Weeknight get-togethers are always a bright spot in a regular week, which makes them even more charming and fun. Looking forward to hosting friends or family for dinner during the week is all about planning an easy menu with help from a few make-ahead dishes and as few dishes as possible.
The grill is a great tool in executing both. You can marinate proteins or vegetables in advance and then cook most of your dinner on the grill, which cuts down on sides considerably. Here's my menu for an easy weeknight barbecue, plus some tips and tricks for pulling it off with ease.
The Menu + A Few Tips
Keeping in mind that most of us will be coming home from work with just an hour or so before guests arrive for dinner, this menu is simple, with all the BBQ classics with make-ahead drinks and appetizers, while making the most of the hot grill.
- Sweet Tea and Bourbon Pitcher Cocktail
- Grilled Peppadews with Smoked Mozzarella
- Arnold Palmer Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs
- Buttermilk Coleslaw
- Skillet Cornbread with Bacon & Cheddar
- How To Grill Watermelon
What to Drink
For ease and simplicity, this barbecue's beverages should be made ahead and served ice cold. Plus you're going to want something refreshing while you man the grill too.
- Sweet Tea and Bourbon Pitcher Cocktail: This pitcher cocktail is nothing more than a brew of black and peach tea combined with some simple syrup and bourbon, but the ingenious part is that you can set out the tea, syrup, and bourbon and let guests build their own glasses — a simple way to satisfy adults and serve kids something special (sans bourbon) too.
- Icy-Cold Beers: A BBQ isn't really a barbecue without a bucket of cold beers. Look for an amber or brown lager, which will pair well with everything from snacks to dessert.
What to Eat
While you can pull off the BBQ vibe with recipes for the oven or the slow cooker, it's way more impressive to fire up the grill and cook everything from an appetizer to desserts on there. Make the coleslaw ahead and you can pull it out while the rest of dinner is cooking on the grill.
- Grilled Peppadews with Smoked Mozzarella I love these smoky, cheesy pepper bites. and since they are charred in a cast iron skillet on the grill, you can easily throw them on while the grill preheats. You can stuff these with the cheese the night before to make putting them on the grill even easier, but I highly suggest making at least a double batch of these — they are devoured faster than you can imagine.
- Arnold Palmer Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs Chicken thighs are ideal for grilling since they have a fair amount of fat, which makes them less likely to cook up dry. Steal the marinade from this Arnold Palmer chicken thigh recipe and then grill the thighs over direct heat for three to four minutes on each side, then move to indirect heat and cook until done.
- Buttermilk Coleslaw The beauty of coleslaw is that it's actually better the next day, so it benefits from being made the night before. Since I'm buying buttermilk for the cornbread anyway, this buttermilk coleslaw lets one ingredient double duty.
- Skillet Cornbread with Bacon & Cheddar Did you know you can bake bread on the grill? Cornbread does especially well. Preheat the skillet and make sure the grill is as covered as possible (even while you're grilling the chicken) and cook over indirect heat.
Keep dessert ultra simple by opting for store-bought Popsicles, or with minimal effort pull off a sweet and spicy surprise of grilled fruit.
- How To Grill Watermelon: Sliced watermelon gets a limey-sugar and spice rub that makes it both an option for a side dish and dessert.
Your Barbecue Game Plan
Get the grocery shopping out of the way the weekend before the party, and the rest of the prep can be done starting the day before.
The Weekend Before
- Shop for ingredients including beer and make sure you have propane or charcoal for the grill. Bonus points if you clean the grill too.
- Make the simple syrup for the sweet tea cocktail.
One Day Before
- Brew the teas. You'll need tea for both the pitcher cocktail and the chicken marinade. Do these first and let them cool while you prep everything else.
- Stuff the peppers with the cheese; cover and refrigerate.
- Marinate the chicken.
- Make the coleslaw, but leave the dressing and cabbage separate.
- Cook the bacon and shred the cheese for cornbread. You can even mix together the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and cover overnight.
The Day Of
Before everyone arrives: Light the grill and make the cornbread batter. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry. Toss the coleslaw with the dressing.
Once guests arrive: Set out beers and the pitcher cocktail and let guests help themselves and munch on the grilled peppers while everything else cooks on the grill.