Why not introduce a little friendly competition at your next BBQ?
Try hosting a cooking contest!
Simply send out an invitation challenging your friends to see who can make the "World's Best (insert kind of food here)". Its best to choose a food that allows for many variations. We've had hamburger and kebab challenges for BBQ parties. You can also do something like mac n' cheese when its too cold for grilling.
The advantages of this are threefold:
1. People will bring food to your BBQ. It will be actual food they put thought into, not just chips they picked up on the way.
2. You'll get to eat a lot of different delicious food with very little cooking on your part.
3. Everyone will be united around a central event. This is the easiest way to get people talking that don't know each other. Fun will ensue!
My favorite theme so far has been the burger cook-off. It allows for endless variations and everyone loves burgers. At our last competition, we had quite a variety: beef, turkey, lamb, chicken, mushroom, and lentil.
As the host, its a good idea to have basic condiments on hand, as well as some extra buns (inevitably someone will forget to bring buns for their burger. How does this happen? I don't know, but it does). You may want to also provide some side dishes, or you'll be likely to have burgers with a side of...burgers.
You'll also want to let people know how many burgers to bring to participate in the cook-off. We usually tell people to bring sliders, or plan to cut their burgers in four so everyone can try a piece.
To decide on a winner, I like to have everyone vote via secret ballot. You may want to offer more than one prize. I usually like to offer one prize for "Best All Around" (otherwise known as the "Burger Master"), and then something like "Most Original". This gives the vegetarians a chance at winning something, and encourages creative entries.
Now you may be wondering, "what could I possibly offer as a prize that would properly reflect the importance and grandeur of winning a competition such as this??". Well, for many people, a full belly and the admiration of their friends may be enough. But I prefer to mark the occasion with homemade trophies!
Stay tuned for the how-to...
[Photos courtesy of Lauren Veloski]