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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.

-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.


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.

    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:


            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

                2. if you get the thin cut pork chops and marinate/brine them, grilling shouldn't be a huge problem [watch carefully! you don't want them to dry out]. Add in some grilled chicken, as someone else mentioned, or even burgers and sausage, and you'll be great.

                  because of the pork chops, i'd also think about making a big old batch of mac and cheese [goes with everything and will make the southern bday boy happy].

                  AND the day before the event, i'd fire up the grill and grill a huge pile of veggies - as someone else mentioned. All different colors of peppers, eggplant, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, you can serve them at room temp on a platter,

                  OR you can chop them all up, add some celery and carrots, capers, maybe olives, with a red wine vinaigrette for a sort of ratatouille salad.

                  dessert: chocolate fondue. keep it warm on the grill. lay out platters of fruit, marshmallows, cookies, cake, along with bowls [and maybe some whipped cream] and step away -

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jiffypop

                    Mmm, mac and cheese. I love it, and know everyone else would too. Bonus that I can have it all assembled and in the oven when people start arriving.

                    I love the idea of the cold/room temp grilled veggies as well. Thanks!

                  2. Cook the PC to a 135-140 internal, otherwise you got dry Chops.
                    Try marinated Flap Steak from Costco, marinate in Ken's Italian Dressing, add some Teriyaki to it marinate overnight.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: drsmoke

                      I love teriyaki beef on the grill. My mother used to make a Martha Stewart dish with marinated thinly sliced flank steak wrapped around a few slices of scallion and some red bell pepper. They are very tasty, and done on the grill in minutes.

                    2. Since i'm veg i have zero helpful advice about the pork chops.....but i do know people love eating food off of sticks.
                      Bbq kebobs are always fun- some with whatever meats/chicken and veg that takes longer like onions. If you use bamboo just be sure to soak them first! Or you can be fancy and use rosemary as the skewars (ideal if you have a ton of it in the garden like my parents' house).

                      Various sauces like chimichurri, a romesco, pesto, etc can let people customize.

                      A hearty make ahead salad like with chard and thin slided cabbage can be chopped and assembled the day before. This one is great but i would swap the dressing for a vinegrette instead of the tahini (which could be weird with mac and cheese!)

                      As an alternative to the ice cream cake mini brownies are always a hit (mini anything!) , and just take a shortcut with a box mix since most people prefer that over homemade according to ATK. Fresh berries on the side.
                      Or! Buy popscicle sticks and make frozen bananas- freeze the naked bananas on a stick, then dip in chocolate and roll in chopped nuts, or smear with a thin layer of pb and roll in mini choco chips/coconut/whatever. Actually a half of a banana would probably be fine after that meal.....
                      Or root beer floats are underrated IMO. Just get good root beer and vanilla frozen yogurt or coconut bliss or whatever is right for your group.
                      Great. Now i want one!!

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                        Thanks for all those lovely suggestions! No matter that you're a vegetarian. The kebabs are a wonderful idea. It might make it easier to get all the veggies on the grill in one go too. Maybe I could do some pork, some chicken and/or beef, and then separate kebabs of onions, bell peppers, I have a great yam kebab recipe, maybe baby potatoes, squash/zucchini, etc. Also corn on the cob on the grill.

                        For sides, maybe I don't need to do mac'n'cheese--just got excited since I love it so much. Maybe just a green salad and some bread.

                        If you recall, I mentioned this friend to you before (the bday boy) who "hates" veggies and I was going to try and get him to like them. I think grilled veg are sooo good, along with roasted. Maybe I'll get veg crazy and do all the aforementioned plus some roasted broccoli and cauli too. Plus a massaged kale salad to see if I can't convert him.

                        I was thinking for the bread to do some homemade baguettes which I can slice and set out for a DIY crostini type bar with some sauces like you mentioned plus the grilled veggies, maybe some cheeses. Or they can just eat the bread plain. I might also do a focaccia, I don't know.

                        As to the rosemary for the skewers--thanks for the tip, I do have approximately 15 rosemary bushes in my yard!

