8 Tips for Taking Your Holiday Feast Outdoors
Because we all need (safe) celebration more than ever this year.
The holidays will look a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean they are any less special. And really, if this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to treasure time with family and friends more than ever—virtually or otherwise. While the CDC recommends only hosting an indoor celebration with the people that live in your household, taking your holiday feast outside offers a whole new world of possibilities and, yes, challenges. Read on for a few easy ways to ensure that your outdoor Thanksgiving, Christmas, and any other holiday meal is as safe, comfortable, and celebratory as possible.
The number one issue hosts of outdoor feasts will face this holiday season is keeping diners warm. Staying cozy will be the key to a successful evening where people are able to relax (rather than rush) through a chilly meal, so it’s worth investing a little bit of time and money to get the right tools. You can rent tall space heaters from an event company or even buy a few “patio-style” heaters if you plan on hosting a few outdoor events. Depending on your level of investment and amount of space you have, another fantastic option is a portable outdoor fire pit. Guests can sit around the fire to have a pre-dinner cocktail or for post-meal coffee and dessert. S’mores, anyone?
A hot, boozy drink on a cold night is one of the greatest joys of the cooler months, and there are plenty of festive recipes to help you create the mood for your holiday feast. Try swapping out pre-dinner champagne or cocktails for spicy mulled wine or mulled wine with cranberries, hot buttered rum, or a hot toddy.
Forgoing the oven and opting to grill the main course allows you to be outside socializing with your guests while you cook, instead of fussing over the hot oven inside the house. You can grill a turkey to perfection, or opt for grilled steak (try this one with a tangy caper sauce), leg of lamb, or pork tenderloin. For the vegetarians, throw on these super-savory and satisfying miso mushroom kabobs.
Draping a shawl or light blanket over the back of each chair will ensure that your guests can cozy up and stay comfortable throughout the evening, without having to feel like they are bothering you with additional requests if they start to get chilly. Providing pillows or extra cushioning to make the outdoor furniture even more comfortable will encourage guests to linger around the table post-meal.
Good lighting changes the ambience of an outdoor dinner and makes it feel like a special occasion. Hang a string of lights around the perimeter of your space or criss-crossed across the table, and use large candles as centerpieces (keeping them well out of the way of children and anything flammable, of course).
While soup is an oft-beloved and warming way to start a holiday feast, it’s not the easiest to do in an outdoor setting. Not only is soup messy and hard to transport bowl-by-bowl from the kitchen, it’s also challenging (and dangerous) to pass a large vat of steaming liquid around the table. Swap the soup course for another warm appetizer, like crispy bacon-wrapped dates, loaded polenta bites, or gooey baked brie with cranberry compote and pecans, served up with crusty bread.
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While it might be a little more to clean up, using your normal tablecloth, napkins, silverware, and plates will make it feel more like a special meal. If you don’t feel comfortable handling others’ dirty dishes, invest in high-quality disposables.
Planning ahead is always the key to successful hosting, but it becomes especially important when your guests can’t keep you company in the kitchen while you finish the cooking. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time to minimize “day of” tasks. For example, make dressings and sauces, clean and chop veggies, and assemble casseroles, then store them tightly wrapped in the fridge (minus any crispy toppings). They’ll be ready to pop in the oven a few hours before the meal. That way you can spend more time celebrating with loved ones.