For many, backyard entertaining often means throwing a few hot dogs or steaks on the Hibachi and washing them down with a beer. But if you're aiming for something a little more sophisticated this season, why not try a restaurant-calibre tasting menu? A variety of barbecued flatbreads, ribs and veggies in elegant single servings allow the grill master to show off his or her skills while providing diners with a range of taste sensations. And you haven't savoured seasonal fruit until you've tried it grilled, frozen or drenched in rum.
To serve your tasting menu, have plenty of trays, small bowls, large spoons and shot glasses at the ready. Here is a backyard smorgasbord in bite-sized samplings from appetizers to dessert.
For a tasty starter, cook some basic pizza dough on the grill and have guests choose their preferred toppings from a trio of simple chunky salsas in colourful mini buckets. Sweet/savoury threesomes might include peach and goat cheese, pear and gorgonzola or cherry jalapeno. Hang the breads from a clothesline when they're hot off the grill for a truly original presentation.
Pizza dough as required
Pull apart your sheet of pizza dough into smaller portions and stretch each out into oval-shaped individual servings. Rub a little olive oil onto each piece, sprinkle with salt and cook them on the grill until brown. Encourage guests to spoon on the assorted salsas and chutneys while the bread is still hot.
Slow-cooked dry ribs
Ribs are high on everyone's summer grill list. For your tasting menu, try traditional ribs with a sticky barbecue sauce, Korean kalbi short beef ribs (a bone-in cut available at most Asian markets) and ribs coated with a spicy dry rub like the one perfected by my brother Sean, who has kindly provided the recipe below. Since Sean's ribs are slow-cooked, you will need to get them on the grill about four to five hours before serving. (The Korean ribs, by comparison, are thinner cuts and therefore require only about 10 minutes on the grill.)
To serve your trio, place one of each type of rib in individual bowls on a single platter for each person. Include a finger bowl containing warm water and a lemon slice and lots of napkins.
Short ribs as required
Dry rib rub:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons ground sage
3 tablespoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon celery salt
1 tablespoons cayenne pepper
Combine spices in a bowl and set aside until needed. Although there is no need to pre-boil the ribs for this recipe, you should remove the silverskin; do so by holding each rib at one end and peeling the skin off with a fork. Rub the spice mix into the ribs an hour or two before cooking, coating them liberally on all sides. This recipe provides enough rub for the whole summer and also tastes great on pork tenderloin and chicken breasts.
If you're cooking your ribs on a barbecue, heat the grill up so that the internal thermometer reads 425 F. Place the ribs curve side up over low flame for 15 to 25 minutes. Turn the flame to medium and move the ribs to the other side of the grill so that they cook on indirect heat for an additional 3.5 hours or even longer if you wish.
If you're cooking the ribs in the oven, bake them for 15 minutes at 425 F, then turn the heat down and cook them for another three hours at 225 F.
Steamed seasonal veggies in corn husk packets
Take advantage of summer's bounty by cooking a medley of fresh local vegetables in handy and attractive corn husk packets. Serve each packet on a large plate alongside grilled onions and peppers on a fragrant rosemary-sprig skewer and cold green-pea soup poured into a shot glass and garnished with sour cream, red pepper curls and sprouts.
Leeks, asparagus, celery, zucchini, mushrooms or whatever else may be in season
Black pepper, salt and cayenne pepper
Before assembling your vegetables, tear off thin strips from a single wet corn husk to serve as ribbons and set aside.
Lay out the required number of wet corn husks for your packets and place assorted vegetables in the centre of each. Add a dollop of butter to each pile and season with salt, pepper and, if you want a little kick, some cayenne pepper.
Fold each husk up and tie them with the corn-husk ribbons to create a vegetable packet. Drop each husk onto the grill and steam the vegetables for up to five minutes.
Corn on the cob with spicy chipotle lime butter
Add a twist to a summer favourite by serving grilled or boiled corn on the cob with a trio of flavourful butters, smearing a pad of each onto each diner's plate. Below is a recipe for a spicy chipotle lime butter, but you can experiment with a variety of pairings, such as sun-dried tomato and basil or garlic and dill. Simply chop your combo ingredients finely and combine with softened butter using a fork or food processor.
Spicy chipotle lime butter:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 chipotle pepper, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and smash together with a fork or pulse in a food processor until the mixture is well combined. Form into a log shape in plastic wrap, parchment or waxed paper (tightening the ends as if it were a sausage) and refrigerate for up to two weeks or freeze for up to three months.
Rum-soaked cherry shortcake
No one will be able to resist a plate of three bite-sized desserts based on seasonal fruits: grilled Amaretto peaches, frozen watermelon/blueberry sangria and dark rum macerated cherry shortcake. To make the first dessert, simply soak halved and pitted peaches in Amaretto for a few hours and grill until slightly charred. To make the second one, combine frozen watermelon chunks and blueberries with your favourite red wine and serve in tumblers with ice. Here is the recipe for macerated cherry shortcake - a fun take on strawberry shortcake.
1 pound cake, sliced
Cherries as required
Soak the cherries in dark rum for two hours or overnight. Grill the pound cake slices until grill marks appear and transfer them to serving plates. Top each slice with a layer of cherries, a layer of whipped cream and a few more cherries on top.