When you are grilling, one thing you don’t want is to play bartender. What you do want are drinks that can be fixed ahead of time and served from pitchers or a beverage server.
I enjoy a cold beer or a chilled glass of wine when I grill, but I also like to mix it up and serve cocktails that are light and refreshing. Your cocktails, however, should not be super-sweet. In a 2014 interview in Bon Appétit Magazine, Bobby Flay says that when it comes to cocktails, ease up on the sugar:
What’s great about the recent cocktail explosion is that it’s gotten us to think about the ingredients we use when making a drink, says Flay. My issue, though, is that most cocktails today are cloyingly sweet. You should think of your drink like a vinaigrette. It needs to be balanced.[Source: Inside the (Very Active) Mind of Bobby Flay by Adam Rapoport]
Think also about drinks that quench your thirst as well as provide serious hydration for everyone. Cocktails made with soda water will do both. Your drinks also need to stand up to ice, because you’re going to want to serve them over quite a bit of that.
For an outdoor party, there is nothing wrong with plastic or acrylic. To my way of thinking, unbreakable glasses outdoors are a must. Check local thrift stores and/or dollar stores for glasses that look terrific but are made from shatter-proof plastics. If you want to use glass, sturdy mason jar glasses with handles are what you want. Copper mugs also work well outdoors.
Set up a buffet table with signs to guide the guests through the process of making their own drinks. It may sound like you’re asking guests to do some work, but it’s actually fun and engaging, especially if you’ve taken the time to make it look nice. This self-serve approach allows guests to get their own refills instead of having to find you and ask for help in quenching their thirst.
The first step is for guests to grab a glass which is either empty or maybe already has the room temperature ingredients in it. Then they step to the right and find ice and a sign instructing them to add that to the glass. Then the next step might be to pour in soda or water (or add a garnish). Be sure to have spoons or swizzle sticks available for stirring.
This may sound a little Martha Stewartish…but consider providing paper cocktail covers and straws for your drinks. The covers keep bugs, leaves, and other unwelcome guests from ruining a good drink. The straws make it easy for your guests to sip and stay hydrated and no plastic goes to the landfill. I buy mine online.
Here’s one of six grillin’ and chillin’ drink recipes from my new Ojai Valley Grill It Cookbook. Think of this punch as the adult equivalent of Hi-C fruit punch without the super sweetness.
White Rum Punch
1 bottle (750 ml) white rum
12 ounces frozen lemonade
32 ounces cranberry juice
32 ounces orange juice
32 ounces pineapple juice
1½ cups cold water
Add all ingredients to a 2-gallon punch bowl or glass drink container with spigot. Stir and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve over ice.