How Outdoor Entertaining Expert Linda Ly Hosts Al Fresco—Plus, Her Top Tips for Your Own Backyard Gatherings
Open fire, food on the grill, long conversations with dear friends; whether it's burgers or grilled oysters, meals consumed outdoors simply taste better. What you eat doesn't have to be fussy. In fact, it's better if it's not. The best outdoor entertaining requires a stripped-down approach that relies on the freshness of the food, fire, and smoke and good company above all else.
"I love to entertain casually. One of the benefits of cooking outside is that, if you're standing around a grill, other people love to stand around the grill with you. It just feels more social and fun than having them stand around the stove in your kitchen," says Linda Ly, otherwise known as Garden Betty and the author of The Backyard Fire Cookbook ($26, barnesandnoble.com) and The New Camp Cookbook ($14.29, amazon.com). Between touring the National Parks for inspiration for her next cookbook, she gave us her best outdoor entertaining tips that will have you breaking out the grill for more than the occasional weekend affair.
Make a Plan
Ly advocates getting organized before you plan the menu, which means it' important to not only get a headcount but to also consider how much time you have to prep. Another question to ask yourself? How much work do you really want to put into the meal? "Cooking outside can be pretty involved," says Ly, although she stresses it doesn't have to be.
Keep the Menu (and the Cleaning) to a Minimum
One of the best things about outdoor entertaining, especially over a grill, might just be the cleanup—or, rather, the lack thereof. Ly likes to make as much as possible on a grill or a griddle for minimal dishwashing. "I keep it pretty simple. I usually start with some kind of meat, that mostly everybody likes, and that either cooks really quickly or takes a longer time to cook so it gives us time to relax and hang out together."
Ly, who is also the author of The No Waste Vegetable Cookbook ($12.88, amazon.com), will use a whole vegetable on the grill to reduce food waste. You won't find half-used vegetables lingering in her fridge. "I keep the skins on everything, no peeling because I think it adds more flavor that way, or for root vegetables where you have the root part and the leafy part, I'll use the leafy part in a salad or save for a soup," she says.
Outdoor Cooking Essentials
Ly's current obsession is a large griddle that she uses to make a kind of teppanyaki with soba noodles. "It's an easy meal, everybody loves it including kids, and I love how you can make huge amounts," she says. "Depending on how large the group is, I make a sauce that goes over everything; the noodles, vegetables, and meat." The griddle has become one of Ly's go-to tools. She uses it to cook everything from seafood, including scallops, as she doesn't have to worry about them sticking to the grates or cooking too fast, grilled cheese sandwiches, and savory pancakes. "I'm a savory package person, so we sometimes make pancakes for dinner adding things like cheese, mushrooms, and green onions," says Ly.
You'll also find her making Korean grilled chicken or Korean grilled flank steak which she serves with Sriracha quick-pickled cucumbers and radishes harvested from her garden. "It's always a crowd pleaser, because it's unique enough where it's not your everyday meat and potatoes but it's not hard to make, it's actually one of the easiest things to make."