Memorial Day Cookout: A Complete Menu


National Barbecue Day is Memorial Day Monday.

Memorial Day weekend officially kicks off the summer. Children (and many grown up children) have Memorial Day emblazoned in their psyches as the end of responsibilities and the beginning of fun. But apart from any nostalgic associations we have for this warm-weather holiday weekend, it is also the first time each year that most of us break out our grills and our outdoor cooking skills, as well.

We have chosen a simple and delicious menu -- one that moves outdoors without too much trouble, either to your own patio or your favorite park or picnic spot. Additionally, traditional picnic fare enjoys a universal appeal to both children and adults, and contains ingredients that, if not already on your pantry shelves, will be readily found at the supermarket. This menu should by no means be reserved only for Memorial Day. It's a great source whenever you're looking for cookout food ideas.

If you plan to spread your feast away from home, you must deal with the logistics of cooking and serving food without having your kitchen handy. We have provided a check list of items you will need, as well as some suggestions for advance preparation.

Our cookout menu is:

  • Southwestern Barbecued Chicken
  • Cowboy Pinto Beans
  • Grilled Corn on the Cob
  • Grandma's Cole Slaw
  • Dish Bread
  • Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream
  • Grandma's Sugar Cookies
The Chicken

In selecting the chicken, remember that bone-in chicken with the skin on stands a better chance of becoming the succulent, juicy, crisp and brown entree you had in mind when you decided to barbecue chicken in the first place. Just this once, curb your habit of grabbing those boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

The Marinade

Marinating chicken prior to barbecuing is optional. In fact, it's quite possible to make excellent barbecued chicken without it, but for those of us who like to fool around with our food to the maximum extent, I recommend the following simple marinade:

  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

This is enough for about 8 pieces of chicken.

Trim any excess skin off chicken pieces. Marinate bone-in and skin-on pieces 8 hours or overnight. Skinless, boneless pieces (if you insist upon them) should be marinated no more than 1 hour. This marinade does its job during the marinade process; drain the chicken pieces and, with paper towels, blot marinade from surface of chicken before putting on the grill.

How you cook the chicken is at least as important as what marinade or sauce you use. Barbecuing is a slow process. Too hot a grill will result in dried out chicken. If you have a covered grill, get one of those inexpensive oven thermometers and set it inside the grill. If your fancy-schmancy grill already has a thermostat, so much the better. The ideal cooking temperature for barbecue is between 350°F and 400°F (that's medium-hot coals in grilling parlance).

Also, put on your shopping list some of those hickory, mesquite or apple wood chips and some heavy-duty aluminum foil.

The challenge in barbecuing chicken is that, if you put it on the grill right over the coals, the oils and sauce from the chicken drip onto the coals and ignite. The resulting flames char the chicken on the outside before the meat is done on the inside. So we're not going to do that. Before we get to the process, however, let's mix up the sauce.

Southwestern Barbecue Sauce

  • 10 cloves garlic, baked (at 350°F for 30 minutes, then peel)
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 cup sweet or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee powder or granules
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool.

Pour mixture into blender container. Process until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Remove about 1 cup sauce to use during the barbecue process. Reserve another cup of sauce for use in preparing the Cowboy Pinto Beans. Serve remaining sauce with chicken (it may be refrigerated up to a month). Makes about 5 cups.

The Indirect Heat Barbecue Process

These instructions assume that you have some kind of hooded grill. (If you had planned on doing all this on your patio hibachi, I recommend that you just drop by KFC.)

  1. Put about 2 cups of your wood chips in the center of a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Fold over the edges and seal the top and sides, making a packet. Make several small holes in the top.
  2. Remove food rack from grill.
  3. Place 40 to 50 charcoal briquettes on either side of the grill, leaving an empty space in the center. If the grill uses lava rock, position the rock on either side in the same manner. Put a drip pan in the empty space. Place the foil packet with wood chips atop the briquettes (or rocks) and ignite the charcoal. If using a gas grill, let it preheat for 20 minutes. Allow the charcoal to burn for 30 minutes or until the flames disappear and coals turn white. Place your oven timer in the grill where you can read it.
  4. Coat the food rack of grill with cooking spray and place it on the grill.
  5. Be sure any excess skin is trimmed from the chicken pieces and that any marinade is blotted from the surface of the chicken.
  6. Arrange chicken pieces, skin side up, on the grill rack, directly over the hot coals (check with your oven timer -- should be between 350°F and 400°F). Cook, with grill lid down, for 15 minutes.
  7. Turn the chicken pieces and cook, again with grill lid down, for 10 to 15 minutes, still over the hot coals. Chicken pieces should be golden.
  8. Move the chicken pieces over the drip pan (skin side down), and brush with barbecue sauce. Cook, with grill lid down, for 5 minutes.
  9. Turn chicken skin side up. Brushing frequently with barbecue sauce, cook, with grill lid down, for about 25 minutes.

Steps 6 and 7 ensure that your chicken develops a golden crust, which holds in the juices, while Steps 8 and 9 guarantee that it is fully cooked.

Cooking time totals about 1 hour. So, remember to start thinking about getting the fire ready about an hour-and-a-half before you want to eat.

Cowboy Pinto Beans

  • 1 pound dried pinto beans
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 pound salt pork (as lean as you can find)
  • 1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice
  • 4 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 Jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup Reserved Southwestern Barbecue Sauce (see recipe, above)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Wash and pick over beans. Make several cuts into the salt pork down to, but not through, the rind. Combine all ingredients, except salt, in a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low simmer. Cook very slowly, covered. Stir beans up from the bottom occasionally, and add water if they start looking dry. Cook for at least 3 hours. Beans are done when they are soft, but still hold their shape. Do not cook to mush.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

  • 8 medium ears corn, husked and desilked, with ends trimmed
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 tablespoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine butter, salt and pepper, and mix well.

