinguisher near your grill.
Make sure your grill grate is hot before putting any food on it. To gauge the fire’s heat, hold your hand about 3 inches above the grill grate and count “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” and so on. A “two Mississippi” fire is a hot fire. Don’t crowd the grill grate. Leave at least 35% of the grill grate free for a “safety zone” where you can park food in case of flare-ups.
Cook ribs, brisket or pork shoulde at home and reheat on the grill on game day. Always let grilled meat or poultry rest for a few minutes before carving, they will be juicier.
Brush sweet barbecue sauces on meats a few minutes before the meats are done so the sugars in them don’t scorch. Sizzle over direct heat to “tighten” the sauce.
Marinades that have been used on meat or chicken should not be used as bastes unless they have been brought to a rolling boil for three minutes first and strained.
Pack a stack of disposable aluminum pans (I buy them by the case) and one or two rolls of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Use the pans to set up your grill for indirect grilling, or use them to soak wood chips, serve food, pack leftovers or corral smoldering coals at the end of the party. (Douse coals thoroughly with water before safely disposing of them.) An assortment of heavy duty re-sealable plastic bags are handy to have on hand, too.
Tie a distinctive-looking helium balloon to your car, tethered by a long string, so your friends can find you easily in the parking lot. Never desert your post. Remember: Food left on an untended grill burns. It’s as simple as that!