barbecue tasting

The elegant barbecue: How to turn your next grill-fest into an upscale event

You’ve got to love a good barbecue.

There’s something about the smoky scent of fresh-grilled fare that automatically reminds you of summer fun—and spring and fall, too. We’ve even done winter barbecues, so I stand corrected. Barbecues are perfect any time of the year!

When done right, they simply have a way of putting everyone at ease, whether the party is in your backyard or at your workplace. We all seem to relax and enjoy ourselves thanks to a barbecue party’s familiar informality.

Wedding Buffet

Now, when most people think of barbecues, the usual fare comes to mind. Their taste buds start tingling with the thought of hot dogs and burgers being prepared alongside a range of standard condiments. Of course, we love us some ketchup and mustard here at Kiss the Cook Catering, but we’re also dedicated to finding new ways to elevate classic catered options—condiments included.

For us, it’s all about putting a new spin on old favourites. So, here’s a thought—what about staging a more refined barbecue for your next event? We do it all the time and it never fails to please our guests. That includes weddings, social and corporate events. In fact, barbecue catering is one of our specialties. So much so, in fact, that in 2017 we made Blog TO’s  list of top caterers in Toronto with a special nod to our barbecue offerings. We’re not ones to brag, but that’s a pretty awesome pat on the back. We’ve earned that reputation for barbecue goodness precisely because we’re prepared to think differently when our chefs jump behind the grill.

Barbecue chefPardon my rant for a second, but contrary to popular belief—and the practices of some catering firms—barbecue cuisine doesn’t need to come out of a package and involve stale store-bought buns. On the contrary, when it’s done right, a grill-worthy feast is all about freshness, recipe innovation, proper cooking techniques and choice cuts of meat and freshly-picked produce put together to create the perfect culinary package.

Rant complete.

The point is that staging an upscale barbecue—no matter the occasion—is about staying true to our belief that preparing great food is about attention to detail and not becoming trapped by traditional approaches that, although still potentially fun in a more casual setting, lack the pop and pageantry needed to turn your catered menu into the unforgettable feature of your event. And that all starts with the food.

How many times have you been invited to a barbecue only to be served boxed, frozen burgers? Too many? That’s what I thought. Look, there are times when I’ve seen people turn to the frozen food aisle when they’re in a pinch and need to feed the kids in a hurry, or when they might be throwing an impromptu party and simply don’t have the time to prepare a full spread in a short timeframe—I get it.

But when you’re elevating the barbecue experience, there’s no excuse for not tapping the freshest, finest ingredients available. When we’re preparing burgers, for example, we turn to cuts such as top round sirloin to turn this simple staple into a mouth-watering masterpiece. If grilled chicken or ribs are on the menu, we have a core list of suppliers who we can trust to deliver top quality meats, and then our chefs focus on adding their signature seasoning or homemade marinades and sauces to give the dishes flare. Part of elevating a barbecue always start with having the right shopping list.

If it’s a vegan or vegetarian barbecue, it’s critical to use the freshest produce possible. There’s no reason why an upscale grill fest can’t turn gorgeous Portobello mushrooms or colourful peppers into a perfect substitute for the usual grilled meats that we’d find on most barbecue menus. Remember: the fresher the ingredients, the better the result, no matter how they’re prepared. If you’re looking to elevate your barbecue, you need a menu that caters to all diets—and fabulous vegan or vegetarian options are no exception. We can all agree that some of the worst-tasting barbecue fare is store-bought veggie burgers and hot dogs. We make sure that our barbecues include veggie delights that are so good they might even tempt carnivores to skip the meat.

Vegetarian barbecue

That rule applies to other key—yet often overlooked—ingredients such as delicious burger, hot dog or sausage buns. Well, they should be delicious, but that’s not always the case because by the time we slap on a burger patty and slather it with ketchup or relish, the bun often becomes nothing but a starchy afterthought. It’s the delivery vehicle for juicy meats and store-bought condiments. That shouldn’t be the case. We bake a lot of our breads in-house such as our famous jumbo Kaisers, focaccia or Calabrese long buns, and work with local bakeries to source fresh, specialty buns and breads for any barbecue that we cater. Have you ever eaten a burger on a cliffside hearth brioche, for example? Then you haven’t lived!

So, what was that point about the condiments? Glad you asked. This is where we separate the OK barbecues from the ones that get talked about months later. You have to include your staples such as mustard and ketchup, but why not try making them from scratch? It’s the perfect way to add style and flare to an otherwise boring barbecue party, and at little expense in time or dollars. If you’re working with a caterer, find out what other condiments they offer (hint: that list should be extensive). For example, our barbecues often include condiments such as Tomatillo salsa verde, hummus, chimichurri, bacon jam, and roasted garlic aioli, to name just a handful of our tastier toppings. They’re all scratch-made by our chefs and deliver mind-blowing flavour.

And who says you have to serve burgers? We love thinking outside the grill by adding less-conventional fare to our barbecue menus. Think dishes such as seafood paella, delicious pizzas or tasty flatbreads. Almost anything can be cooked on a grill, but we tend to be so focused on traditional choices that these creative options go largely unexplored.

barnboard serving dish

Lastly, when organizing any catered barbecue, the finishing details are what make an otherwise good menu pop with excitement for your guests. Case in point: our grill décor features handmade barnboard chafing dishes and display elements that add a rustic feel ideal for everything from country weddings to upscale corporate parties sure to impress even the most discerning client.

Food Station

Beyond that, it’s all about ensuring adequate staffing and providing the very best service, from servers to chefs and management. Barbecues may seem relatively straightforward to organize—roll in the grill and you’re ready to cook, right?—but they can be as complex as a formal sit-down dinner to execute well. That is, at least, by our exacting standards. Proper staffing is just as important as choosing the right cut of meat to slap on the grill. This is specifically important when it comes to the chef. We’ve all had a family member who thinks he’s a grill master, but presses down on a burger only to be left with a juice-less, taste-less brick. Our chefs take grilling very seriously, and that means cooking your menu to perfection. Sometimes all it takes is the cooking of a protein to perfection to refine a barbecue and have it tasting more elegant than traditional fare.

The key takeaway here is that elevating the barbecue experience isn’t difficult. It just takes creativity, an understanding of culinary trends and the right team to bring it all together. Happy grilling!

Fia Pagnello, founder

Planning a fun and exciting catered barbecue event this summer? Contact us now!