In the Kitchen

Quarantine cookout

Story and photos by Lucy Herrman
Posted 7/4/20

Summer is here, which means the beautiful weather is here.

But unfortunately, so is COVID-19. Wouldn't it be nice if everything were normal again, and we could just have some friends over for a barbecue? There is nothing I would like better than to get outside for a little alfresco dining. Too soon?

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In the Kitchen

Quarantine cookout

Posted

Summer is here, which means the beautiful weather is here.

But unfortunately, so is COVID-19. Wouldn't it be nice if everything were normal again, and we could just have some friends over for a barbecue? There is nothing I would like better than to get outside for a little alfresco dining. Too soon?

Throughout the quarantine, to avoid exposure, we have stayed home. Our social life is mostly limited to an occasional shared happy hour on Zoom.

However, as time goes by, we have gained better understanding of what constitutes a safe gathering with social and physical distancing. From the beginning, my husband and I have kept our social bubble small, only including a few close friends. Like everyone, we want to spend some quality time chatting with one or two other couples in person. But we want to stay safe, and so does everyone else. We try to take precautions above any guidelines.

When we get together, we stay outside. While the guidelines say at least 6 feet, we err on the side of safety. We place seating in pairs so each couple is at least 8 feet apart in an open area, such as a patio or backyard. Close enough to talk and far enough to be safe.

Before the guests arrive, we sanitize all surfaces, including chair arms and tables. And when they get here, everyone wears a masks until securely seated in their "pod," removing their mask only if they feel comfortable to do so.

We ask people to BYOE (bring your own everything). So friends arrive with their own stuff -- including food, drinks, cups, plates, silverware -- and they take everything home with them at the end of the visit. Easiest entertaining ever!

Now it is summer cookout season. But as my husband says, "The zombies are still out there." Normally I would think nothing of inviting a group to come over. But the "new normal" means two or, at the most, three couples, all of whom I know are super careful with safety, too. That limits me to our "social bubble."

I could invite them to BYOB (bring your own barbecue), but I want to provide a welcoming meal from start to finish. With a little advance planning, a quarantine cookout can work out well -- if everyone follows the rules.

Start with social distance space. Do you have enough room so that nobody has to come within 6-8 feet of anyone else? If so, read on.

Here are some suggestions for a safety-minded setup.

I recommend using a long table as a cafeteria-style buffet to allow for self-service. The idea here is for people to have minimal contact with anything on the table.

Cover the table with a disposable tablecloth, making cleanup easy. Offer a bottle of hand sanitizer at each end of the table. Use single-use paper plates and plastic cups. Wrap plastic silverware in napkins and secure with rubber bands; then place in a basket.

A tub at the end of the table can hold assorted soft drinks and individual bottles of water. Have a package of sanitizing wipes in a convenient place. Be sure to have a covered trash can available, too.

Now to the food.

Choose a simple main course. I recommend an entree that can be self-served directly from the grill.

Chose complementary side dishes that go well with your entree. Rather than have open bowls and utensils, I find that clean half-pint Mason jars are just about the right size for a single safely sealed serving and look great on a tray, too.

In advance, cut salads and vegetables into bite-size pieces so they fit well and are easy to eat. Serve up in your nice clean kitchen, and refrigerate until it is time to eat.

As for dessert, cookies should be apportioned in small ziplock bags. Or wash a watermelon well, and cut it into quarter-round slices. Serve covered on a platter, rind side out, for a low-touch handle. Cake or other sweets should be presliced, plated and covered with plastic. Keep them indoors or refrigerated, if needed, and bring them out on trays later.

I know you have family favorites that are a must at your table. But I have included recipes for some of my favorite cookout fare.

Greek Pork Kebobs (souvlaki) can be grilled last minute, and plucked directly from the grill by your guests. Load your kebobs with marinated pork cubes and an assortment of vegetables, such as onions, peppers and zucchini, for an all-in one dish. Add preserved sides of tabbouleh and you are done.

The Green Chile Cheeseburgers I am suggesting have green chile, cheese and seasonings already mixed into the meat so you need not add those ingredients later as toppings. Not only are they tasty and moist, but again less handling after cooking means a safer meal.

A side dish of Greek Country Salad, with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, feta cheese and olives, served in individual covered jars, goes perfectly with the burgers. And for those who like having chips, you can provide a variety of single-serving bags in a basket.

For me, there is something truly gratifying about feeding people and visiting with them face-to-face, and I am sure you agree. But remember to stay at least 6 to 8 feet apart -- it is easy to get distractedly closer when you are having a good time.

Stick to your rules! Social distancing is the safest choice for all. A little extra precaution is worth it for time safely spent with our dearest ones.

Stay safe, everyone, and enjoy the summer!

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