The aroma of grilling brats. The snap of fall in the air. The rare chance to wear face paint as a grown-up. Don’t you just love a good tailgate? Well, maybe not if you’re the host, the brave soul who volunteered to throw a party for an uncertain number of guests, out in the elements, without the benefit of electricity or running water. But, hey! You can do this! Here’s how:
1) Keep It Simple
If you want to relax in your insignia emblazoned folding chair, plan no more than one or two foods that will require on-site cooking or special care. Round out your menu with make-ahead or ready-to eat fare that can be served at room temperature. Think cornbread, cookies, veggies, chips, and dip. Bonus points for finger foods: They minimize the need for utensils.
2) Start Prepping Pre-Pregame
Chop, slice, and assemble whatever you can at home. Put it all in waterproof zip-top plastic bags or those handy plastic tubs from the deli, which stack neatly and take up minimal room in coolers. The more you pack in disposable containers, the less you’ll have to lug home or clean. When possible, use several smaller containers, rather than one large one, so you can take only as much as you need out of the cooler and keep the rest cold.
3) Coolers Are Your MVPs
Have one ice-filled cooler just for drinks; another for perishable foods like cheese and salad; and one you use, sans ice, to keep hot foods hot. (Yes, really! Just put a tightly covered, towel-wrapped pot of boiling-hot chili or other hot food inside. Use more towels to fill the empty spaces. To keep it hot even longer, try a Boy Scout move: Heat a few clean bricks or stones in your oven, wrap them in dish towels, and tuck them in the bottom of the cooler before packing it.) One more thing: Mark the drink cooler with a festive sign and a bottle opener tied to the handle so thirsty guests don’t keep opening the other coolers to investigate.
4) Keep Hot Foods Hot
Hold just-grilled items like chicken wings in covered disposable foil tins on the grill’s edge, away from direct heat, to keep them warm without overcooking.
5) Keep Cold Foods Cold
Serve chilled perishables—salads, veggies for the burgers, your famous guacamole—in waterproof containers nestled in a larger dish of ice. And don’t take more out of the cooler than you need at once.
6) Don’t Forget These
Meat thermometer, bug spray, sunscreen, wet wipes, paper towels, paper plates, disposable utensils, foil, lighter, bottle opener, heavy-duty trash bags, oven mitt, extra tongs and spatulas, and more ice than you thought you would ever need.
7) Discard, Gather, Repeat
When the party’s over, toss disposable containers and any perishable leftovers that have been out for more than 2 hours. Collect dirty reusables in an empty cooler or a large plastic tub with a tight-fitting lid; wait until you’re home, with actual running water, to wash them. Stow any gear (bug spray, etc.) and unopened nonperishables (chips, beverages, etc.) in a dedicated tote and you’ll be a step ahead of the game for next time. Win!
This article originally appeared in Allrecipes magazine