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HELP me plan a BBQ/party menu

Hi all, I need help planning a cohesive dinner menu for the end of the month. We will be celebrating one friend's birthday and another's graduation from grad school. I'll be in the kitchen and my bf can man the grill, so we are open to anything.

Stipulations:
-The birthday boy wants pork chops.
-Some people coming don't eat pork, so another main dish (or 2) will be required.
-There will be between 7-10 people coming.
-No alcohol to drink or cook with.
-No ethnically themed dinner menu (Indian, Chinese, Mexican, etc.) since tastes vary so much in this group, though a general Italian theme would be okay.

Aside from that, everyone coming eats meat, dairy, gluten, etc., no allergies that I know of.

The birthday boy has requested a cookies & cream ice cream cake, but I'll need to make something else as well that's lighter on the dairy.

Thanks!

ETA: Any advice/recipes/marinades/tips on the pork chops will be VERY WELCOME. The bf and I just had this convo yesterday: neither of us has ever cooked one, as our parents never served them to us growing up. Go figure that's what the bday boy wants!

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  1. Does he want grilled pork chops? 'Cause goodness knows, they're not easy. SE has a comprehensive how-to on the topic you may want to look over: http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/06/ho...

    My parents used to incinerate them in the kitchen broiler, and we added ketchup to make them palatable. So, I was very happy that I just learned to do Kenji's reverse sear (described in detail as well on SE) that he originally developed for steaks, then modified for thick pork chops, so that's another, and perhaps safer route.
    http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/03/th...

    7 Replies
    1. re: mcsheridan

      He didn't say if he wants them grilled. I'm perfectly happy doing them in the oven or in a pan, or however else will yield decent results. I'll check out those links; I know pork chops are notoriously difficult to cook well.

      1. re: nothingswrong

        I really liked the results with reverse sear, btw.

      2. re: mcsheridan

        Did you do the overnight dry brine as well?

        1. re: EM23

          Absolutely. Make sure to adjust the amount of dry brine ingredients if your chop is not as thick as the size called for. I used a Berkshire rib chop and dry brined almost 20 hours.

          I took the chop up to 120 degrees in the oven, finished it in the skillet, but as I failed to take the different chop thickness into account, and my smoke detector kicked in (resulting in interrupted cooking while I did a mad dash to stop the cacophony), the results were a bit saltier than I'd like (my fault), and while still moist, a bit more past medium than I'd wanted (my fault + too-efficient smoke-detecting technology).

          I will make this again, but next time, I'll reduce the amount of dry brine (both quantity & time), and pull it at 110. To forestall technology, I'll open the doors in advance. :)

          Love the color! I grew up on shoe-leather broiled chops, and when I learned to cook, got them pan-cooked to a nice doneness but with anemic-looking exterior.

          1. re: mcsheridan

            Thanks! Much appreciated. Will try this method next. I always seem to forget that brined meats cook more quickly and it's such a bummer when that happens.

        2. re: mcsheridan

          This is America's Test Kitchen's recipe for moist thin pork chops on the grill. Its fail safe.

          pork chops are great on the grill, just make sure you use this topping to assist in browning thinner chops. http://www.createtv.com/CreateProgram...

          I promise you that you will NOT taste the anchovy, but its vitally important to this recipe to assist in the umami. Also make sure you cut the fat in 1/2" increments to keep the chops from curling. Go ahead and use cheap thinner ones, they are quick and taste great.

        3. Is it a formal dinner or a casual BBQ?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Springhaze2

            Casual. People will be plopped on the new sectional, or on patio furniture outside.

          2. With the warning that I'm not known for putting together amazing menus, I'll say that the grill makes life so much easier. How about marinating some chicken and grilling it? Then you can also grill some vegetables. Grilled eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers make a great combination. A couple of big loaves of crusty bread and some olive oil for dipping it, a tossed green salad and your dinner is all set. A selection of olives and a couple good cheeses to start would be nice. Dessert, hmm, at that point I'd put out some fresh fruit, or maybe some macerated strawberries and pound cake (or angel food cake if you really need to go light on the dairy).

            Not grilled, but the showstopper vegetable side I've made is this whole roasted head of cauliflower:

            http://food52.com/blog/8524-alon-shay...

            although I skip the whipped goat cheese sauce.

            My husband is great with pork chops. He frequently dredges them in a flour/seasoning mix (we are slack and use Montreal Seasoning) and saut├ęs them in a cast iron pan.

            1. To enjoy your party [it's yours, too!] a fair rule of thumb is that at least half of your items be prepared well before the party.
              For an outdoor BBQ, those items could be a leafy greens salad, a chilled Tabouleh/ egg/ potato salad, and the desserts.

              For pork chops -- instead of grilling them, maybe a slow baked pork chops in gravy? Great on mashed potatoes or with rice.
              And it's an easy thing to scale, so you could make 2 sometime this week as a trial run for you and the bf!

              2 Replies
              1. re: Kris in Beijing

                Thanks for the suggestions! I talked this over with the bf, and he's just as nervous as I am about the pork. I think the bday boy would love something like pork chops in gravy, as he's southern with pretty "all-American" taste buds. Mashed/roasted potatoes, rice, noodles, bread are all things I know he likes. He is one of the only people I've ever met who will not touch a vegetable or anything green, including fresh herbs.

                And thanks for the reminder about prepping in advance. Last year's BBQ around this same time was super hectic, what with many dishes needing last-minute oven space and attention. While I still enjoyed the rest of the party, there was a good 30 minutes of pure sweaty chaos!

                1. re: nothingswrong

                  honestly i almost exclusively cook pork chops on the grill, they are great and quick.

              2. I love grilled corn on the cob. I think watermelon is a necessity at a BBQ. Maybe you could serve pound or angel food cake with fruit for a lighter dessert. I'd be very tempted to serve make-your-own s'mores.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Tara57

                  Yes, grilled corn is incredible. If I can find some locally, I'll definitely do that.

                  I like the serve-your-own s'mores but have a feeling I should do a non-chocolate dessert, as most people will probably be overloaded with the ice cream cake. Maybe a pound cake or angel food with berries, as you suggested. Thanks