Guide to a Pre-portioned BBQ Party

Barbecuing is already the quintessential summer activity. So as restrictions begin to ease, what better open air, socially distanced way to see our friends again than an all-out backyard barbeque?!

But, our classic BBQ recipes – with big shared bowls of potato salad and the dip no one can resist a second dunk of – don’t seem very Covid conscious.

Well crud, the usual crudités are out, so now what?

Admittedly, you can make your usual giant pan of brownies (because yum) or your famous guacamole and then dish out individual portions. I found lots of recipes that serve up bite-sized portions on lettuce leaves, crackers, even potato salad inside another tiny potato (I didn’t even know you could do that!). However, all of this re-portioning is finicky and I’m not about that life.

Instead, for my summer BBQs, I’m opting for things already personally portioned. There’s none of this going back to divvy things up, or repurposing upside down muffin tins to try to make parmesan cheese cups or something (which sound incredible!) Props to you if you want to go through that process, but that’s too tedious for me. 

I’ll lay out my top picks, so whatever you’ve volunteered (or been voluntold) to bring, you’ve got options.

Salad

I don’t want to bash salad too hard; there are many enjoyable salads – taco salad for instance. Also, potato salad, pasta salad, I love me a good corn and black bean salad. A bowl of lettuce and loosely chopped veggies though? I’m not into it. I digress.

What does work for me?

Salad Rolls – luscious rice paper wrapped delicacies filled with vermicelli, fresh herbs, pickled veggies and BBQ pork, chicken, shrimp, or tofu.

These are a summer staple in my home. Be warned that if you opt to make them yourself, rice paper wraps are delicate and can be difficult to work with. They’re always tasty but often mine aren’t what you’d call pretty. You may want to try out a few before making a batch to present to the family.

Or!

Downtown Winnipeg is home to some outstanding Vietnamese restaurants. Call ahead and order enough for the whole crew! Pick them up on your way over, and arrive at your party as a hero.

Sides

Sure, proteins are the star of the show, but what would they be without the support of some stellar side dishes? I suggest:

Devilled Eggs – If there was ever a time for the return of this devillishy delectable appetizer it’s now. Half a hard-boiled egg filled with creamy, seasoned yolk is a tantalizing, two bite snack. I’ll admit I’ve not made these myself. But, as someone who very much wants to eat these, I strongly encourage this choice.

If that isn’t your style, how about…

Bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers – These I have made, and they’re legendary (or maybe legen-DAIRY! Spoiler, they’re filled with cheese). To make these:

  1. Gut your jalapenos.
    1. I recommend wearing disposable gloves for this. Cut them in half and remove the pith (white bit) and seeds to reduce the worst of the heat.
    1. If you’re really spice intolerant (like me) you can place the de-seeded peppers in boiling water for a few minutes to mellow them out.
  2. Fill them with a combination of your favorite cheeses.
    1. I recommend mixing shreds of a strong flavoured cheese like a smoked gouda or fresh parmesan up with some cream cheese, salt, and pepper for a scoopable cheesy filling.
  3. Wrap the filled jalapeno halves with a strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick.
    1. You still want it to be pliable enough to wrap, but I recommend partially cooking the bacon first to cut down on finishing time later.
  4. Bake in the oven or set on the grill until the bacon is fully cooked and voilà! You can’t go wrong with bacon and cheese.

If you don’t have the time or the gumption for all that work, here are some simpler and just as appetizing appetizers:

Corn on the cob – This straightforward and classic BBQ staple is great on its own or can be jazzed up a ton of different ways. Try adding ingredients like lime juice and sweet chili sauce, or ranch and cheddar.

Grilled Pineapple – Slice off rounds of this hearty fruit and throw them on the grill. When you take them off, finish with a sprinkle of cinnamon for a side that’s as delicious as it is easy.

Mains

You can expect to see the regulars at BBQs this summer – hot dogs, burgers, steak, and chicken. But if you want to avoid the usual burger assembly with shared condiments and a pile of communal lettuce, may I suggest:

Stuffed Peppers – robust self-contained meals that need no accoutrement. Traditionally they’re filled with a mixture of ground beef, rice, and tomato sauce, then topped with cheese.

Don’t let that limit you though – you can pack these bad boys with whatever you want. I did a combination of pulled pork, mushrooms, and rice last week and they were amazing!

The key when grilling these is to make sure that the filling isn’t runny so it doesn’t all pour out when you tip it on its side. I recommend cooking these for a bit in a pan or on the cool side of the grill to soften the peppers, and then finishing them off over the flames for those ever-appealing grill lines.

Desserts

It was so hard not to focus this whole thing on desserts. I recognize that people like to eat other things too, but why bother when you could just have dessert?!

If you’re a baker, cakes and pies can be scaled down to cupcakes or tarts. I really like the idea of having a whole (albeit tiny) pie all to myself! Everyone loves a cupcake, and I’ve got a foolproof recipe to please any crowd. For a ridiculously simple and customizable cupcake:

  • Take a box of white cake mix and ignoring the additional ingredients it calls for, combine it with any 355 ml can of soda you like to make the batter.
  • Then, dish the batter into your pans and bake according to the box instructions for a soft, fluffy, and soda flavored cake.

I made a batch of root beer float cupcakes this way and topped them with homemade swiss meringue buttercream frosting (which held up impeccably in the heat!). Don’t worry, a can of your favorite store bought frosting will work just as well.

For something a little lighter, Pinterest inspired an ice cream cone fruit salad which is (as you might expect) an ice cream cone filled with whatever fruits and berries you like. Top them with a little of Mama Dawn’s Famous Fruit Dip. It’s a quick recipe:

  • Take a 250 ml container of sour cream and stir in 2 tablespoons of brown sugar until completely combined.
  • Taste and add additional sugar if desired.

Of course, Downtown Winnipeg hosts a plethora of fantastic bakeries and confectionery shops where you can pick up a stunning contribution to the party with none of that extra effort.

And there is one more very important food category that has not been addressed yet:

Anything on a stick!

Kebabs are the ultimate individual BBQ food, and if you can put it on a stick, it can be kebab’d. They’re perfect for an appetizer, main dish or even dessert.

Combine sausage, steak, shrimp, or chicken with your favourite veggies – tomatoes, pineapple, onion, peppers, etc. – and you have yourself a killer kebab!

My favourite combination has to be the Manitoba kebab, complete with Farmer sausage and mini perogies.

For something more refreshing, try a kebab with watermelon and some cubed feta cheese. Or, you can load up some marshmallows and chocolate for a s’more stick.

Get creative! When it comes to kebabs, the skewer’s the limit!

I hope this helps to inspire some great barbeque grub! With individual options for everyone, you can focus less on shared cutlery and more on shared conversations. Happy barbequing!

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