Center each ear of corn on a square of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Liberally spread the surface of each ear with butter mixture. Fold in ends of aluminum foil and roll up.

Corn may be placed on the grill for 10 to 12 minutes, with grill lid down, or directly on the coals and turned frequently for about 8 minutes.

Grandma's Cole Slaw

Cole slaw is a standard item on so many restaurant menus. But almost nowhere is it really done well. This one is crisp and tangy.

  • 1 head cabbage, shredded
  • 2 carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1 small white onion, grated
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Mix the cabbage, carrots and onion in a large bowl or heavy-duty plastic bag and refrigerate. Whisk together remaining ingredients to make a smooth dressing; refrigerate. About 30 minutes before serving, mix the dressing with the cabbage mixture and toss.

Dish Bread

This is the easiest yeast bread you will ever make. It has a coarser texture than traditional yeast breads, but it is wonderfully moist, it perfumes your whole house while baking, and is irresistible when warm from the oven.

  • 1 cup warm milk (110°F)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 packets yeast (4 teaspoons)
  • 1 egg (at room temperature), lightly beaten
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 cup very warm water
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (or Better-for-Bread flour)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the warm milk, yeast and honey. Stir and let stand for 10 minutes.

Mix the egg, butter, salt and water into the milk mixture. Gradually add the flour, stirring until well blended.

Cover the bowl and allow dough to rise in a warm place until more than doubled in bulk (about 40 minutes). Stir the dough down and beat for 30 seconds.

Pour the dough into a greased bowl (a 1-1/2 quart Pyrex casserole dish will give you a nice, round loaf). Bake at 375°F for about 50 minutes. Brush melted butter on the top of the loaf when it's just out of the oven.

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

  • 2-2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-Purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 5 large eggs
  • 4 cups puréed fresh strawberries (about 3-1/2 to 4 pints)
  • 4 cups whipping cream
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons almond extract

The quality of ingredients is extremely important in making good ice cream. Buy the best, ripest fruit and the freshest eggs and dairy products. Do not buy your eggs from a convenience store, where they may have been languishing in the back of the cooler for weeks, but from a reputable grocery store or supermarket.

Wash, trim and hull the strawberries; cut the larger ones in half. Transfer berries to a blender and purée. Transfer purée to a container and refrigerate.

Combine 1-1/2 cups of the sugar, flour and salt; set aside

Heat milk in top of a double boiler until hot, but not boiling; add a small amount of the hot milk to the sugar mixture, stirring to make a smooth paste. Then stir sugar mixture back into the remaining milk. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat, until slightly thickened. Lower heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 10 minutes.

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl. Stir about one-fourth of the hot mixture into the eggs; mix well. Stir the egg mixture back into the hot mixture, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Allow to cool.

Mix together the strawberry purée, the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, whipping cream and extracts. Stir into the custard. Keep mixture refrigerated or on ice until ready to freeze.

Pour into freezer can of a hand-turned or electric ice cream freezer. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Makes about 4 quarts.

Tips for Making Legendary Ice Cream

Make sure your custard mixture is as cold as possible when you begin freezing the ice cream. In fact, preparing the ice cream mixture the day before makes smoother ice cream and increases the yield.

Keep the beater, top and can of your ice cream freezer in the freezer or on ice so that these parts will be cold when ready for use.

Finely crushed ice will melt more evenly and will, therefore, give you a smoother textured ice cream.

To make and pack 4 quarts of ice cream, you will need about 20 pounds of crushed ice (15 for making and 5 for hardening) and 6 cups of rock (3 and 3) or 4 cups of table salt (2 and 2).

Be careful not to use too much salt. Salt makes the ice and melt water colder, so too much salt can cause the ice cream to freeze too fast on the edge of the can resulting in a grainy texture.

Grandma's Sugar Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream the butter with the salt, lemon zest, nutmeg, sugar and eggs.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and baking soda. With electric mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture. Add the milk and mix well.

Drop by tablespoons on a greased cookie sheet. Flatten cookies by stamping with a cookie press or bottom of a drinking glass. Sprinkle cookies lightly with granulated sugar.

Bake at 375°F for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.


A Few Days Before:

  • Make the Southwestern Barbecue Sauce

The Day Before:

  • Cook up the Cowboy Pinto Beans
  • Make Grandma's Cole Slaw, but do not mix dressing with the chopped vegetables
  • Make up the Strawberry Ice Cream mixture
  • Make Grandma's Sugar Cookies

The Night Before:

  • Put the chicken in the marinade

The Morning of:

  • Husk the corn
  • Bake the Dish Bread (wrap in lots of foil and paper towels to keep as warm as possible)
  • Heat up the Cowboy Pinto Beans (these don't have to be hot when you serve them, but you don't want them cold)
  • Drain the marinade from the chicken and blot it dry

Checklist of Items Not to Forget (if You're Cooking away from Home):

  • Grill
  • Charcoal and lighting medium, matches, lighter
  • Tongs for turning; brush for basting
  • Table cloth, plates, flatware, napkins
  • Jug of plain water (hand washing, drinking, etc.)
  • Coolers with plenty of ice
  • Ice cream freezer, chipped ice and salt
  • Large towel (for packing ice cream)
  • Plastic trash bag (for trash)
  • Large, heavy-duty, zip-type freezer bags
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Something to sit on
  • Something to lie down on so you can look up at the clouds
  • Insect repellent
  • First Aid Kit

With any luck at all, you can delegate some of your cookout dishes to others, but even if you are responsible for the entire affair, this is simple fare which won't provide too great a challenge, even to novice cooks.

When the delectable aroma of barbecued chicken begins wafting from your grill, you'll be glad this cookout was your idea.