This time of year means a lot of things: baseball, cool drinks and outdoor cooking parties. As the chef/owner of the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que restaurant chain, the last is my favorite.

Basically every guy I know has some idea how to grill a steak outside. What a lot of guys don’t know how to do, however, is make barbecue. With apologies to my friends from the Northeast, “barbecue” doesn’t just mean cooking outside. In fact, in a lot of ways, barbecuing is the exact opposite of grilling.

And hey, there’s more to a great party than just a main course. Stick around and learn how to make your Labor Day BBQ one for the record books.

1. Free up your hands.
Before your guests even arrive, you want to have as much done as possible. Think of it like a restaurant, if you’ve ever worked in one. You want to have all your prep work done as soon as you can. That way you can concentrate on cooking food and entertaining your friends while they hang out. Getting as much done as you can before the party starts makes for a better party for you and for your guests.

2. Create atmosphere.
What more decoration do you need than your backyard? I feel like guys can go a little too crazy here. You’re throwing a backyard dinner party, not a little kid’s birthday. It’s more important that you have some good music playing than to mess around with bunting and what not. I prefer blues and funk for the music, because they create a certain energy and atmosphere. Make sure that you’ve got some lighting and something to take care of the local bloodsucker population and you’re going to be golden. Plenty of seating is a must, too. You want everyone to be comfortable.

3. Take care of the drinks and sides.
People overthink this way too much. When it comes to drinks, you just want to have some cold beer and a good red wine to go with the meat. What kind? Whatever you want, that’s what kind. Just make sure that you keep plenty of beverages cold so that people have a way to cool down in the hot summer sun. As far as sides, I urge people to go for the whole local and seasonal thing. What do they have within 50 miles of where you live at that time of year? Chances are you can score some great locally grown, in-season zucchini, asparagus, corn or tomatoes. Usually all you need is a little olive oil, salt and pepper and you can grill that stuff up in no time.

The author/master at work…

4. Pay for dessert.
This one is easy: Just go buy a cake. I never mess around with dessert. I live in New York and there’s no shortage of great bakeries. There’s got to be at least one good one near you. Trust me: It’s not worth the time and effort to make something yourself.

5. Barbecue and jerk some chicken.
Along with pork shoulder, this is one of my signature dishes. It’s hard to go wrong with chicken, but barbecuing it and jerking it provides a little extra touch that your friends aren’t going to soon forget. Here’s how.

Jerk Bar-B-Que Chicken
Serves 4 to 6

For the jerk paste:
1 large onion, cut in 16 pieces
2 large habañero peppers, stems and seeds removed
2 large cloves garlic
1 medium bunch scallions, white parts plus 4 inches of green, sliced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

For the chicken:
8 chicken quarters
Jerk paste

For the jerk sauce:
1/2 cup jerk paste, reserved
1 cup Mutha Sauce
1/3 cup water

Is it heaven? No, it’s jerk chicken.


For the jerk paste:
Throw all the paste ingredients into a food processor. Start by processing with on/off pulses, scraping the work bowl down several times. Then continue processing to a paste. Reserve 1/2 cup for the sauce component.

For the chicken:
Prep the chicken by breaking the joint between the leg and the thigh, and trim away any backbone attached to the thigh. Tuck the wing tip under the spot where the wing joins the breast.

Place the chicken pieces in a shallow glass baking dish. Spoon a few tablespoons of jerk paste over the chicken and massage it into the meat; you can even lift up the skin on the breast pieces and massage the paste right into the flesh. Cover the chicken tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight for maximum flavor.

Build a medium coal bed in your grill. It should register 325 to 350 degrees with the lid down. Open the lid and position the rack as high above the coals as possible (this keeps the skin from getting too charred before the chicken is cooked through).

Combine sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil; keep warm.

Gently scrape off excess paste from the chicken parts so the meat doesn’t stew or burn too fast on the grill. Arrange the chicken pieces, skin side up, directly over the coals. Close the lid and cook 25 to 30 minutes. Give the chicken a flip, skin side down, and cook, covered, for 20 more minutes, until it has an internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees.

Flip all the pieces skin side up and slather on the sauce. Close the lid and cook for 10 to 15 more minutes to glaze the chicken. Serve with more sauce for ladling.

Your mouth watering yet? It should be. Enjoy your party, and happy barbecuing…

Lead photo: Getty Images/gilaxia