You don’t have to be a grill master to host an outdoor gathering. Happily, most of your favorite foods can be prepared in your kitchen and enjoyed outside, so you can make the most of the long days of spring and summer. Read on for tips on preparing meals indoors, then moving the party to the patio.
Family-style service, with platters and bowls of food passed at the table, works well for big, informal groups, especially if you are serving on a deck or other small space that doesn’t allow for a buffet table. You can plate the food inside on the platters before bringing it out to the table — no fuss. Or, set up a buffet outside. Similarly, it allows you to bring the food outside ahead of time and for everyone to serve themselves. If you must plate individual servings in the kitchen, make it easier by carrying the plates to the table on trays in batches.
Entertaining outdoors is a chance to serve casual food that makes the most of the season’s freshest flavors. The secret to indoor-outdoor dining is to serve mostly cold or room-temperature foods — think light, brightly flavored salads, chilled soups, and simple antipasto-style appetizers like cheese and olives. Choose dishes that are portable, hold up well on the table or buffet, and don’t require too much of your attention at the last minute.
A single hot item — generally the main course — accompanied by room-temperature dishes is all it takes to make the meal feel substantial and satisfying. Choose a recipe you can prepare mostly ahead of time, such as a roast that can rest and cool before serving. Or, mimic the flavors of an outdoor grill by cooking steak on a grill pan — again, it can rest on an outdoor table or buffet before the meal begins.
For dessert, think easy and light. A made-ahead cake, cookies with fresh fruit, or simple sorbet will be welcome. Don’t be overly ambitious. Outdoor food should be as uncomplicated as possible — easy to make, easy to serve, and easy to eat.
An outdoor party calls for fun, refreshing beverages. Luckily, these are easy to serve outside. Chill bottles of sparkling, white or rose wine in an ice bucket and arrange durable glasses next to them for easy serving. If you’re serving a cocktail, choose one you can mix a batch of in a large pitcher, like sangria. That way, you won’t be running back and forth to the kitchen.
On the Table
Keep your table as simple as the food. When you can, prepare dishes in pieces that are beautiful enough to bring to the table (like this sunny Dutch oven and wood carving board) to make cleanup easy. Skip a tablecloth in favor of natural chargers for a casual look.