It should be a perfect afternoon: sunny, light breeze, the kids are in the pool, the adult guests are spread across the back yard talking and laughing, the grill is ready and the coals are spot on, and you are in a sheer panic.
You know people are getting hungry, your son has asked when the burgers will be ready, the chips and salsa are depleted, and you are still making the burgers, skewering the shrimp, chopping the veggies, and the hot dogs are still in the package.
You want everything to be perfect. And for you, perfect means doing it your way. And that is where you went wrong. Sure, there are things that only you can do, to get your world-famous, or at least neighborhood-famous, burgers ready. But all those other things? Why didn’t you ask for help?
For the home cook, whether on stove or grill, prep time saves time. And the first part of any prep is to make a list. Not in your head, but on a piece of paper, or white board, or something else others can read and access.
Because proper prep is a team effort. If you want the onions cut a certain way, does that mean only you can do it? Delegate it to a spouse, a friend, a child (if they know how to be safe). On that list you made, put some names on there. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes. So use them.
Think for a moment about the simple cheeseburger. What can be done ahead of time? Step back and get it done.
Make the patties at least a couple hours early: One extra benefit is any seasoning will really work it’s way into the meat.
Have all the veggies sliced beforehand, which is a great job for a kitchen novice to handle. Show them what you want, and let them go, and without staring over their shoulder the whole time.
Have someone else, again a great choice for a younger child, make sure all the condiments are ready and available ahead of time. Have a new bottle of ketchup? Remember to remove the safety wrapping and that little foam inner lid before putting it on the table, to save a guest’s embarrassment when they squeeze and get either nothing or too much.
Don’t forget to have another person prep the buns. Dropping them in the package on the table is a rookie mistake. Make a nice display on a plate or in a basket, for excellent effect. And it makes it easier to keep an eye on how many have been used.
Now, while the others are doing their tasks, you can keep your focus on the meat. Start the grill, either gas or coals, while the rest of the team is doing their thing. It keeps you out of their hair, and means you have control over a very important step.
And one last thing about burger prep. Are you ready for specialty orders? If you have multiple cheeses, do you know who wants want? Do you have guests that may not want the cheese? Here’s where another white board is a huge plus. Put it out by the grill, and let your guests put a check mark next to their choice. It takes stress off you and lets you focus on your part, which is making sure everyone gets that the best you can offer.
All these steps can apply to virtually any other meal.
Taking the time to step back and prep first, and that really means plan first, makes the entire process more enjoyable.