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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Low Maintenance Grilling for a Crowd

Myself and my fellow Grillin Fools will be asked to cook for large groups quite often over the next few months. My family needs no more than word that the sun is going to rise as an excuse to get together for a family function in the warm months. And with us that means grilling. With Memorial Day a few days away, graduation parties, pool parties, and 4th of July right around the corner we find ourselves cooking for a crowd much more often than in the cooler months.

Sometimes we find ourselves seemingly strapped to the grills while the party goes on around us, only able to mingle with the people that wandered over to us to see how the food is coming along. We may be at a party but sometimes we feel more like hired help than party attendees. This post is all about ways to cook for a crowd and still be able to join in the festivities. To be able to feed the group but also have fun with them at the same time. Click below to find a number of possibilities for low maintenance high yield grilling recipes.

Brats and Dogs

The first thing that comes to minds of most people when it comes to feeding the masses at a cookout is brats and dogs. Both cook fairly quickly over high heat. But cooking 30 brats and 15 dogs can take quite some time. This is where the beer bath comes in. Grill your brats and dogs prior to your guests arrival. Buy a high sided disposable aluminum pan, pour in your favorite beer, some slices of onion, maybe a garlic clove or two, place directly on the grill, and put the brats and dogs in the new beer Jacuzzi you just made. Place the pan over enough of the coals to get a simmer going, or put it in the oven at about 200. Now, go get a shower and when the party starts the grilling is already done. If someone does not want the beer dripping off their brat, just throw the brat back on the heat for a couple minutes to steam that off.

How about taking those brats and dogs to the next level? Walk right past the meat cases with the Johnsonvilles and the Oscar Meyers. Go to the meat cutter at your local grocer and see if they have specialty brats and dogs they make in house. They will be better than the mass produced stuff in the cases. Even better. Go to a local butcher and see what they have. Throw a few Jalapeno brats on. Maybe a garlic brat. Try some Italian sausages or some other ethnic sausage like an Irish banger, Polish Sausage, Chorizo, Greek brat, Cajun brat, or Hungarian brat. How about my favorite the apple brat? Natural casing hot dogs are heads and shoulders better than what Oscar Meyer makes.

Now that you have your primo tubular meats, how about taking them to yet another level - at least for the brats. I have not tried this trick yet but Dad swears by it. While it may say that a brat is a beer brat do not believe that till you see it soaking in beer yourself. So pick your favorite brew and soak the brats in beer overnight. Sure that’s not all that interesting in terms of taking brats to the next level, and not my Dad's trick, but this is. Take a needle and insert the blunt in into a cork from a wine bottle. Then use that needle to poke tiny holes in the brats. Some will scream that this will allow all the juice to run out when grilling them. That will happen if a knife is used to poke holes. But the pin prick will allow the beer to be infused into the meat over night but not allow the juices to leak out during the cooking process. Or so Dad says. But has he been wrong so far?


Next up, Burgers. Everyone makes burgers. Everyone knows how to make a burger. But does everyone know how to make a good burger? First, don’t thaw out any meat for this. Go buy it fresh. The morning of the event would be best. Think of the hamburger meat as the vehicle to get all the extra goodies you can mix in with it to your mouth. Put the bulk burger in a large mixing bowl and make that boring meat into much more than a boring old burger. There are all sorts of things you can add:

Diced bell or jalapeno peppers
Grated asiago/parm/romano
Blue cheese
Ground pork
Even better, ground chorizo
Herbs like basil or oregano
Hot sauce
BBQ sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Andrias Steak Sauce
Snd of course salt and black pepper to taste.

This is not an all inclusive list. Get creative. Just don’t spring a new combo of those ingredients on a group of people without trying it out first.

Get your hands dirty. Mix it all together and then make the patties. Another big time saver is to make up the patties the night before and put them in the fridge.

Now that the burger is done right, don’t scrimp on what goes around the burgers. Next to the meat, the single most important item on the burger is probably cheese. Get exotic here. Don’t settle for simple American or Cheddar. Try smoked cheddar on a burger. It’s amazing. Or maybe a Lorraine Swiss? Pepper jack provides a nice kick. Blue cheese crumbles are incredible.

Don’t go with basic buns. Get a good quality bun. My favorite is the onion bun. Also, have good ripe tomato. If you have access to vine ripened tomatoes at you local grocer but still buy the cheaper ones, I beg you to try the vine ripened maters one time. You will not go back and gladly pay the extra. Even better, grow some yourself. I’m not much of a gardener yet I was able to grow them quite successfully the last 3 years. Here is the second year I grew tomatoes. They were so big the first year I helped my FiL build a trellis for them. Here they are on August 9th of 2008. The top of the trellis is 7 feet tall and these are 5 different plants:

Back to the burgers. Skip the iceberg lettuce. Get a leafy lettuce and go with some sweet Vidalia onions. Don’t forget the pickles, both kinds - the sweets and the regulars.

Top shelf compliments to the burgers (wine optional):

Tomatoes from my Garden:

Burgers are not as low maintenance as some of the other items I will mention in this post. But something can be done to make them lower maintenance. Again, the high sided disposable aluminum pan is your friend here. Place BBQ sauce in the pan and submerge the burgers in the sauce. You may want to cut the sauce with beer as to not overpower the burger. Burgers will not remain as juicy in the sauce bath as say a brat will but it will save some time to allow you to mingle.

With a relatively short cooking time cooking them during the party is not all that bad. One way to be more part of the party is not to throw them all on a platter and take them inside. Have people come to you. As you are cooking have the party guests get their sides on a plate and come to you for their burger. Do a little chit chatting while the cheese is melting.

While this is not low maintenance I do love a toasted bun:

Gotta love cross hatch grill marks on a bun!?!?

