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Planning a pigskin party?

First seek advice from a barbecue hall of famer

Posted: August 22, 2008 9:42 p.m.
Updated: October 24, 2008 5:03 a.m.
If you want to throw the perfect pigskin party, start planning now. If you want to throw the perfect pigskin party, start planning now.
If you want to throw the perfect pigskin party, start planning now.

So you've had a great summer, full of trips and water sports and backyard parties. The kids are back in school now, but you're not quite ready to let it all go. You find yourself lovingly brushing the grill of your barbecue and wishing the good times would roll just a little longer.

Well, they can. This is Southern California, my friend, and you can continue to barbecue outdoors for months. You just need a reason, and here it is: football season. The preseason pro games are already on television and the college games are coming fast. If you're up to it you can have a football barbecue party every weekend from now until January.

Of course, you and your best bud can split a sixer, get distracted by the game and burn a couple burgers without any assistance.

But if you want to score with a larger party you might need some advice. You need sort of a barbecue guru.
Well, cue the zither. Dean Hopgood, assistant manager at the Valencia Do It Center, can help. He's been throwing block-party-sized barbecues for years.

Look within and without
First and foremost, Hopgood said you have to have the right attitude, because putting on a party for 50 or 60 people is a lot of work, and it doesn't come cheap. Don't do it because someone else wants you to.

"You have to do it for yourself. You have to say to yourself, ‘This is going to be fun.'"

Hopgood also suggests you invite at least two friends who will bring their grills with them and help you barbecue. "You can't do it all," he said. "Have one guy cooking the chicken, one guy the hamburgers and hot dogs. I do ribs, they're my specialty."

Along with that, you must realize you will be very busy cooking and just plain partying. "Chances are you're not going to see much of the game," Hopgood said. If you're really into football, you might want to watch the game alone.

Material things
Beyond extra barbecues, a large party requires other equipment. That will probably include renting tables and chairs.

"Have plenty of chairs, inside and out. You want to try and keep everyone from gathering in the kitchen."

Hopgood also suggests you have multiple televisions. "Have at least three TVs - one outside and two inside."

Aside from that you will need plastic cups, plates and utensils for your guests, and ice chests to keep everything cool.

"Start gathering stuff for the party at least a month ahead of time," Hopgood said. That includes purchasing all the non-perishables such as wine, beer, soft drinks and condiments.

As you get closer to party time you can purchase your meat, beans, chili, chicken, hot dogs and buns.

Hopgood suggests you invite an eclectic group
of people with varied backgrounds and he also suggests you get your invitations out at least two to three weeks in advance. "It's fun to ask everyone to bring a dish - something they feel they're famous for," he said.

Nourish body and soul
Hopgood explained that, on the day of your party, you want to have everything but the actual barbecuing done ahead of time. That way you will have time to greet your guests. Hamburgers should be pre-made and ready for cooking. Have your tomatoes sliced and your onions chopped - maybe even have sliced watermelon ready. "Have all the drinks on ice, including the wine and two or three kinds of beer, in cans and bottles," he said. Hopgood doesn't serve hard liquor at his parties.

Hopgood has his ribs nearly ready to go ahead of time, too. They only require a quick caramelizing before they are served. With hamburgers he plans for a bit of waste, as many get overcooked during the typical barbecue party.

He feels that gas and charcoal barbecues both have their advantages. "Gas is convenient, easy to use and fairly easy to clean up," he said. "But you don't get the flavor of mesquite or hickory that you get from charcoal. My favorite barbecue is a Webber kettle."

He likes to cook his two-inch-thick steaks in the Webber, and offered a couple tips. First, use dry rub. "If the steaks are wet, they steam rather than roast," he said. With one side of the Webber lined with hot coals and the other side without, he suggests searing the outside of the steaks quickly over the coals and then moving the steaks to the cooler side. Insert a remote meat thermometer, put the lid back on the kettle and go inside to watch the game. "You can get a digital readout from the thermometer inside the house while you drink your wine," he said.

Similarly, with a gas barbecue, Hopgood suggests having the right and left sides of your grill under high flame, and roasting the steaks in the center with no flame under them.

If you need to purchase a barbecue (or two) for your party, the Do It Center has gas barbecues from $10,000 "islands" with refrigerators and everything else, to portables from $1,000 down to $150. There are electric and charcoal smokers in the $60 range, a Webber charcoal kettle grill on sale for $84.99 and tabletop charcoal grills for under $20. There are wood chips, propane tanks, electric charcoal starters and all the gas fittings, brushes, spatulas and other tools.

Finally, Hopgood reminds that it's your party, too. "Sit back, don't drink too much, and enjoy. You'll be ready to flop at the end of the day."


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