Outdoor Cooking for a Crowd

Kathleen Roberts
Find endless, mouthwatering recipes.
Find endless, mouthwatering recipes.

If you are planning a big family camp-out or other get-together, you'll be happy to get some tips for outdoor cooking for a crowd. The idea of cooking for a big group may be intimidating, but with expert advice from The BBQ Queens Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, you can't go wrong.

Outdoor Cooking for a Crowd: An Interview with the BBQ Queens

LoveToKnow Camping was able to speak with Karen Adler and Judith Fertig to get some tips on outdoor cooking for a crowd. What a great opportunity to learn from the pros and make your next camping excursion a culinary adventure as well.

How did you get interested in barbecue and outdoor cooking?

Karen: I judged at a BBQ contest in 1987. In the next contest, I was competing and was on a team that took a 2nd and a 4th place at the prestigious American Royal. I recall summers growing up on a lake and the fabulous holiday weekend brunches that were cooked on an open stone fireplace that my father built. There was a wonderful, smoky aroma of fried potatoes, bacon on the grill and slow scrambled eggs with a little bit of fresh snipped chives.

Judith: I was in Girl Scouts growing up in Ohio and loved the way food tasted when you cooked over a campfire--much better than if you did the same dish on the stove indoors. When I moved to Kansas City, I earned my Ph. B. or Doctor of Barbecue Philosophy, learning to grill and smoke over hardwood.

What is the best way to plan for outdoor cooking for a crowd?

Karen: Planning, organizing, and simplifying. Figure out what kind of backyard barbecue you are going to have and for how many people. Are you using paper plates or china? Allow extra plates for buffets. If you can, choose recipes that can be prepared a day ahead and then heated back up in your grill or oven.

Judith: Have a Plan B in case it rains.

Menu Planning

Can you provide some menu-planning tips?

Karen: Since you are outdoors, think of finger food and easy to eat recipes with just a single utensil. Ribs, Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Grilled Asparagus, Kabobs, and such.

Judith: Have everything prepped, portioned out, and wrapped well before you leave. Try to have the fewest number of food items you have to keep chilled.

Is it possible to keep things simple and still feed a group well in the outdoors?

Karen: It's easier to prepare a simple menu of around four or five items in quantity than to prepare a dozen different things. An appetizer could be a planked cheese tray with grilled bread or crackers. The entrée could be something like ribs with a couple of side dishes. You can spruce up the side dishes - instead of regular cole slaw, try blue cheese cole slaw. For potato salad - try a vinegar based potato salad with fresh chopped herbs.

What are your favorite, crowd-pleasing, outdoor dishes?

Karen: Indoor/Outdoor Baby Back Ribs with a Blue Ribbon BBQ Rub and a spicy bbq sauce, Grilled Blue Cheese Cole Slaw, Smoked Corn in the Husk Corn with Smoked Paprika Butter, Texas Cowpoke Pintos with Jalapeno Peppers, and Grilled Pineapple Rings with Pineapple Sorbet.

Judith: Anything on a skewer, as you can get the kids involved with making and cooking them.

How can the outdoor chef keep from getting overwhelmed when feeding a crowd?

Karen: Have as much done ahead as possible. Have your grill area and dining area clean, some foods (like potato salad and dessert) ready and kept in the refrigerator (or cooler) so all you do is assemble and plate the day of the party. Have the bar area ready to stock from the items that you purchased ahead of time.

Judith: Enlist the help of others to man the grill from time to time so you can mingle with your guests.

What else would you like to share about outdoor cooking for a crowd?

Karen: Get some great music, plenty of ice, drinks in bottles like beer, water, and soda save on bartending duty. If you are inviting good friends or family, ask everybody to bring an appetizer or a dessert… then you only have to do the meat and sides! Have fun… it's a party!

The BBQ Queens

Author Karen Adler

Authors Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, known as The BBQ Queens, have written over 20 cookbooks between the two of them including their latest cookbook, 300 Big & Bold Barbecue & Grilling Recipes. As their name suggests, their books focus on grilling and outdoor cooking. Their expertise has been featured in many magazines as well as television and together they have taught many thousands of people the joys of cooking on a grill.

Karen Adler

Karen got her start in the kitchen when she married her hunter husband, Dick. She's self-taught and has worked her way through many many a cookbook adapting recipes for wild game.

