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.
Pay for premium meat.
What's the secret to perfect grilling? Quality ingredients, particularly for the main event. "Meat is the one thing you should splurge on," says Michael Chiarello, the northern California chef behind 'Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors.' "Even if you don't marinate or make salsa verde, get great salt and great meat, grill the meat from room temperature, and it'll be 10 times better than with all the sauces in the world."
You won't find a two-pound rib eye, like the one Chiarello calls for in this Steak with Salsa Verde recipe, at your local supermarket – order one from a good butcher well in advance. It won't come cheap, so send ribs and chicken around the table first. That way, you can budget just four ounces of beef per person and still make everybody happy.
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