                        And your desserts sound wonderful, but I do want to do the ice cream cake since that's the bday boy's request and favorite flavor. I love to bake, so it's no bother. Alongside I will serve berries and something else to be decided (mostly for me, since I'm too lactose intolerant to do ice cream).

                        Thanks T, I'm starting to get a better idea for a cohesive menu!

                        1. re: nothingswrong

                          to add the ideas above - the romesco sauce and chimichurri are both great condiments that can go on all meats/fish/and vegetables -

                          Pork Chops and chicken can be marinated in soy and mustard - the flavor won't contradict the two sauces. or do rosemary, oregano, lemon zest and juice, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil. Works for steak too (Hanger steak is great on the grill).

                          I have lately be turning grilled vegetables into a Panzanella salad - chopped into large pieces and tossed with large home made croutons and light vinaigrette - people love the textures of the bread and veg together.

                          Also, a grilled corn salad is sometimes easier for a party - cut it off the cob after grilling (I actually just use frozen corn sometimes and skip the grilling) - mix with halved grape tomatoes, shredded radish, basil or other herb - make an herb vinaigrette - sometimes I grill tomatillos and made dressing out of that w/ lots of cilantro (then don't add basil to the salad) - sometimes I use basil, balsamic, honey, salt, pepper, garlic, etc....

                          and/or a pasta salad with pesto dressing - mix home made or store bought pesto with either vinegar and oil or a little mayo - toss with pasta and tomatoes, mozzarella and blanched string beans. Happy to share better recipes if you wish.

                          1. re: harryharry

                            Great! I'm really leaning towards getting a few different types of meat for the grill, marinating in something basic like you said, then serving it all up with the romesco, chimichurri, and maybe even BBQ sauce.

                            I love grilled/pan-fried/roasted corn salads. Easier to eat than corn on the cob, especially since this won't be a sit-down dinner. Yours looks lovely.

                            My bf loves a pasta salad I make with chopped cured meats, cheeses, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, olives, basil, and a vinaigrette. Maybe I will do that as another side, with or without the meat. Bonus is it's better when prepped ahead.

                            Panzanella sounds lovely but I will probably just serve the bread by itself. Not sure I have much of a tomato loving crowd coming.

                            Thanks for all the suggestions!

                            1. re: nothingswrong

                              II like pork chops marinated in an orange juice, light habanero marinade with achiote.

                              1. re: rudeboy

                                That sounds delicious. I'm thinking I should ask the bday boy what he even meant by "I want pork chops." He is a SUPER picky eater--more so than almost anyone I know--yet he can't articulate why or what he doesn't like specifically. It's frustrating. A few years back, he requested a 3 tiered bday cake and we must have had 18 conversations about exactly how he wanted it--the crumb, flavors, frostings, garnishes, etc. In the end I baked this monstrosity according to his exact specifications. Come the big day, he said "It wasn't what I expected but it's okay." The cake was eaten with no complaints by others, but it was frustrating not to have him enjoy it. Similarly, he requested a cheesecake last year, and said "I want it just like my mom used to make." I said "Well how do I know what THAT means?" He couldn't tell me if it was a dense or light cake, very cheesy or sweet or a graham cracker crust, etc. He ate the cake I presented him with, but again said "It wasn't what I was expecting."

                                I'll enjoy seeing his reaction to my bf grilling up his chops. I doubt he'll make such a comment.

                                1. re: nothingswrong

                                  Wow..to be Southern he sure didn't get the manners!!!

                          2. re: nothingswrong

                            If you haven't used the rosemary for skewars before this astonishingly attractive british guy shows how to make them (i would also soak for an hour)

                            And grilled veggies are a great way to convert veggie haters! Kale chips also have that effect. I love a massaged kale salad but if your group is anti salad looking things in general it could be a hard sell. (Whatever! Leftovers keep well
                            )Sounds like a great party :)

                            1. re: Ttrockwood

                              I've done the rosemary skewers before, albeit many many years ago while helping mom in the kitchen. We did chicken kebabs on them.

