We hit the new year, and in an instant, an atmosphere of deprivation and self-discipline rushes into the void left by the holiday season. Suddenly, you’re surrounded by people newly committed to month-long sobriety, intense exercise regimens, and various other self-imposed limitations. This collective austerity during the dreariest time of year can feel a little dispiriting.
But I see midwinter as an opportunity. Sure, the weather may be grayer than the walls of a generic AirBnb, but that’s all the more reason to coax your friends out of their respective burrows to eat and drink like it's the middle of July. Don’t you remember how happy we all were six months ago? The move, I say, is to throw a barbecue party this very weekend.
Let me tell you why: Chances are, your friends are likely deprived of serotonin and yearning for human connection. Nothing like desperation and loneliness to make someone more outgoing. (Have you been to an airport bar?) Second, “grilling” or literal grilling this time of year is not as impossible as it may seem, provided you have the right equipment. At my recent test-run, I chose to “grill” inside because I live in a Brooklyn apartment without a yard, but if you reside in a milder-weathered part of the country and have the outdoor space to spare, there’s nothing stopping you from firing up the real thing. It’ll be warm around the grill anyway.
Also, unlike a sit-down-in-the-dining-room and light the candles dinner party, which has a certain formality, grilling sets a more casual tone. Come and go as you please! Bring whatever and whomever! Linger and snack as you cook! Who has anywhere else to go in the dead of winter?
Here are a few tips to get you started.
What you need
If you are restricted to grilling inside this winter, you’ve got two options. You can either use a stovetop grill pan, which will get the job done but is admittedly not that exciting, or go the kooky route like me and try out an infrared smokeless grill. This appliance uses infrared light as a heat source and is designed to produce less smoke than a conventional grill, making it more suitable for indoor cooking. The light from the grill I tried was so blinding that whoever was cooking needed to wear sunglasses. In a way, it was a bit like grilling with a SAD lamp, which made it even more appropriate for the occasion.
Neither an infrared grill or a griddle will get you any charcoal or wood chip flavors, I get that. You also can’t cover them as easily you would the real thing, so recipes that rely on the convective heat of a closed grill won’t really work. But let’s not focus on the limitations here: the spirit of a midwinter grill party is about making do with what you have. Both of these methods will still effectively cook your patties, dogs and produce, and will give you the gift of grill marks, which are important for the vibe.
You want the grilling to happen while people hang out, but before they’re starving and impatient and rude. Especially if you’re grilling indoors, you’ll probably have to cook in batches anyway, so plan for the food to come out over the course of the evening, rather than all at once. If you try to grill everything before your guests arrive, you will end up with cold food and sad guests.
Make the grilling an activity
Put someone in front of a grill and watch their demeanor completely change: Something about commanding a set of tongs and hearing that sizzle just puts people at ease, and makes them feel in control, if only for a moment. Do yourself a favor and delegate at least some of the duty of grilling to your guests. (Or have them each bring supplies for a dish and grill it themselves!) Chances are, if you choose to use an infrared grill, your guests *will* insist on trying it out. Its strange, orange glow draws people in, like the light of an angler fish’s lure.
Meanwhile, you can make drinks, drink drinks, and have fun. And, you know, prep the food that’s going to go on the grill.
Think wintery foods with summery vibes
Create a menu that plays with classic barbecue fare—but winterizes it. To accompany chicken apple sausages and meatless burgers, I made a grilled sweet potato salad and a root-cellar slaw with beets and purple cabbage. I also used my coworker Anna’s recipe for Korean-style grilled wings, which brought much needed heat to a chilly evening. For dessert, I made this cinnamon-oat peach crisp, but used fresh persimmons and pears because right now, peaches are but a distant memory. Yeah you could use frozen fruit, but I'd recommend taking this opportunity to enjoy what’s actually in season.Fred Thompson
Bon AppétitAnna StockwellBryan Furman
Bon Appétit B's Cracklin' BBQ; Savannah, GA
Yes, it’s okay to serve cold drinks
Don’t feel pressured to concoct some summery toddy abomination. Watermelon does not belong in hot drinks, and iced coffee is now thoroughly considered an all-terrain all-weather beverage. So, stick with the usual cold drinks, and throw in a seasonally appropriate twist if it fits. My recommendation: this rosemary-tinged Winter Mojito, which is herbaceous and bracing and not too sweet. It’s a good match for “grilled” food, but since this was a casual cookout situation, most of my friends showed up with White Claws.
Other tools to help with the vibe
$6.00, west elm
Originally Appeared on Epicurious