Skip to main content

All this lovely sunshine has got us all in the mood for some al fresco dining. Who isn’t a fan of the great British barbecue and Bonnie May has some top tips to make your lovely, leisurely lunch just that little bit easier.

Just in case the grey clouds do decide to make an appearance we have everything that you need to be prepared. This doesn’t have to mean that you are out with the brolly at the grill being the ‘soggy’ host or hostess with the mostess! It means planning the menu and day so that should you all need to ‘slide indoors’ you can have an equally lovely time.

Jamie Oliver has some cracking barbecue tips on his website, check them out and make sure you’re not forgetting a thing!

A barbecue and an outside lunch is a little like combining a full English breakfast with the Sunday roast, so timing is very important – but now with the added pressure of not being in your dining room 10 paces from the kitchen, but at the end of the garden. It adds quite a few more steps to your mission. So, it’s going to be all about planning. You don’t need to offer every option under the sun, it is far better to choose great cuts of meat, well flavoured and seasoned rather than going for “all the choice”.

A few colourful salads, artisan breads and dressings can set the scene here. Have the table all laid up in advance – a lovely crisp white tablecloth, little jam jars of flowers, choose some pretty napkins and it can be as simple as that. For the more adventurous among us, you can add an individual seating plan, pretty fairy lights, carafes of flavoured water, picture frames with the menu in and a cocktail or two to get the ‘Summer Bash’ started.

Barbecuing is going to be hard work for one of you, so make sure that the ‘hot spot’ is not too far away from your table and guests do not feel too far out of it. Decant all your meats into boxes and marinate and prepare in advance. Yes, cut those sausages, separate those burgers, cut the ribs into the correct portion size in advance – they all sound like the smallest of jobs, but when trying to balance cooking, serving and smiling at the same time it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

On the grill cook everything very slowly, and use your oven, too. It’s a massive balancing act to get all the food cooked and not cremated, or rare but not raw! Once one item is ready pop it in the oven at a low heat to keep warm, then, when everything is ready, you can assemble back on the grill. When cooking the meat use a bunch of rosemary as your ‘oiling brush’ and then use a paper towel to soak up the excess. Oil the meat itself as well, this will then ensure that you don’t end up with the best bit of the chicken, the crispy charred skin, attached to the barbecue.

When it comes to serving time, place all the breads and salads out first so guests can help themselves. Then they can come to you. This way round their plates are already more than half full and adding the hot barbecue item last works well in two -ways – firstly the plate will then look overflowing with colour and deliciousness, rather than the greedy ones amongst us having eyes bigger than their bellies when it’s just the hot items on our plates; and also from a practical point of view with these items being served last they will still then be hot as you sit down to eat.

For puds, get these all made in advance, or to make life a little easier, tempt your taste buds and impress your guests with pre-bought desserts and puds from Marks and Spencer or Waitrose (you don’t have to tell anyone!)

However, a great easy option, that can also get the kids involved, is to have an ice cream station – lovely waffle cones, great local ice cream, sauces, sprinkles, or make you own ice lollies, I am loving the gin and tonic ones as well as the Pimms … this is right up my street!

See my barbecue menu ideas above to get you going. Choose three or four along with salads, breads and dressings.

Menu ideas

  • Lemon and garlic chicken
  • Sesame and ginger chicken sticks
  • Sticky ribs
  • Cider and apple pork tenderloin
  • Pork patties
  • Pulled Pork (this is an absolute winner) on balsamic bread
  • Lamb chop lollipops with mustard
  • Lamb burger with a feta filling
  • Surf and Turf sticks (sticks of steak with tiger shell on prawns)
  • Coca cola beef brisket
  • Foil parcels with sea bream and samphire Thai salmon cakes with basil
  • Great sausages from the butcher Halloumi and grilled vegetables

Bottoms up!

Thinking about the food is one thing, then there is serving drinks … and socialising with your friends. You need to eliminate one of these to make your life a little easier (sorry, not the socialising one!). Set up a bar for everyone to help themselves, you can buy great beer and wine buckets online; ice them all down, tie a bottle opener to the handle and you’re away. Put a bin out for empties so they can clear up too! Besides beer and wine, why not have another one or two drinks rather than a full ‘open bar’? A gin bar we set up for a party at home a while ago was an absolute hit with guests.

If you like Pimms, then why not try the new one too as a change, elderflower and blackberry, or for something a little different, Plymouth Cup is delicious too. With the fruit this can be an ‘all or nothing’ gamble. Will the jug you are serving from gently slosh out a little piece of everything or a big glug of it all? Try one of these two ideas to make the summer fruit in your punch a little more evenly distributed … either put the fruit in the glass first or make little skewers of the fruit as individual portions (these look great, although a little more time consuming).


Tips and ideas

If you have a barbecue with a fully closing lid, cook a whole joint really slowly … this is amazing. Serve with buttery Jersey Royals or pot roasted potatoes with garlic, corn on the cob (boil or microwave first) and colourful salads.

To help on the clear-up front use bamboo plates … or get creative and have a peek at your local charity shops, they have some absolute gems in china and glassware. To be honest most of my ‘party ware’ collection comes from rummaging around in these shops or at auctions.

Really enjoy hosting these parties at home but make life as easy as possible for yourselves. The whole idea is that you have a lovely time too. It’s times like this that an extra fridge is always handy. If you have space in your garage, invest in a second-hand one.

Lovely signs, bunting and candles can all add to your day. Invest a little time and soon you’ll be event planning for your guests too!