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Planning a BBQ for a crowd. Need help please

I'm starting to plan a BBQ to celebrate birthdays for my (soon-to-be) 18 y.o. and our (soon-to-be) 60 y.o. next door neighbor who share the same birthday. Our immediate neighbors get together for every 'summer' holiday. Each 'house' brings a side or dessert to share, and their own 'main' to grill for their family.

As there are two big birthdays for Labor Day, I would like to break tradition and plan something a little more organized, and do the 'main' myself, and most sides.

My neighbors are very simple people. I thought my Thai Noodle salad that I brought to the 4th celebration wouldn't go over well...even though it was met with approval. I was thinking of a mexican spread. Grilled chicken and beef soft tacos for the main. But I'm open to other possibilities.

What would you do, Hounds?

Thanks for your help!

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  1. A make-your-own fajita bar would be nice - grilled skirt steak or sirloin tip grilled and sliced, grilled chicken sliced, and a variety of toppings. Tortillas, guacamole, salsa, a corn and black bean relish, sauteed peppers and onions, sour cream and cheese - people can be as tame or adventurous as they want. Much can be done ahead, it's fun and looks good. You can add summer vegetables like corn and squash and tomatoes, and cornbread. Even my pickiest eater guests like this - if you think there are going to vegetarians you can marinate and grill some firm tofu and slice it like the chicken.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sheiladeedee

      This is exactly what I was thinking as I read the initial post. Any time you can make something and walk away for the rest of the night. It's great.
      My only other suggestion is. A number of years ago friends had a NYE party and had DIY kabobs. They made a few different varieties and condiments. They set them all on the table and lit the grill (gas). You pick out what you want. You cook your food, you do it up like you like. It was great and they were free to enjoy their own party. We ate all night. Fantastic.


      1. re: sheiladeedee

        you could also do some marinated portobello's as a vegetarian option.
        on the side you could do a great mexican salad. Also, to have around as people arrive- chips & homemade salas (maybe typical tomato as well as peach/mango).

      2. Lat party we had, 25 people and 21 dogs-- we did the burger, hot dog thing, but what realy stole the show was a huge dish of homemade basic Mac'n Cheese with a panko crumb crust!

        1. Will Owen's Kalua Roast Pork, torn and put onto buns and topped with Sweet Baby Ray's Hickory BBQ sauce--great for CHs and non-CHs alike!

          1. Doing everything in advance is a great idea....I would keep anything like chicken, beef, pork, in a chaffing dish if you have one. Alternatively, rent one.

            This will keep the food hot AND prevent any nasty bacteria growing and getting your guests sick. I the hot summer weather food poisoning causing bacteria will grow at a surprising rate!


            1. Thanks Hounds!
              These are all fantastic ideas. I had not considered the pulled pork or kebobs. Those are all great. Plus, I can even do all veggie kebobs for the non-meat eaters.

              Love the idea of the portobellos too...and the tofu? Wow.

              Thanks for all the help.

              1. This past weekend I just finished a huge (well huge for me) BBQ party for 25 people including kids. I made a mexican spread almost exactly like what you're thinking of doing. It was perfect for the various different diets I had to deal with: lowfat, lowcarb, kid-friendly, adventurous/simple, spicy/non-spicy.

                I went to a latino market and bought pre-marinaded skirt steak (labelled Arrachera Preparada, $4.99/lb) and pre-marinaded BS chicken thighs (labelled Pollo Fajitas, $1.99/lb). Hubby grilled and I cut into slices before serving. The beef was good, but the chicken was out of this world flavorful and at those prices, the same as non-marinaded meat.

                We wrapped corn tortillas in foil (3 per foil packet) before the party, and warmed the packets at 400 degrees while the meats were grilling.

                The side dishes/condiments were a huge effort for me, and I even took lots of shortcuts. I'm slow in general so if you're quick in the kitchen it probably is really easy. I made/prepped almost everything ahead of time but just reheating and serving had me running around quite a bit.

                My made from scratch items were a Spanish Rice (though I added some bottled salsa) and a Corn Salad with fresh-cut kernels in a citrus-cumin-chile-EVOO dressing that is always a huge hit with my friends but is quite labor intensive.

