Cookout Tips for the Ultimate Labor Day Shindig

We’re only a few short hours away from Labor Day weekend, and right about now is when the hours really start to crawl. In less than 48 hours, you’ll be fixing yourself your last margarita of the summer and lazing on the patio: your reward for a year spent toiling at your job.

Chances are, this will be one of your last chances to cookout this year, so you’ll want to make it special. But hosting a full-blown Labor Day fete can easily turn into a lot of work in its own right. That’s why we decided to create this list of celebration shortcuts. Use these tips to take the labor out of Labor Day weekend—after all, you’ve earned it!

cooking on the grill

Get Your Patio in Shape Fast

If you haven’t used your patio in a while, now’s the time to give it a final once-over. Sweep off dusty and leaf-blown surfaces, and brighten your patio furniture with one of these cleaning tips, courtesy of Real Simple. And if you’re planning to party into the wee hours of the evening, make sure to bring out one of these quaint lighting DIY lighting solutions, as well.  They’ll bring an enchanted glow to the night’s proceedings!

Prep Apps and Sides Ahead of Time

Nothing saves time on the big day like a little advance preparation. Chilled sides and appetizers take some of the heat off the cook, which means more quality time with friends and neighbors. We love easy, breezy make-ahead recipes like this chipotle shrimp cocktail, caprese pasta salad or the perennial favorite: grilled summer vegetables. Heck, you can even save time on dessert and pop one of these oh-so-delicious icebox pies into the freezer, long before the party gets under way. This way, you have the whole weekend to prep!

Keep the Grilling Simple

Burgers and dogs are the go-to entree for backyard barbeques, but they also keep the cook chained to the grill all day long. Plus, at this point in the season, your guests have no doubt eaten their share of burgers and hotdogs! Smoked, grilled or spit roasted proteins like pork shoulder, tenderloins or prime rib have a longer cook time, but they also mean you don’t have to stand over the grill preening and flipping all day. And they make enough food to feed an army!

Play It Safe

Speaking of grills, using one incorrectly can be playing with fire—literally. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association estimates that between 2009 and 2013, a mind-boggling 8,900 home fires were the direct result of grilling—causing over $118 million in property damage. Gas-powered grills are especially dangerous; the NFPA blames them for about 98 percent of grilling-related fires. Keep yourself in the clear by following some grill safety precautions: first, get a fire extinguisher and bring it out to the grilling area—just in case. Also, it sounds obvious, but the majority of fires occur because the grill is placed next to a flammable item—like the side of your home. So make sure to move it well at least ten feet from anything that could catch fire. And if you’re working with gas, make a quick inspection of your grill before you turn it on. That way, you can tell if there are any leaks on the line—a fire hazard if we ever saw one.

Forget the Complicated Drinks

Labor Day is the perfect time to honor those classic beverages of summer: lemonade, iced tea, any number of fruity adult concoctions. But playing mixologist all night can be tiresome—not to mention expensive! Forget the individual cocktails and mix up a signature drink to send summer off in style. Kids will love this sweet, pink candy-cotton punch that tastes just like the real thing. Meanwhile, for the grownups, a big batch of this watermelon sangria or vodka mint limeade is sure to please even the most discerning palate. Serve them up on one of these DIY drink stands and you’ll basically reach summertime superhero status!

Make Cleanup Easier

It’s hard to focus on the festivities at hand when you’re busy worrying about spills and stains. To make tabletop cleanup fast, use a disposable table liner and serve food on three or four large platters. For grill cleaning, run a wire brush over the grates to remove charred residue—or follow this tip over at Bob Vila and use an onion to pick up baked on grease and grime. And make sure to keep some pre-moistened wipes on hand to handle spills before they do they worst. Hassle-free ten-minute cleanup? Now that’s definitely one way to celebrate the fruits of your labor!

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