Warm weather is here and it’s time to get outside—wouldn’t it be fun to meet some of your neighbors? There’s no better way to celebrate the arrival of the summer season than to ﬁre up the grill and throw a block party.
Organizing and cooking for an outdoor party can be intimidating, so we tapped a pro who knows how to perform under pressure. Chef Emily Hahn, a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef: Charleston, is the executive chef of Warehouse in Charleston, S.C., where she develops menus and meals for everything from brunch on Sunday to late night cocktails any day of the week. Hahn is a wealth of knowledge, full of tips for how to tackle a party that includes lots of variables like a big guest list and an outdoor cooking space. Ready to party? Here’s your primer.
For any grilling party, there’s an obvious epicenter to the event space and ﬂow: the grill!
You’ll want a model with enough room to cook in bulk, although cooking and serving in batches is an option if you have a small grill. A block party is a great excuse to upgrade though, and there are so many gas and charcoal grill options available.
If you have a charcoal grill, work in a little more time to make sure your coals are red hot. Likewise, if you’re using propane, make sure the grill is hot and ready by the time guests arrive. First, it’s easier to focus on lighting the grill safely without the distraction of guests arriving, and second, heating up the grates in advance will ensure a proper char on the food and help items cook quickly.
If you have an outdoor kitchen, you probably have ample counter space for preparations and supplies, but if not, a simple table beside the grill will help keep food and tools close at hand. Cutting out all those runs into the indoor kitchen will save time and keep your eye on the food and focused on grilling perfection.
Finally, by its nature, a block party is more than a small gathering, so it’s important to have the “stage” set. If you have an outdoor table, relocating the chairs to another area is a simple way to open up and expand your space, explains Jacqueline Lawrence, an event designer at inventivENVIRONMENTS in Charleston, S.C. She also suggests using any chairs from a food display table against available walls to provide extra seating.
Throwing a block party is all about cooking for a hungry crowd under pressure.
Chef Emily Hahn excels at both! To pass onto the next round on Top Chef: Charleston, she brought expertise to her menus by cooking what she knew and adding signature chef twists.
At a recent block party at Summer’s Corner in Summerville, SC, she wowed the crowd by preparing a feast for 25 residents that came out to celebrate spring in the South with one of their favorite local celebrities:
Dark meat holds more ﬂavor and Hahn always uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs since it’s a family tradition—it was her father’s grilling go-to.
CHEF HAHN’S TIP
Brine the chicken a day in advance: Boil ¼ c. sugar, ¼ c. pickling spices, ½ c. salt, and 2
c. water, then cool and add chicken to cover. Refrigerate chicken in brine for at least 24 hours before removing and then adding dry rub of jerk spices. Brine will tenderize and add ﬂavor to the meat and keep it moist for grilling.
Hahn added a homemade jerk sauce, brushed onto the cooked meat right before removing from the grill, for an added ﬂourish.
Add a pot to a side burner or even atop the grill and you can cook a cheesy side dish without leaving the grill! There are a few ideas for prep, but reinterpreting this classic for grilling can be a crowd pleaser. Although having a dedicated smoker grill on hand is handy, it’s also easy to infuse smoky ﬂavor into food with a gas grill, as Hahn accomplished at the block party.
CHEF HAHN’S TIP
Don’t go too fancy on the cheese. Hahn chose a block white cheddar that melted easily, then she placed the roughly chopped block in a metal bowl and set it right in the ﬂames for 3 minutes. The heat melted the cheese, and the smoke adds a rich, unmistakable depth of ﬂavor.
The natural sugars in pineapple deepen and caramelize on the grill. Grill planks of pineapple and chop with fresh Thai basil, fresh onion, grilled jalapenos, and lime juice for an easy salsa side or chicken topping.
CHEF HAHN’S TIP
Wear gloves when working with jalapenos and hot peppers! It’s a good idea not to handle any kind of hot peppers with your bare hands, especially when chopping. Jalapenos can vary in heat—just because they are common on American tables now, don’t forget they’re potent.
Salad doesn’t have to mean “lettuce,” says Hahn. Go shopping at your local farmer’s market for the freshest seasonal veggies to grill and dress. The grill at the block party included a ceramic sear side burner, which Hahn utilized to quickly cook onions and zucchinis while leaving room on the primary grates for the jerk chicken.
CHEF HAHN’S TIP
Don’t dice before you grill! Half or quarter veggies to keep them from falling through the grates. Then, once all the veggies are grilled (and don’t forget onions, as they sweeten up on the grill!), chop into same-size pieces, toss with dressing, and serve room temperature.
The key to a successful block party strategy is to cook everything on the grill, says Chef Hahn.
To make this work, you need a plan, and the grill you choose makes the diﬀerence. While smokers and Kamado grills are very versatile, a gas or charcoal model is the easiest to plan this feat. Both have an open cooking surface, and both oﬀer high versatility when it comes to menu planning. Charcoal lends a distinctive ﬂavor to dishes, and gas grills are almost instantly ready to cook.
“It’s essential that you prep everything beforehand,” Hahn explains. “Set up your mis en place, your tools, your chopping board, some towels or rags, clean bowls for putting the grilled veggies and pineapple in, and make sure you have your grill tools. Take the time at the beginning, and then you can man the grill like a boss.”
“I pre-boiled this macaroni for about 7 minutes and then shocked it with a good rinse in ice water to stop it from cooking,” she explains. “Finally, I tossed it with a little oil to keep it from sticking or clumping, and then it could go on my prep table, ready for mixing into the smoked cheese once it’s melted.” For a fun twist, Hahn also added toasted breadcrumbs and fresh, chopped parsley to the table for the mac n’ cheese topper.
Importantly, make sure you are cooking and keeping food at the right temperature for safe consumption. Hahn purposefully chose food such as salad, salsa and macaroni that are delicious and safe to serve guests at room temperature, and she kept an eye on the correct temp for the chicken by using a Bluetooth smart thermometer, another essential item on her prep table. “I use thermometers constantly in the kitchen,” she says.
Finally, although you’ll certainly wow your neighbors and love cooking with a new Kamado grill, it’s certainly not a necessity for a successful block party. Even if you’re working with a small, entry-level propane model, smart prep-beforehand can lead to terriﬁc results.
Although Hahn worked through pressure-ﬁlled challenges on Top Chef, your block party should be fun, not stressful.
At this recent block party, Hahn took time to interact with guests, something she misses being in a closed kitchen at Warehouse. The grill allowed her to cook in bulk, and time when each dish was ready to serve all at once.
When it’s time to eat, serve everything family-style on a big table. Make ﬁlling drinks easy and attractive with dispensers, and provide plenty of napkins for messy hands.
Prepare more than you need to oﬀer plenty of food for seconds, and you’ll make friends out of neighbors by the end of the afternoon!
from Apartment Living Blog https://www.forrent.com/blog/food-entertaining/grill-block-party-like-top-chef/