                I had a huge long list of all of the dishes so that I wouldn't forget anything. The rest of the list were:

                De-seeded and chopped tomatoes from the farmers market
                Minced onions and cilantro
                3 kinds of salsas: mild, medium, and verde (jarred)
                Guac (the plastic packets from Costco), doctored with some lime juice & cilantro
                Jalapenos & Carrots En Escabeche (canned)
                Just Carrots En Escabeche, for the heat-wimps (bought from the meat counter at the same latino market)
                Grated cheddar cheese
                Mexican beans (that's what it's called on the can, Safeway brand), drained reheated & served in my claypot to look homemade

                Oh, and for the appetizers I had:
                Veggie Crudites (bagged baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and baby zucchini from Trader Joes) and wheat crackers with 2 dips from a jar
                Chicken Taquitos from the Costco frozen aisle, reheated for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, served with salsas and packaged guac
                Bowls of cherries and Chandler strawberries

                1. Omigosh Alice! You're the bomb!
                  What a fantastic post. Thank you so much.
                  I was hoping that someone would lead me by the hand, and YOU DID IT!
                  The appies were something that I'd thought about, but hadn't wanted to consider. Thank you for taking that off my head.

                  I think your menu will be PERRFECT for my neighbors. I'm going to print it out, and keep it so I'll have on my fridge.

                  The only dish I'll add from yours, is a birthday cake!

                  Thanks again for your awesome response.

                  1. so interesting to read these responses! makes me realize there's a bit of a regional difference in terminology -- it was confusing to me to read these comments, many about Mexican cuisine, because I kept thinking, "Where the barbecue??" Where I live, (Oklahoma) barbecue is a type of food, i.e, barbecue brisket, ribs, sausage, chicken, bologna, etc., usually served with baked beans, cole slaw, corn on the cob, pickles, onions, and some kind of bread...if you're talking about barbecue for a crowd, you're going to be wondering how many slabs of ribs to cook or how big a brisket! Burgers, hotdogs, steaks, Mexican food, etc., would never be called barbecue around here! I think what these posts are referring to is what we would call grilling or "cooking out" -- just interesting to me how in different parts of the country we call it different things!! whatever you wanna call it, it all sounds good to me!!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: tulsakeys

                      I agree with you, tulsakeys. I have found that many, many people call "grilling" barbequeing. I don't understand why, when it is clearly not barbequeing, but grilling.

                      1. re: Wtg2Retire

                        well here (in Canada) if you're cooking it on a grill (barbeque), then it is a barbeque. we're not wrong, we just have different terminology than you. when i lived in southern africa, it was braai: which the dictionary says means barbequeing, or grilling. so obviously these words are interchangeable in many regions of the world.

                        1. re: chowdownbaby

                          I went to a "barbecue" restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh. That was just grilled meat, but me and my patrons loved it. I showed them a photo of my smoker here in TX. It's fun to compare geographic differences. I would have loved to smoke a 15 hour brisket for them to gauge their response.

                          1. re: rudeboy

                            I'm a New Yorker, and I grill about 5 months out of the year. For me, barbecuing means grilling, and vice verse. That said, a bbq party is not a party without ribs. I'm having 25 people over this weekend (including kids under 10 years old) and will be grilling chicken, skirt steak, and baby back ribs (I actually bake them and then finish them on the grill). I'm intrigued by the fajita table, as that would be pretty cool. We do this every summer and usually just put out the meat (marinated and seasoned of course) and a bunch of salads and sides. Thanks for all the good ideas.

                    2. How about a big pot of Boston baked beans?http://allrecipes.com/recipe/boston-b...
                      I'd tweak' the recipe though. Smoked pork jowl cubes that have been sauteed instead of bacon. Sweet onions. Grainy mustard. Squeeze of anchovy paste. And lots of large pieces of pre-browned knockwurst sausages.

                      1. My go-to side dish for BBQ is a dish of cannellini beans. Rinse the beans from the cans in a colander, then immerse in pork broth (better than bouillon is what I normally use), and then add cumin and paprika. It always goes over well for me. It's funny that some of my simpler dishes get good marks.

                        1. I always get the most punch in slow cooking/smoking a couple boston butts. I prefer to do mine in a Puerto Rican style called Pernil, but I have also done them in a BBQ sauce style, and teriyaki style. Large piece of meat for low price. Not too much work. Many ways to serve it.

                          Pulled pork
                          Sliced pork
                          pork tacos/fajitas

                          I have cooked this in my oven and my smoker. Both are good. This is what I would do for a large crowd.