Author Judith Fertig

She became a cookbook sales rep in the 1980's and then started her own publishing company specializing in regional barbecue cookbooks and city restaurant books. In 1990 she wrote her first book, Hooked on Fish on the Grill, which sold over 75,000 copies.

Judith Fertig

Judith is classically trained at the Cordon Bleu in London and La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. She and Karen were cooks first, then barbecuers, so they bring it all to the table. One of her previous books, Prairie Home Cooking (Harvard Common Press, 2000) was nominated for the James Beard and IACP cookbook awards. Judith specialize in breads, desserts, Midwestern regional foods and barbecue.

Crowd Pleasing Recipes

Serve this pulled pork with a vinegary slaw, your favorite barbecue sauce, and fresh buns. You can indirectly grill or smoke the pork butt for three to five hours outdoors, then put it in a 200-degree F oven overnight to finish cooking or wrap the pork in foil and bank coals around it to keep cooking for several more hours for a tender finish. To test for tenderness, insert a meat fork in the pork butt and give it a twist. If it twists easily, your pork butt is tender.

Blue Ribbon Pulled Pork

Pork butt or shoulder is a tough piece of meat that really benefits from spicy flavorings and low, slow cooking over a wood fire, making it one of the glories of barbecue. You can buy the roast bone-in or boneless and tied; either way, it should just shred apart in moist, delicious morsels when you're done.

Serves 12

Suggested wood: Hickory

Ingredients:

  • Two 3-1/2 lb/1.7 kg boneless pork butts
  • 1 cup prepared mustard 250 mL
  • 1 cup Blue Ribbon Rub (recipe follows) 250 mL
  • 2 cups apple juice in a spray bottle 500 mL

Directions:

  1. Slather the pork butts with mustard, then sprinkle on the rub. Place the pork in a disposable aluminum pan. Set aside for 15 to 30 minutes or until the surface of the meat is tacky to the touch.
  2. Prepare an indirect fire in your grill or smoker (coals are not directly under the meat). Place 3 hickory chunks or a handful of hickory chips on the coals.
  3. Place the pork on the grill or smoker, cover, and smoke at 225 to 250°F (110 to 120°C) for 4 hours, adding more wood as necessary. Start spraying with apple juice every 30 minutes. Pork butt is done when fork-tender, about 2 hours more. Replenish charcoal and wood as necessary. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center should register 165°F (87°C). To serve, pull the meat apart while it is still hot, arrange on a platter, and serve.

Tip: To create a bark or dark exterior on your pork butt, first slather it with mustard and then dust with a dry rub. Then start it out at a higher temperature on your grill or smoker-about 350°F (180°C)-for about 30 minutes. Lower the temperature to 225 to 250°F (110 to 120°C) and continue to slow smoke.

Tip: Size matters. Slow smoking two 3-pound boneless pork butts will take less time (6 hours) than one large 6-pound roast (8 to 9 hours). Also, boneless roasts take about 1 hour less time to smoke than bone-in.

Blue Ribbon Rub

This all-purpose seasoning can be sprinkled over anything you want to slow smoke; it adds color, flavor, and a good crust or bark on meats.Makes about 2 cups 500 mL

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup ground black pepper 125 mL
  • 1/2 cup smoked or sweet Hungarian paprika 125 mL
  • 1/4 cup granulated garlic or garlic powder 50 mL
  • 1/4 cup onion salt 50 mL
  • 1/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar 50 mL
  • 3 tbsp dry mustard 45 mL
  • 3 tbsp celery seeds 45 mL
  • 3 tbsp chili powder 45 mL

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.
  2. Shake to blend. Will keep stored in a dark, cool pantry for several months.

Tip: To get brown sugar really dry so it doesn't clump in a dry rub, scatter it over a baking sheet and let it dry out in a 100ºF (50ºC) oven for several hours or overnight. Let cool, then use in a dry rub recipe.


LoveToKnow would like to thank Karen Adler and Judith Fertig for taking the time for this interview. To learn more about The BBQ Queens, check out their website at BBQQueens.com.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you're sure to love their new cookbook, 300 Big & Bold Barbecue & Grilling Recipes where you'll find plenty of food that's good for camping. You can find it at Amazon.com.

Outdoor Cooking for a Crowd