You’ve agreed to lay on a barbecue for over a hundred guests. You’ve had your head examined by a professional and had it confirmed that you only temporarily took leave of your senses. Now here you are, sane again and faced with making good on your commitment. Don’t worry. It’s all possible. Get some help; you can’t do it all so having a few people to buy the food, wash the plates, light the barbecues (yes, that’s plural), entertain the children, chop the salad, make the kebabs, bring some chairs, and chill your personal bottle of beer or wine will definitely make life easier.
Planning, Planning, Planning…
Like a great military campaign, it’s all about the planning; except that your average general just has to worry about how many soldiers to send to the second front, you’ve got to buy enough potato salad and sausages for a hundred people. Still, if you spend enough time on the planning then the actual day will be a breeze and you’ll actually be able to enjoy it yourself, instead of just making sure that everyone else does. So, in no particular order, consider this:
• You’ll need more than one barbecue to cook on. Your new, super-duper, gas/charcoal/smoke appliance just can’t cook enough for a hundred mouths. If you only have one, ask to borrow a couple more from a friend. Also, if you’ve got more than one barbecue, it’s going to help to have more than one cook so put your ego on hold and appoint a couple of deputies. Get plenty of fuel too; spare bags of charcoal, gas bottles, etc.
• If this event is to launch your new ‘it-can-cook-perfect-steaks-while-playing-the-national-anthem’ barbecue then test it beforehand. Have a small family get-together, a few friends round for dinner, anything. But do not, NOT use it for the first time in front of your 100 guests. Sod’s Law says there’ll be a hitch and you really don’t need that kind of pressure.
• Buy food, lots of food. How much? How about an entire supermarket meat counter. Seriously, when it’s self-service, people tend to take and eat more. Don’t allocate a burger per person and leave it at that because it won’t be enough. Buy plenty and buy early. Don’t do it on the morning of ‘The Day’, because (Sod’s Law again) there’ll be a meat drought and you’ll be driving all over the county looking for lamb chops. Besides if you’ve bought in advance then you can do all that fancy marinating the day before.
• Vegetarians: they’re not weird, they’re not being awkward, they just don’t eat meat; and given that in the UK about 3-5% of the population is vegetarian the chances are you’re going to be catering to a few. Now, you could just take the ‘let them eat salad’ approach, but you want this to be the barbecue of the century so why not be a bit more creative. It’s not difficult these days to find veggie burgers and sausages, and kebabs with pepper, mushroom and onion always go down well. Do something so tasty-looking that even the carnivores are asking for it (seared tofu in a barbecue marinade?) and you know you’ve cracked it. Just remember to cook it all on a separate barbecue; if the chef gets beef fat all over the falafels then they’re not really vegetarian any more, are they?
• Have plenty of other foods for people’s plates to complement the grilled stuff. If you’re feeling paranoid about running out of edibles, then as well as the fancy, delicate salads have some hefty, filling fare as well, such as potato salad, baked potatoes, coleslaw, and garlic bread.
• Think about where you will put everything. With so many people, you’ll have quite a queue when it’s serving up time. You could have a separate serving area (and one of your deputies doing the serving) rather than passing it to people straight off the grill. Also, have the side dishes and extras on a separate table so that people can browse/graze without slowing up the process. How does a self-service cafeteria do it? You need to adopt some of the same tactics; you’re catering in bulk here.
• Think about hygiene. Anybody cooking or serving food should have clean hands. Plates and utensils should be washed. Have separate areas and surfaces for raw and cooked foods. Yes, it can be fiddly and tiresome, but it’s better than giving half your guests salmonella.
• What about children? If there are going to be some then think about activities suitable to their ages. You don’t necessarily have to start hiring clowns, but if you can keep them occupied then they’ll be happier, which will make their parents happier. Also, if they’re not running amok, there’s less chance of them knocking the barbecue over and dumping red-hot coals onto your flip-flops.
• A couple more practical points. Chairs – do you have enough? If not, where can you borrow some? Likewise tables. Plates, cutlery and glassware – rather than risk the best china, why not buy disposable paper and plastic? You can recycle afterwards and there’s no washing up to do.
• Finally, think about the weather. Keep an eye on the forecast, by all means, but the UK summer being what it is, you need a contingency plan. Do you have enough indoor space for 100 people if it rains? If not, can you find a venue that does? For the same reason, when siting the barbecues and serving areas, you might want to have them under cover.
Having planned to within an inch of your life with your merry band of helpers, on the day itself you can cook, laugh, have fun and hopefully take time to watch everyone else enjoying the best barbecue they’ve ever been to.