You will have to forgive my triple-A-type personality, and possibly hold back some laughter. Because I totally made you a Summer Barbecue Menu Matrix. Whaaaaaaaat? I know—so weird.
But before y’all go taunting me on Twitter and stuff, let me explain.
Summer barbecues are my fave. The best way to entertain friends and family, in my experience, because even if the food is just ok, you are sitting out in the sun or under the stars with your feet in the grass and a drink in your hand. And what could be better than that?
With lots of summer barbecues on our immediate horizon, I wanted to be prepared with some interesting menu ideas, lest I fall into the steak/baked potato/salad rut. And hey let me be clear, there is nothing wrong at all with steak, baked potatoes and salad. I happen to love all three on their own and in combination with one another, and if you invite me over for steak, baked potatoes and salad, I will be ecstatic and thankful beyond measure. But you see, I have a food blog, and when people come over for summer barbecues at my place, I feel a decent amount of pressure to…um…perform.
As it happens I also have two young kids, and a major thing for lengthy weekend naps, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for hemming and hawing over the weekend’s menu, or for prepping overly complex meals.
Enter “the matrix”. (I would make some sort of Keanu/Matrix reference here, except that I don’t think I’ve ever managed to get through it—or any of its successors—without dozing off at some point. I know, I know…).
The Summer Barbecue Menu Matrix (or SBMM, to friends) is really just a list of seasonally-appropriate dishes grouped into four categories: appies/snacks, mains, sides/salads and desserts. When I am planning a summer meal, I simply choose one item from each of the appies, mains and desserts category, and two from the sides category, and voila—my meal planning is complete! It’s not quite rocket science, but it has eliminated the hours that I might otherwise spend scanning food blogs and scouring cookbooks.
A few points of explanation for those who plan to use the SBMM (and I encourage you to do so!!): First, most of the items in the SBMM come with a linked recipe, but not all. Some are just basic things that don’t require a recipe (e.g. bread and butter), and some are things for which the “recipe” is just in my head (in which case I’ve provided it to you in short-hand). Second, I have made about 98% of the recipes listed in the SBMM, and can vouch for their fabulousness. The remaining 2% is made up of recipes I’ve been meaning to try. That being said, I think I have a decent eye for recipes that work (if I do say so myself) and a certain amount of trust in the source from which these recipes come. So I say it’s safe to try them. Even for a dinner party.
I would LOVE to hear about your tried, tested and true summer party recipes, including awesome drinks (which are notably absent from my list!), so that I can expand the matrix. Add your recipe/link in the comments below this post.
And now, without further ado—the Summer Barbecue Meal Matrix:
Appetizers and Snacks
- Tomato crostini with whipped feta
- A nice cheese platter
- Good taco chips with pomegranate guacamole
- Caprese salad skewers with balsamic drizzle
- Store-bought spiced nuts, olives, crackers, goat cheese or black pepper boursin and fig jam
- Homemade popcorn tossed with olive oil and sea salt (or truffle salt or smoked salt if you want to get really fancy!)
- Crackers or pita chips with rosemary white bean dip (this dip is delicious; I omit the almonds, and mash everything together instead of processing it in the food processor).
- Mustard-marinated grilled flank steak (definitely marinate it overnight in a Ziploc bag if you can)
- The BEST marinated grilled flank steak (again, definitely marinate it overnight if possible)
- Grilled Korean chicken thighs
- Ode-to-Ontario grilled pork tenderloin
- Grilled portobello burger with sun-dried tomato, kale-hemp pesto (page 23 of the linked excerpt)
- Grilled salmon or trout with umami relish* (Brush olive oil on the skin-side of two salmon or rainbow trout filets; grill skin-side down until almost cooked through and then brush with a relish made from 1/4 freshly grated parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon tomato paste or ketchup, 2 teaspoons finely chopped anchovies, 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Close the lid of the grill and cook for a few more minutes.)
- Grilled fish tacos
- Vij’s tamarind and yogurt marinated grilled chicken thighs
- Kale Salad with Apple, Avocado, Parmesan & Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Green beans gremolata
- Baby arugula salad with shaved parmesan, toasted pine nuts, roasted cherry tomatoes and french vinaigrette
- Asian napa cabbage slaw
- Wild rice salad
- Barefoot Contessa potato salad
- Kale and Brussels sprouts salad with tahini maple dressing (note: in a pinch, Costco sells an excellent bagged kale and brussels sprouts slaw, which works really well with this tahini maple dressing)
- Green rice (goes great with the fish tacos and the tamarind chicken thighs)
- Roasted asparagus (toss asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until tender-crisp; serve warm or at room temperature)
- Boiled new potatoes tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and lots of chopped fresh herbs (tarragon, parsley and chives are a great start)
- Steamed green beans tossed with butter, salt, freshly ground pepper and chopped fresh tarragon
- Grilled or boiled corn on the cob
- Nice loaf of bread or baguette with good salted butter or a store-bought olive tapenade
- Store-bought cake, pie or tart (I often find the most awesome pies at our local farmers’ markets)
- Mini peach crisps
- Strawberry rhubarb crumble squares
- Strawberry shortcake, assembled from store-bought angel food cake, slice fresh strawberries and sweetened whipped cream
- Red, white and blue trifle (note this is delicious and impressive, but a little bit time-consuming)
- Salted caramel brownies
- Ice cream cones and sliced watermelon
*This recipe is adapted from the Early Summer 2014 edition of the LCBO’s Food & Drink magazine.