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Imagining a summer without a backyard cookout is like thinking of fall without pumpkin spice everything. Unfortunately, with so many states still battling new coronavirus cases, people are understandably being encouraged to stay home and keep the gatherings to a minimum. However, we know how hard it’s been, and some folks will host grilling events because they want to see friends and family.
Luckily, new ways have come to light to help expand your personal quarantine bubble, and some restaurants are even beginning to open outdoor dine-in services. With these principles in mind, we want to offer some tips for enjoying a backyard cookout during the quarantine.
What Size Should My Cookout Be?
You’re probably ready to fire up your new grill and get your summer officially started with its first BBQ, but remember to keep the party within the maximum size for gatherings in your county. It is best to play this safe, both for the sake of safety and legality. A good rule of thumb is your party is too big if you can’t see everyone from wherever you’re standing.
Within that number, you want to make sure there is enough space in your yard for your guests to maintain six feet distance from each other. People living in the same household can be closer to each other so that proper seat planning can maximize your available space.
If you’re the party host, be sure to clean and disinfect everything, including tables, chairs, and common areas. Keep wipes and hand sanitizer on hand and available to your guests to maintain a sanitized space.
Should Guests Wear Masks and Gloves?
As a general rule, anyone serving food or drinks should wear masks and gloves. Everyone else should maintain restaurant etiquette and wear masks after eating, especially if they are within six feet of one another. Gloves are optional; they can help, but with snacking, dining, and drinking, people run the risk of going through endless pairs of disposable gloves.
Luckily, with the right products, the virus that causes COVID-19 is relatively easy to kill. Any household disinfectant should suffice for cleaning surfaces. Be sure to routinely disinfect during the cookout, paying particular attention to high traffic areas your guests will have access to, especially the bathroom. Make sure your hand soap and toilet paper are well stocked.
Keep it Outside
Most research states that you’re less likely to transmit or catch the virus if you’re outside, wearing a mask, and maintaining social distancing. The fastest way to turn your backyard cookout from a well-planned gathering into a safety hazard is to gather guests inside your house.
If someone must enter the house, make sure they know where to find sanitizing wipes and keep their trips to necessities, like trips to the restroom.
If your cookout gets unexpected rain, do not invite everyone inside. It is in your best interest, and everyone’s health, to cancel the cookout and try another time. Conversely, if you’re at a BBQ and it starts raining, it’s fine to head home if heading inside will be too crowded for your comfort.
Best Foods to Serve and How to Handle Them
Treat your backyard cookout like a restaurant and follow the CDC guidelines for restaurants during COVID-19. If you’re going to use top-of-the-line equipment, and professional-grade grills, you might as well maintain the same standards of practice that the best restaurants are following.
Avoid shared foods. We know chips and dip are a time-honored cookout food, but now isn’t the time for communal foods. Right now, sharing is not caring. If you must serve those snacks and appetizers, try to give guests a pre-prepared plate of chips and dip to avoid transmission via guests touching the same item.
As for serving up your favorite summer recipes, it’s a good idea to treat your professional grilling area like the kitchen of a restaurant. Keep it inaccessible and have a set number of food handlers. Remember, the fewer people that can come in contact with the food, the better. Designate one chef. We know it’s a tradition to check on the chef and have a talk by the grill, but give the grill master some space. If necessary, cordon off the grill area and have the chef and someone else prepare plates of food for guests, so everyone only just touches their individual dishes.
What’s the Safest Way to Serve Drinks?
What’s a backyard cookout without some cold drinks? It’s summer, it’s going to be warm, and people will get thirsty. The two absolute best options are:
- Buy individual beverages like cans or bottles instead of a communal drinking station.
- Explicitly tell your guests to bring your own beverages. That way, people can safely handle their individual drinks.
Now everyone knows that even if you’ve repeatedly informed everyone to bring their own drinks, someone is bound to “forget”. That’s fine because you planned for it. Hopefully, you’ve included some outdoor refrigeration into your grill station. While ice chests are a staple of the backyard BBQ, it might be best to keep them in the garage. Guests might find it hard to break from the habit of grabbing drinks themselves.
Having a built-in under-counter refrigerator drawer, or if you’re feeling a little fancier an indoor/outdoor wine cooler, will completely change your barbequing experience and will make it easy to keep things COVID safe. First, the units stay within the confines of the grill space, making it easy to control who has access to the drinks. Secondly, stainless steel is a lot easier to clean and wipe down when someone does touch it. So even if you have someone sneaking over to grab a drink, it’s easy for them to sanitize the handle and keep your space clean.
Your summertime might not feel complete without at least one cookout. After all, you didn’t spend all that time designing your outdoor cook space and perfecting your grilling techniques to not share it with your family and friends, right?
With some proper planning and a few gallons of hand sanitizer, you should feel safe enough to dust off that grill, set a few beers and pops to chill, and enjoy at least part of your summer with loved ones. And with these guidelines, you won’t let COVID-19 crash your BBQ.