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Party Around the Barbecue

Everyone loves an outdoor party. It’s casual. Relaxed. And that sizzle of food on the grill—it’s intoxicating. Anything that smells that good will be pure pleasure to eat.

One of the easiest ways to entertain outdoors is centering your party on grilled kabobs. When you provide the goodies and everyone pitches in, “it takes the pressure off the host,” says Dave Nigro, service meat manager at Hy-Vee in Lawrence, Kansas, who entertains regularly in his backyard.

Dave suggests offering guests a selection of meats and vegetables to create short skewers of appetizer portions or long threads of veggies and meat (or no meat at all) for a full meal. Chicken and mushrooms? Beef and potatoes? Each kabob is a personal concoction as friends skewer only what they choose. For convenience in hosting a cookout, purchase ready-to-cook skewers from your Hy-Vee full-service meat department. Dave's customers enjoy onion-marinated beef sirloin kabobs. Another store favorite is chicken and veggies infused with basil-tomato flavors.

Don’t forget dessert. Skewers of fruit and cake along with a decadent chocolate dipping sauce let everyone get their kabob on. Or indulge in Dave’s favorite: grilled pineapple with ice cream.

Gather Some Skewers

Both wooden and metal skewers in assorted lengths work well for kabobs. Ten-inch bamboo skewers are best for appetizer portions, and long metal skewers ranging in length from 12 to 16 inches can be threaded with meal-size portions. Plan on two or three skewers per guest. Dave recommends soaking bamboo skewers in cold water for 60 minutes before grilling to prevent burning.

Just-Right Grilling

Grilling kabobs works best if you cut all your food items to a similar size. This way they'll cook evenly. Also, avoid overcooking. For instance, meats and cherry tomatoes are best on separate skewers because their cooking times are so different. Always keep enough fuel—gas or briquettes—on hand.

After spraying the grill grates with nonstick cooking spray, fire up the grill to medium-high heat. Cook the kabobs over direct heat on an uncovered grill about 10 minutes, rotating often during cooking. If meat and veggies are paired on the same skewer, remind your kabob chefs to err on the side of overcooking the veggies to make sure the meat and poultry are cooked through.

Veggies Add Color and Taste

Offer a colorful array of sturdy vegetables, says Dave Nigro. Precook firmer vegetables in a microwave before skewering and grilling. Cut all vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Pick from the following favorites, recommended by Dave:

Fresh Vegetables - No precooking required:

  • Sweet bell peppers, cut into chunky strips
  • Red onions, cut into thin wedges (precook if desired)
  • Whole pearl onions
  • Asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces (choose thicker stalks)
  • Yellow summer squash or zucchini, sliced into 1-inch rounds (skewer through  the skin)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Whole button mushrooms (skewer through the stem)

Fresh Vegetables - Precook 2 to 3 minutes in the microwave oven before skewering:

  • Fennel, cut into thin wedges
  • New red potatoes, whole or cut in half
  • Fingerling potatoes, whole or halved
  • Baby carrots
  • Broccoli florets
  • Cauliflower florets

6 Party Ideas in 60 Minutes

Get the party going in a hurry with these ideas. Total time commitment is about 60 minutes.

Prep food ahead. Up to a day ahead, cut up the kabob fixings and chill them in separate containers until guests start skewering. For marinades, choose from these:

Simply Tangy Marinade
Versatile Marinade/Brush-on for Meats and Veggies
Quick Glaze to Brush on During Cooking

Designate food stations. Put out skewers at kabob stations. Post suggestions for mixing different foods. Set up a buffet line with dinner plates, flatware and a spot for Baking Stone Bread.

Make “green” a theme. Instead of paper or plastic plates, use your durable household tableware. Offer a farewell gift: A living bamboo shoot with a bundle of bamboo skewers—a symbol to wish your friends good luck preparing more kabobs at home.

Set out flowers. Display potted plants from the Hy-Vee Floral Department or Garden Center. Use flowering pots in the kitchen, out on the deck and on the buffet table.

Light up the evening. Guide your guests’ path with luminaries along the driveway or walkway. In the backyard, bamboo torches with citronella add a festive glow and keep bugs away.

Dine alfresco. Keep the mood casual by throwing some colorful blankets on your lawn for the comfort of those who prefer picnic-style dining.

Which Meats?

For the carnivores on your guest list, the key to great kabob is to pick lean and tender cuts of meat. Choose four or five types of meat or seafood, such as beef sirloin, pork loin, leg of lamb, large shrimp, sea scallops, chicken breasts, turkey breast, fully-cooked ham or kielbasa. Figuring 6 to 8 ounces total per person, cut meat and poultry into 1- to 1-1/2-inch cubes or slice it into 3- to 4-inch strips. Placing meat and vegetables together on the same skewer is common, though the vegetables will be well done. For that reason, some cooks prefer meat-only and vegetable-only skewers for better control of grilling times. Pressed for time? Buy ready-to-grill meat and seafood kabobs at Hy-Vee.

Source: Hy-Vee Seasons Garden 2011.