                              I just got a not-to-be-named cooking magazine in the mail today and there was a pullout section with different rubs, marinades, and sauces for pork, beef, chicken, and lamb. Given how clueless I am regarding meat (due to most of my life being spent as a vegetarian/vegan), I found it really interesting.

                              As to the kale, my bf is starting a regimented diet tomorrow and he picked up about $220 of stuff from Whole Foods today. Including several bunches of kale and other greens. I spent all afternoon cleaning and prepping his fruits and veggies and he'll be going to work tomorrow with a massaged kale Caesar-ish salad to eat with his sandwich. We'll see what he thinks!

                        2. Can't go wrong with chicken wing sections or scewerd shrimp.

                          1. Okay I think I have a menu planned.

                            It was brought to my attention today that 2 guests are gluten free.


                            -Grilled marinated chicken breasts
                            -Grilled brined and rubbed pork chops
                            -Grilled beef of some sort
                            -On the side: Chimichurri, romesco, homemade BBQ sauce for serving


                            -Grilled veggies (zucchini, squash, bell peppers, asparagus)
                            -Corn and tomato salad (probably with cheese, basil, and a vinegar based dressing)
                            -Roasted red/yellow/blue baby potatoes
                            -Freshly baked bread/focaccia
                            -Green salad


                            -The bday boy's cookies'n'cream ice cream cake
                            -Pound cake/angel food cake with berries
                            -Gluten free chocolate brownie cookies (made with almond flour--these will work for another guest too, who is low carb)


                            No one coming drinks alcohol, so we'll have fresh lemonade, sodas, sparkling water. Espresso for anyone who wants it.

                            This is a lot of food for what's looking like 10 people, but I think it will be fine. I have a feeling there may be a few stragglers coming in late, or unannounced spouses. It looks like everything will be gluten free, aside from the bread and cakes. So everyone should have plenty to eat and it all will be nice and healthy and fresh.

                            Thanks all for your help. I know this isn't a crazy menu but I always have a hard time putting one together. Any last minute suggestions still appreciated :)

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: nothingswrong

                              Your menu sounds delicious and I really want some of that corn salad now :)

                              A word of caution: I don't know how sensitive your gluten-free friends are (aka, whether they are celiac or just following dietary trends) but be careful with your marinade ingredients for the meat. Most soy sauce contains wheat, so you will need gluten-free tamari. Some mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and other condiments are not gluten free. Look for gluten-free on the labels.

                              1. re: jennymoon

                                Great, thank you. I will check ahead of time. I grew up with a brother with horrendous deathly food allergies so I am very careful with cross-contaminating. I take it they aren't actually celiac, as I used to spend time with the male of the couple and he would eat pizza and burgers. Maybe his new wife is celiac and he does it to make things easy, or maybe they're just doing it for the trend, but either way I'll be careful!

                            2. Ideas Mains
                              BBQ Chicken
                              Steak Kabobs

                              Sides and veggies
                              Grilled Corn with a lime butter is a favorite of mine
                              Potato Salad
                              Cole Slaw
                              Mac & Cheese
                              Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers
                              Grilled Asparagus
                              Grilled mushrooms
                              Side Salad with a choice of several dressings

                              1. I also have a BBQ coming up (45 guests!!! aarrrggghh!!!) and our menu is:

                                Grilled Salmon
                                Bacon & Bleu Cheese Sliders
                                Carnitas with a homemade tomatillo salsa verde (I'm going with the crock pot on the pork shoulder. Saves room, doesn't create excess heat, and it's so darn tender!)
                                Classic BBQ chicken quarters - grilled

                                As for sides, think fresh and light! I'm going to serve a nice melon salad and I have an idea for a zucchini hummus that I'm really excited about! (I'll post the recipe if it turns out like I think it will.)

                                Another nice touch is to fry up your own pita/tortilla chips. It's a cheaper option and they're so delicious and crispy!

                                Good luck with your BBQ!

                                1. I realize you requested nothing ethnic, except Italian influenced, but the Mexican grilled corn "elote" is easily Italianized by substituting the Mexican cheese for freshly grated parmesan. Pretty much everybody loves this and it is very easy to make.