(BPT) - May 1 kicks off National Barbecue Month and the beginning of the season for families to gather and enjoy more memorable meals together outside.
Across the nation, from the Carolinas to the California coast, barbecue has never been bigger. Barbecue products and flavors line grocery store shelves, and shipments of grills and smokers reached 14 million last year, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.
As you begin planning your summer get-togethers, whether it's a casual afternoon barbecue or a more elaborate evening feast, here are some fun and easy ways families can enjoy their time together without a lot of stress - or mess.
Keep the kids occupied - If you're using a smoker or grill for your gathering, or if you have lots of activity happening in the kitchen around a hot stove, let the kids help out and teach them fire safety as they prepare and cook food. Also, before your gathering, head to your local discount store and purchase some simple yard games to keep them entertained. Bean bag tosses, sidewalk art, Hula Hoops, Frisbees, Wiffle Ball and sticker tag are all fun activities the kids will love - and adults can play too!
Stock up early - Salads, drinks, appetizers, desserts and of course barbecue ... be sure to have plenty of food planned for everyone. In a hurry? Make your barbecues even easier with prepared meats. Farm Rich Smokehouse BBQ has five new products that take just minutes to prepare. Each Smokehouse item, such as Pulled Pork BBQ or Dry Rub Smoked Chicken, has been hickory-smoked for hours, contains no artificial ingredients and includes high-quality meat cuts. They're perfect for a quick summer lunch or big gathering - and your guests will think you grilled for hours.
Make cleanup a breeze - Barbecue has a reputation for being a bit messy, so be sure to have plenty of napkins handy. To help cut down on traffic in the house, set up buckets of water in the yard with soap for a quick cleanup. Use sturdy paper plates and plastic utensils and cups so guests can toss them in trash or recycling bins you've stationed around the yard.
Beau Coffron, who writes about family and food at LunchBoxDad (and is a member of the Life of Dad national blogger network) says that planning healthy, tasty meals for active families in the summer months doesn't need to take a lot of time. 'Making salads and cutting up fruit and vegetables a day or two ahead of time can help reduce meal planning stress. We also sometimes use a pre-prepared main item, which gives us the time to sit down together, enjoy a meal and then head out for the rest of our activities,' Coffron says.
For an easy recipe, try these deluxe grilled cheese sandwiches with barbecue chicken.
Applewood Honey Chicken Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Makes 4 sandwiches, serves 4
1 (20 ounce) package Farm Rich Smokehouse Applewood Honey Chicken BBQ
8 (1/4 to 1/2-inch) slices of a whole grain bread loaf
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 stick butter, melted
Spicy mustard for dipping (optional)
Prepare BBQ according to package directions. Brush a large non-stick skillet with butter and place over medium-low heat. Working with two sandwiches at a time, brush one side of two pieces of bread with butter. Spread 1 ounce of cream cheese on the other side of each piece of bread. Place the two pieces of bread (butter side down) in the pan. Top each with BBQ, cheese, tomato slices and more cheese. Butter two more slices of bread and place them over each sandwich (butter side up). Use a spatula to smash the sandwiches just a bit. Flip the sandwiches over after about 2-4 minutes or until the bottom pieces of bread are dark brown. Cook until the other side of the bread is dark brown. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and repeat process with the remaining slices of bread and ingredients to make two more sandwiches. Serve with spicy mustard for dipping.