Summer is here – and every summer it seems, someone gets the bright idea to hold a workplace parking lot cookout or barbecue.
Actually, it’s a bit of work, but a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to shake out some of those office cobwebs and build office morale. So go ahead and fire up that grill, and enjoy yourselves! Here are some ideas to help ensure that your workplace barbecue is a success for you, your staff and your company.
1.) It takes planning. Nothing worth doing just happens. It takes planning. Make a checklist. Ensure you have a location. Power. Extension cords. Seating. Shade. Refrigerated storage areas or coolers sufficient for all the food. A first aid kit. Sufficient food, plates and utensils. Who is coming? Just employees? Are their family members coming? If so, you need to know how many each person is bringing, so you know how many people you’re feeding. A plan to remove and backhaul trash, including sufficient bags, transportation and dumpster access. Do you need to order anything in advance? The larger the event, the more planning and advance notice you will likely require. The longer lead time you give, the better deal you can get on the food and catering, if any. Speaking of which…
2.) Consider a caterer. Why? Because everyone at a licensed catering operation has probably taken a course on food safety somewhere along the line. Do you know this about your own staff?
Second, if something should go wrong and someone should get sick because of a food-borne illness – or what they claim is a food-borne illness – then you have some recourse: A licensed and bonded caterer will have their own insurance in place specifically for that eventuality. So if someone from your barbecue files suit, your company won’t be the only one holding the bag.
3.) Practice sound food safety. Ok, caterers are a lot more money, and a lot less fun. Besides, most real men and women (this writer included) would take it as a personal insult to be chased from the grill. So here are some tips to keep everyone safe and help ensure the work cookout experience is positive for everyone:
- Appoint a food safety czar for the event. This should probably be someone not directly involved in the cooking. Provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions. And back them up when they recommend they need to dump that stack of expensive meat because it has been sitting out too long, or someone poured the raw marinade over it thinking they were going to flavor it.
- Lean towards foods that are relatively forgiving as far as food safety is concerned. Pork and seafood can be tricky – especially mussels. Even chicken can be hazardous when undercooked. Beef and pre-cooked sausages are typically more forgiving of novice cooks.
- Invest in a meat thermometer – and have it on hand. Cook meats to their recommended temperatures. You’ll find the recommended minimum recommended cooking temperature for various foods, courtesy of the Food & Drug Administration, here. Observe the rest times, as well, after the cooking!
- Strictly segregate raw meats from all other foods. Use separate trays, storage, utensils, everything.
- Check your propane hose for leaks before cooking. The simplest way: Apply soapy water with a squirt bottle. Then connect the hose and turn on the gas. Examine the hose. See bubbles forming anywhere? Your hose is leaking.
- Keep lighter fluids (and cooking oils!) well away from the fire!
- Have a plan to keep children occupied well away from the grill.
- Make your marinade (if you must, you heathens). But pour out some of it into a separate container before adding meat. If you want to keep some for a sauce or flavoring after cooking, use the marinade from this separate container. Immediately toss any marinade that comes in contact with raw meat as soon as you are done marinating. Do not allow used marinate to make it anywhere the serving table, because someone’s going to start spooning it over their meal.
- Marinate in a refrigerator. Not out on a table at room temperature, and definitely not outside in the summer heat.
- Backwards time plan: Allow time for frozen foods to safely defrost. You may need to start this process the day prior.
- Allocate enough time to cook.
- Get your cooks on site early, well before the main group gets there. They can start parboiling or preparing meats. Chicken and pork ribs can take a long time to cook especially over low fires (that is, prepared correctly). Steaks and hamburgers can be cooked relatively quickly. So give your chicken and pork a head start.
- Use separate tongs and cutting boards for raw and cooked foods.
- Have hand washing/sanitizing facilities on site, at the front of the serving table. Failing that, have sanitizer bottles on hand.
- Don’t leave meats or other perishable foods out for more than two hours. Set an alarm and toss it or refrigerate it on time. Is it more than 90 degrees out? In that case, you have one hour, not two.
- Allow steaks to come to room temperature before cooking.
- Pile coals on one side of the grill, so you have a hot spot for searing, a less hot spot for slow cooking, and if possible a ‘warming’ spot to keep already cooked foods at a safe temperature while waiting for people to come get it.
- Have some vegetarian options. Vegetable kabobs or foil-wraps are fun, delicious, safe and easy to prepare. Use flat or triangular skewers to make them easy to turn.
- Fill coolers. Full coolers retain their temperature better than half-empty ones.
- Bring cold foods out of the coolers or refrigerator out to the serving table in small batches, as needed. That way you don’t have food sitting out, getting warm and potentially spoiling.
- Invest in some food tents to keep flies away from food in the serving area. Hang flypaper. If possible, get some electric fans going near the serving area to discourage flies.
4.) Decide on your alcohol consumption policy, and make it known ahead of time. If someone has a few too many at your office barbecue, and drives home and hurts or kills someone in the process, your company could be on the hook in the liability chain. If alcohol is present, you may want to have a plan laid on to drive folks home. Indeed, since you may want to do that even if you think alcohol isn’t present, because it may well be, even if you don’t bring it or know about it.
5.) Plan for the kids. Hire a clown, balloon artist, entertainer, a bounce house. Plan some activities like egg or potato sack races. Research your employees’ children’s ages, so you will know what age-appropriate activities you can plan.
6.) Plan for bad weather. Note: Don’t use your barbecue inside. You need to have a plan for an all-day rainstorm. Check the weather forecast two days before and again the day of the event. There’s no sense in being blindsided by bad weather in this day and age. Indeed, it will make you look bad to the boss. Don’t get surprised by nothin’!