This Kitchen Staple Is the Secret to Easy Outdoor Entertaining
Great for one-pan meals, baking cookies and prep work, sheet pans are the unsung heroes of outdoor entertaining. Convenient to carry, simple to arrange attractively and a cinch to clean up (just scrape off the leftovers and toss the pan in the dishwasher), pre-chill a few sheet pans before your next backyard party for your most impressive spread to date. Whether you’re serving mezze platters, cheese boards, summer salads, or desserts, a few shiny sheet pans spruce up your serving game. And yes, they look pretty in photos, too.
To start, pick out a few half- or full-size rimmed baking sheets, then follow these simple steps.
Make sure your baking sheets are clean, then chill them in your refrigerator for a few hours. Then, begin arranging your spread and prepping all your ingredients.
“People tend to think that cheese can't be left out too long, but lots of hard cheeses hold up just fine on a warm day and get a wonderful texture when they sit at room temperature,” says Mandy Wynn, owner of Brooklyn specialty grocer BKLYN Larder. “While I would avoid leaving cheese out in direct sunlight, there is no reason to forego a cheese board using a baking sheet when you're partying outside.”
For a colorful and unique summer cheese board, Wynn recommends the nutty-tasting, mac-and-cheese yellow L'Amuse 2 year aged gouda and the creamy and bright Prairie Breeze, neither of which need any accoutrements like jam or honey, though leave room on the sheet pan for spreads like olive tapenade, pesto, and additional veggies, or even vegan-friendly additions to crackers and bread. For the latter, “the harder the better” is Wynn’s rule for outdoors. Opt for a crostini or even pretzels or salted nuts to ensure your crunchy elements don’t get stale while sitting out.
If you’re into meats, stick to the hardness rule. “Most hard salamis go great on an outdoor spread,” Wynn says. “Stay away from sliced deli meats or prosciuttos that are cut very thin, they may harden if left out too long.” She loves Casellas—perfect for all day snacking—or crowd-pleasing charcuterie from Olympia Provisions, like their saucisson sec.
For something sweet, Wynn is “super obsessed with” Dick Taylor Bee Pollen & Fennel chocolate. “It’s so pretty for the summer with little bits of bright yellow pollen on top each piece of chocolate,” she says.”It pairs amazingly with Mr. Tam, a nice soft cheese from Cowgirl creamery that won’t run or turn goopy when you're outside.” Sandwiched between Talbot and Arding crackers, you have a cheesy version of s’mores.
And to make everything look yummy (and easy to enjoy), Wynn recommends cutting your meat, cheese, and other items into bite size pieces, laying them out on the tray with space between each item. Next, fill in the blank spaces with dip (either directly on the tray or in a small bowl) and dippers, like crackers, grapes, or other single-serving treats. Edible flowers make a gorgeous addition too!
Overwhelmed with all the options to spread out? “The best way to figure out pairings and how to select the right items is to taste everything,” Wynn says. “ Older cheeses tend to have stronger flavor and can stand on their own, but some give you a sense for something sweet or salty. When you pick milder cheeses and creamy soft cheeses, even when they have some funk, jam, honey, and even chocolate make great toppings.”
Balance hard cheeses with strong crackers, sweet accoutrements with spicy and salty items, like popcorn, but don’t let the flavors compete. For simplicity’s sake, and to get some cheesy convo started, Wynn suggests using gouda in cow, sheep, and goat varieties. The possibilities for your sheet pan are endless, but best of all, they’re easy, inexpensive, and crowd-pleasing!