The Guys’ Guide to Throwing the Best Backyard Bash

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Grill-seeking with Canada’s charcoal chief Ted Reader. Oh, and ladies, you can use these tips, too, but may we suggest you take this opportunity to sit back, relax and let the men do the cooking.

The tradition of the backyard barbecue bash dates back to prehistoric times, when a hip new innovation called fire was all the rage, and cavemen and -ladies gathered around to share grunts over freshly clubbed bronto burgers. Eventually, cave-ladies evolved into sophisticated women, and cavemen … well, we grunt a little less now … but both still share the love of a great cookout. Case in point: Ted Reader – renowned grill guru, chef and author of numerous barbecue cookbooks, including his latest, Gastro Grilling. He also owns more than 100 barbecues and once grilled a world record size 590-pound burger. In other words, if anyone knows how to throw a summertime backyard bash, it’s him.

The first thing Reader advises guys to consider: “Who are my buddies, and will I get in trouble from my wife when I have a party at the house?” Trust Reader on this one – he’s married to a divorce lawyer.

The menu is the next big decision. One important tip from the book: don’t try to be a hero and attempt any new recipes. Practise them on family first. The last thing you want is to lose face with the boys and their better halves around your own grill. Reader suggests making the barbecue a focus.

“Build an area around the grill so you can showcase what you’re doing. Get people to talk about the food.” Chances are, while the ladies enjoy catching up over a cocktail, your buddies will want to do the same over the coals, so if you have them, set up both gas and charcoal grills. Then put out some meat, condiments and extra tongs, and let the boys have at it. “Getting them to have some fun and participate … gets that whole party going.”

When it comes to the menu, don’t fret about feeding everyone all at once. Instead, Reader swears by a “grazing menu” that keeps the grill hot and the food coming throughout the night. This allows guests to enjoy the variety of dishes and builds anticipation for what you’ll be serving next.

When it comes to appetizers, think outside of the grocery store aisle and invest in the best quality ingredients you can get. “It’s about the experience of creating great flavours. You want your friends not just happy but fully satisfied.” Take a stab at what Reader calls “little nibbles” (all dishes mentioned are available in Gastro Grilling by Ted Reader) – crowd-pleasers like Plank-Grilled Lobster Cakes With Brown Butter Drizzle, Pig Nuts (a delectable sausage-bacon-meatball combo), Margarita Chicken Lollipops and Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Scallops with Honey Orange Glaze.

For a main dish, a bit of everything works best: perhaps Grill-Roasted Whole Beef Tenderloin with Spiced Whiskey Butter Injection alongside Grilled Sugar Cane Tuna Sticks with Grilled Pineapple Ginger Compote. The Slash and Grill Sea Bass “is very, very tasty and grilling whole fish – there’s nothing better” (pictured right). Vegetarians in your crew can enjoy their fill of Smoked Risotto with Fire-Roasted Squash, Grilled Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Charred Tomato Vinaigrette, Jumbo Stuffed Mushrooms and grilled seasonal veggies.

For dessert, Reader’s fine with anything from a fancy pastry (homemade or store-bought) or even ice cream bars. We, however, like the sound of Angry Blueberries (each berry gets an injection of spiced whiskey) with Cold Cream.

Speaking of booze,  “Make sure your friends come to a party [and] you’ve got everything that they need.” That means a fully stocked bar area with options for non-drinkers such as juice and soda and lots of water on hand. And offer safe ways to get home or prepare your guest rooms. That way, at the end of the night, you can rest easy knowing that, for another summer, you’re still the king of the backyard barbecue bash.

“That’s the enjoyment of all that hard work,” Reader says. “When [guests] think about the food they go, ‘Wow, man, he can really cook. I can’t wait to go back there for another party.’ ”

Next: Recipe for Slash and Grill Sea Bass

Slash and Grill Sea Bass

Serves 6 -8

What You Need Cedar boughs; handful fresh rosemary sprigs; handful fresh sage sprigs; handful fresh thyme sprigs; handful fresh oregano sprigs; butcher twine

• 2 fresh whole sea bass (approx. 2-2½ lb/0.9-1.125 kg each)

• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• 2 juicy lemons

• 6 tbsp (90 mL) white sugar

— Cut the cedar boughs into small sprigs about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in length, just a little bigger than the fresh herbs. Soak the cedar boughs and fresh herbs in a large bowl of ice water. This will freshen them up and let them absorb a little bit of extra moisture so they stay moist when grilling. Cut the butcher’s twine into eight 12-inch (30 cm) lengths and soak in the cold water with the fresh herbs. This will help keep the string from burning while on the grill.

— Take a sharp knife and slash the flesh on both sides of the fish every 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm), about ½ inch (1 cm) deep.

— Season the fish on all sides, inside and outside, with sea salt and black pepper.

— Lay a few sprigs of each herb as well as a sprig or two of cedar bough on both sides of the bass. Wrap it up and tie the cedar and herbs to the sea bass with 3 or 4 pieces of butcher twine. Ensure it is nice and tight. You don’t want to completely hide the fish with the herbs, as you want the hot grill flavor to get into the flesh. A sprig or two of each herb and cedar on both sides is plenty.

— Fire up your grill to 350-450 F (180-230 C).

— Cut the lemons in half across the middle. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the cut side of each lemon half. Set aside.

— Place the cedar and herb-wrapped sea bass onto the grill directly over the fire and grill for 10 to 15 minutes per side. Place the lemons, sugar-coated side down, and grill for 3 to 5 minutes or until the sugar caramelizes and burns a little. Set aside.

— While the sea bass is grilling, squeeze a little caramelized lemon juice over the fish. Fish is done when the flesh flakes easily with a fork. Remove from grill. Cut string and remove cedar herbs. Squeeze a little grilled lemon over top and serve immediately.


From Gastro Grilling: Fired-Up Recipes to Grill Great Everyday Meals by Ted Reader. Copyright ©Ted Reader, 2013. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Group (Canada), a Division of Pearson Canada Inc.