How to Throw the Best Grilling Party Ever

By Chef Judi Gallagher –

backyard-bbqWith the summer season in high gear and grills firing up all across America, I thought I’d share some of my favorite chef tips for how to throw a great grilling party at home. First rule is to be smart and let the grill do the work. Make all your food – from appetizers to dessert – grill friendly.

Next, prep in advance so you can enjoy your own party. Buy your ingredients ahead of time, make sure to read your recipes thoroughly and make as much food as possible well before the party starts. If you’re grilling burgers, for example, make the patties a few hours ahead and then keep them refrigerated or chilled in a cooler until you’re ready to throw them on the grill.

Don’t limit your menu to burgers, ribs and steak and chicken when you’re hosting a grilling party. I’ve learned that you can grill pretty much anything, including fish, dessert, fruit and pizza (see recipes below). The possibilities are endless, so have fun, impress your guests and make your party memorable.

One last tip: Be creative and have your party décor match the menu. I enjoy coming up with pretty details – informal bouquets of garden flowers from the farmer’s market, drinks in Mason jars, vintage plates and patterned napkins – are all elements that make the party feel personal and special. Food and ambience combined make the perfect party. And whether it’s your backyard or a beach barbecue under the stars, make sure to relax and have fun! Your good energy will be contagious.

Grilled Margherita Pizza

grilling-pizza1 pound plum tomatoes or 1 (28- to 32-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing

6 ounces mozzarella, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)

Pizza dough or 1 pound thawed frozen pizza dough, divided and formed into 2 balls

Flour for dusting

6 to 8 medium fresh basil leaves, torn

Special equipment: a 22 1/2-inch charcoal kettle grill and a charcoal chimney; a gas grill; or a well-seasoned 10- to 12-inch ridged grill pan

Make sauce and prepare cheese:

If using fresh tomatoes, cut an X (just through skin) in each, at end opposite stem, and immerse in boiling water for 10 seconds. Transfer to cold water with a slotted spoon, then peel.

Seed and chop tomatoes (fresh or canned).

Simmer tomatoes, salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until very thick and reduced to about 1 cup, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Toss together mozzarella and remaining tablespoon oil.

Form pizza rounds:

Do not punch down dough. Gently dredge 1 ball of dough in a bowl of flour to coat, then transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Holding 1 edge of floured dough in the air basilwith both hands and letting bottom touch work surface, carefully move hands around edge of dough (like turning a steering wheel), allowing weight of dough to stretch round to roughly 7 inches in diameter. Lay dough round flat on floured surface and continue to stretch by pressing dough with your fingertips, working from center outward to edge, stretching it into a 9-inch round. Transfer to a large floured tray and make another round in same manner, then place it next to other round. Lightly rub a long sheet of plastic wrap with flour, then invert loosely over pizza rounds and let them stand to puff slightly while preparing grill, 10 to 20 minutes.

To prepare charcoal grill:

Open vents on bottom of grill and on lid. Light a heaping chimney of charcoal and pour it evenly over 2 opposite sides of bottom rack (you will have a double or triple layer of charcoal), leaving clear a 9-inch-wide strip in middle (for grilling over indirect heat).

Charcoal fire is medium-hot when you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for 3 to 4 seconds.

To prepare gas grill:

Preheat burners on high, covered, 10 minutes, then reduce heat to moderate.

To grill pizzas by either method:

Remove plastic wrap from both rounds of dough and lightly brush dough with some oil. Carefully flip dough rounds, oiled sides down, with your hands onto middle of lightly oiled grill rack and brush top of each with oil. Grill crusts, uncovered, until undersides are golden brown (rotate them if 1 side of grill is hotter than the other), 2 to 3 minutes on gas grill or 4 to 6 minutes on charcoal grill.

Flip crusts over with tongs and a spatula and top each crust with half of tomato sauce, spreading evenly over dough and leaving a 1/2-inch border around edge. Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over sauce and grill pizzas, covered with grill lid, until undersides are golden brown and cheese is melted, about 3 minutes on gas grill or 5 minutes on charcoal grill. Scatter basil over pizzas.

Grilled Salmon with Basil Aioli

grilled-salmonBasil aioli:

2 large egg yolks (preferably organic)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 anchovy fillets, minced (1 1/3 teaspoons)

1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon warm water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon (generous) hot pepper sauce


Olive oil (for brushing)

1 2 1/2- to 3-pound skinless salmon fillet (about 1 inch thick)

For basil aioli:

Whisk egg yolks, basil, garlic, anchovies, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce in medium bowl. Whisk in 2 tablespoons oil a few drops at a time, then gradually whisk in remaining oil in thin stream. Whisk in 1 tablespoon warm water, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

For salmon:

Prepare barbecue (high heat). Brush grill rack with oil. Brush salmon with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill salmon uncovered 5 minutes. Using 2 large spatulas, carefully turn fish over. Grill until fish just begins to flake in center, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer salmon to platter. Arrange blistered baby zucchini, baby pattypan squash, and grilled tomatoes around salmon. Serve with aioli.


smoresPerfect Grilled S’mores

Graham crackers (store-bought or homemade)
Jumbo marshmallows (store-bought or homemade)
Good-quality chocolate, chopped

Place one marshmallow and some chopped chocolate on top of a graham cracker; place a second graham cracker on top to create a sandwich. Wrap in foil and place on grill; heat until marshmallow is gooey and chocolate is melted. Enjoy right away.


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