The stretch from Memorial Day to Labor Day is as much a state of mind as it is a magical period of time, just like the grill is as much a launching pad for revelry and adventure as it is for a sizzling feast with all the trimmings. Now anyone, anywhere can get in on the action any time when grilling vegan style, making the most of balmy afternoons and starry nights in the backyard, frolicking on the beach, or hiding out in the fantastic middle of nowhere.
To help kick-off your recharged stature as backyard host or hostess with the most, here are five tips for rocking the grill, followed by a barbecue party menu that redefines comfort food and will satisfy everyone from lifetime vegans and the veggie-curious to your most carnivorous pals.
Tip 1: Choose the best grill for your needs. Big or portable; charcoal, gas, electric, hybrid, or stovetop grill pan, every grill comes with pros and cons, bells and whistles. Before buying, be sure to shop around, check out different types and brands, ask for opinions from fellow grillers, and, most importantly, choose a grill that will make your life as tasty as possible.
Tip 2: Get the right tools. With thousands from which to choose, here are five accessories every grill master worth his or her weight in marinated tempeh should have:
1. Two pairs of tongs: One for moving and turning food, and one for picking up the hot grate and moving coals
2. Skewers: Eight to 12 basic metal skewers make a party
3. Grilling screen: For preparing tiny vegetables or pieces of tofu, tempeh, and seitan
4. Basting brushes: For applying oils, marinades, and sauces
5. Chimney starter: Forego chemical-laden lighter fluid with this cylindrical, metal wonder (Chef’s tip: Always play it safe with a dry chemical fire extinguisher. Your local hardware store or fire department will help you determine the best extinguisher for your needs.)
Tip 3: Mise en grill is a must. Before the first veggie burger, spicy seitan “wing,” or asparagus spear hits flame, have everything you need in place nearby. This includes having prepared ingredients, spices, marinades, and necessary utensils and equipment within flame’s reach.
Tip 4: Think outside the (veggie burger) box. The newest superstars of the grill circuit—tofu, tempeh, and seitan—join the world of spirited marinades and sauces to take center stage in summer’s greatest show on earth. With a few hours to overnight marinating time, bite-size pieces of this trifecta easily earn their grill stripes in about eight to 10 minutes (four to five minutes per side).
Tip 5: Don’t forget the drinks! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and again, and again: Beverages are of utmost importance for any party. When it comes to backyard fêtes, beer should always be on the A-list. Have light and dark options in a nearby, grab-it-yourself cooler. Likewise, have chilled white wine (in an ice bucket) and a bottle of red close by. With the boozy basics covered, a pitcher of ice water and a round of specialty drinks—a tipsy one for the adults and a fruity, non-alcoholic option for the kiddies and designated drivers—are always in order for any outdoor party.
No matter where you’re firing up, the best part about a grill is its unique ability to bring people together. Within those sparks and amidst that cozy aroma, the grill is the gift that keeps on giving like a familiar old friend. It is a place where time is counted not in minutes or certain months, but rather in burgers, corncobs, and laughter.
Get ready for your rise to grate-ness with my barbecue party menu:
Party Starter: Salsa alla Sizzle
First Course, Side Dish, or Light Tapas: Balsamic Grilled Salad with Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts, & Onions
Main Course: Grilled Vegetable Pizza
Dessert: Grilled S’Mores with Strawberries and Bananas
Cocktails: Fruit Party Punch, Strawberry Rum-Runner, Grapefruit & Cranberry Cocktail, & Vegan Blueberry Jell-O Shots
John Schlimm is the author of Grilling Vegan Style: 125 Fired-Up Recipes to Turn Every Bite Into a Backyard BBQ.