There's a time and a place for burgers, ketchup, and paper plates. But there are also warm summer nights when the backyard grill has to anchor something more ambitious; when even the most accomplished pitmasters need to step it up and orchestrate a great outdoor dinner party with style. And that's where Michael Chiarello comes in – the Northern California chef behind the grill-centric Napa restaurant Bottega and the new cookbook 'Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors.' "The trick to throwing a terrific outdoor dinner," says Chiarello, who entertains regularly around the open fire pit in his backyard in Napa, "is getting everything set up so you can be a guest at your own party." You want to be drinking beer and talking to friends while calmly delivering a great spread to a well-laid table. Friends come to hang out with you, to enjoy your company, not just to watch you bolt back and forth between the Weber and the kitchen.
The key to a Chiarello-style cookout lies in chef's tricks like offering just one great, self-serve cocktail to set the mood without stressing yourself out; creating an easy-to-execute menu that still feels impressive and generous; and turning the grill itself into a social hub, to anchor the whole party. Most of all, it's about making everything look easy: Chiarello breaks the evening down, with an easy-to-follow action plan that takes you from marinating the beef to sitting down with your own plateful.
Lime Cilantro Slaw.
Grilling is all about meat, but every plateful of hot protein begs for something cold, crunchy, and fresh, for contrast.
• 12 cups thinly sliced green cabbage (about one large head)
• 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (stems and all)
• 2 tsp coarse sea salt
• 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the dressing
• 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
• 4 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
• 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
Toss cabbage and cilantro together in a big bowl.
In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the lime juice, orange juice, and olive oil. Keep the cabbage, dressing, and salt and pepper all separate until just before serving.
Credit: Photograph by Cedric Angeles
When ready to serve, combine all and toss (do this final step too early and the salt will pull water out of the cabbage, making for a watery slaw). Taste a forkful to see if it needs any more oil, citrus juice, or salt.