If you want the toasted bun but not the extra work of tending to two sides of a bun for every burger, throw the buns on a cookie sheet, bread side up, and put under a broiler till golden brown.

In the end here we have garlic, basil burgers on toasted onion buns with green leafy lettuce, fresh tomato and Loraine Swiss cheese:

Ribs, Brisket, Chicken, Fatties

If you have a relatively stable smoker that holds the temps fairly constant there is no reason you couldn’t smoke ribs, brisket, chicken, fatties or a combination of these. If all it requires is adding more fuel or smoke wood every 30-60 minutes and maybe a location adjustment of the meat then smoking these items is extremely low maintenance. Maybe go with a beer can chicken. Or even better the Grillin Fools new and improved beer can chicken - beer can chicken stew:

While ribs are not always the cheapest alternative they sure are divine and very easy to do:

Or maybe some brisket. How good does that smoke ring look?

Or ribs and a brisket - Brisket on the upper rack, ribs below:


One way to cut the cost of ribs for a crowd is to supplement the ribs with a lower cost alternative. Instead of making enough to feed everyone ribs make less ribs and throw on a few fatties. Generally fatties take just as long as ribs to cook. As long as the space is there, go with a few fatties which are always a hit.

Rib Eye Steak Sandwiches

Something that is not all that common and will likely blow the minds of your guests – Rib eye steak sammiches. Go to your butcher, have him/her thinly slice a rib eye into 1/3-1/4 inch thick sliced of rib eye. Marinade in Adria's (Worcestershire and emulsified garlic for those not able to get Andria's), coke, garlic and black pepper. Grill over high heat for just a little bit and then throw then in an aluminum pan with more of the marinade to keep the meat warm and moist. This is not a cheap alternative to cook for a crowd but definitely low maintenance.

Grillin the rib eye slices:

In the pan to simmer. These will get a tin foil cover and be thrown in the oven on low heat. They could be left on the grill but this was shot the day of the 2009 Super Bowl so it was a little chilly outside:

After being in the oven a couple of hours they are ready to serve:

A bun, some cheese, a little mayo for me and I had heaven on a plate:

Pork Steaks

And now we come to the pork steak. What an amazing cut of meat. Not all that prevalent outside of the Midwest but this is a true gem of low maintenance BBQing. Click here to see how to not only ask for pork steaks at your local butcher but one of the many ways of cooking them. Speaking of the many ways to cook pork steaks, you can smoke them slow and low for many hours. You can BBQ them at a medium heat, indirect for a couple of hours with some smoke wood or you can grill them hot and fast. For me, I go the indirect route for a couple of hours on the side with no heat and some good smoke wood on the coals. Sort of the best of both worlds.

At the end, a BBQ hot tub in a (you guessed it) aluminum tray will keep them warm and juicy for hours. The high fat content makes it very difficult to dry them out and it also keeps them oh so tender. You can feed an army with pork steaks and do so really inexpensively.

Pulled Pork

Some would argue that pulled pork is a cheap and easy way to feed a crowd. Total work is less than 90 minutes but that is stretched out over 8-12 hours. It can be started the night before but if the smoker has a hard time keeping a constant temp then it will require some maintenance in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn or both. For the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend the GrillinFools will be attempting a quicker method for making pulled pork. Total time about 6 hours. Sorry, no pics just yet as we haven’t done it. But if you want to give it a whirl the method is this:

Rub the pork shoulders with your favorite rub and then head out to get the grill going. You could rub the shoulders the night before if you want to.
Get the grill up to 375-400 – the temp will drop down to the desired temp of around 350 once the meat is added
Place the pork shoulder(s), fat side down, in one of those disposable aluminum pans you’ve heard so much about in this post.
If the temp drops below 350 be ready to add more fuel to the fire
Smoke for 3 hours at 350
Cover the pans with foil
Cook for another 2 hours until the internal temp reaches 195
Remove from heat, wrap in foil and place in a cooler to rest for 1 hour leaving the thermometer in the meat
When the internal temp reaches 200 it’s time to pull
Cut the meat into large chunks and let cool a bit before pulling. This will make the pulling process much easier.
Or you can try another method my Dad just heard about. Place the cooked shoulders after resting into large ziplock bags and than smack the crap out of them a couple of times with the bottom of a large frying pan. Cast iron is recommended. The jolt seems to make the pulling process much easier.

I will try to update this thread with pics of the pulled pork process soon after the holiday weekend… But until then, enjoy the holiday weekend and happy grillin!!!


  1. For my burgers I started adding Tabasco's Chipotle pepper sauce. Gives it a nice smokey kick. And if you're in the midwest, try provel cheese on your burgers.

  2. Chipotle Tobasco is a MUST. I put that stuff in everything. By far my favorite hot sauce... Doesn't have a boatload of heat but has a ton of flavor....

  3. The chicken looks amazing! And great grilling tips too!

  4. awesome tutorial and tips about outdoor grilling.

    I totally agree with you about turning a plain old burger into a burger that's banging with flavor. I love adding seasoning and incorporating ingredients such as garlic, onions, peppers etc.

  5. Some wonderful tasty tips! We do a huge crowd every 4th so will bookmark this. Love the variety - something for everyone.

  6. Oh man - I still can't get over those fatties! They look so darn good - but I think I'm going to have to rename them in order to get over the guilt of eating them :-) Thanks for sharing all these great tips!

  7. Wow - that's a whole lot of BBQ! Next time I want to come over for that! Great job!

  8. We rarely have that many people over but seeing this, I'm tempted to invite virtual strangers just to try out the brats'n'dogs Jacuzzi!

  9. The food look delicious & I could use some for my next bbq. Great post!