You won't have any trouble enticing friends and family over for smoked food, and it's nice to gather round the patio one more time. Even though my school days are long behind me, I still get those "summer's over" pangs every year and feel bad for the kids.
Like most entertaining I do, this simple menu can be made ahead except for the brisket. I've included a decadent bar cookie on the menu -- a recipe I'll keep on hand for afternoon snacks this fall.
Easy Decorating & Cooking
As part of the "not laboring too much on Labor Day," I don't do a lot of decorating for this weekend. I bring out the checked picnic tablecloths -- if you have oilcloth, even better -- and even though it means dishes to wash, I'll bring our everyday plates outside. I'll bring out the lanterns and hurricane lamps, but I won't turn them on till I've watched the summer sun fall to the horizon.
If you haven't slow-cooked meat on the grill, don't be intimidated. It actually requires very little labor on your part, aside from keeping the heat slow and steady. The longer and slower you cook brisket, the more tender it becomes, rewarding you with meat that pulls apart with a fork. And if you're lucky (read: keep the crowd small, or have a crowd of very small people) you'll have leftovers for the best sandwiches of your life.
For more information on long, slow cooking and tips on how to achieve great smoky, complex flavor, check out these stories.
Beer and brisket are, of course, a match made in heaven -- I love a complex, not overly hoppy, supremely refreshing Belgian-style beer, but check out our beer guide for more options.
A nice, hearty zinfandel would also be really lovely with the brisket, or perhaps a cabernet or shiraz -- nothing too fancy, just something hearty that'll stand up to that spicy BBQ sauce. See our Wine Guide for more ideas on how to pair food and wine.
It's time to be getting ready for back to school, and one thing that'll make it a little less painful is a nice treat to take in the lunch box or awaiting Junior when he walks in the door after a hard day in the second grade. Or for a pick-me-up at the office -- I, for one, haven't outgrown having an afternoon snack. Bar cookies are about the fastest way you can make treats that'll last you for a while. Serve with ice cream for entertaining dinners and then wrap individually in plastic wrap to keep fresh all week. Check out these tips on how to make the best bar cookies.
Up to 24 hours in advance...
- Make the Corn and Red Potato Salad, Banana Crunch Bars, dressing for the salad, and barbecue sauce for the brisket; refrigerate all.
6 hours before dinner...
- Start soaking the wood chips for the grill.
5 hours before dinner...
- Light the grill; coat brisket with dry rub, and let come to room temperature.
4 1/2 hours before dinner...
- Begin grilling brisket. Slice Banana Crunch bars and return to refrigerator.
1 hour before dinner...
- Make the French bread toasts for the bruschetta and the tomato topping; set aside. Prep iceberg lettuce.
30 minutes before dinner...
- Take out potato salad and transfer to serving platter.
10 minutes before dinner...
- Let brisket stand for juices to settle. Top French bread with cheese and tomato topping and heat. Reheat barbecue sauce in microwave or on stove top.
- Serve the bruschetta as an appetizer while slicing brisket. Plate iceberg lettuce wedges individually and drizzle with dressing. Transfer sliced brisket to serving platter and brush with some of hot barbecue sauce; serve remaining sauce to the side.
- Serve Banana Crunch bars with coffee.
Ripe, juicy garden tomatoes combine with olives and green onions for a great summery topping on toasty Parmesan French bread rounds.
Iceberg Lettuce with Cucumber Dressing
Take a trip down memory lane with this updated classic -- a crunchy wedge of iceberg lettuce drizzled with plenty of creamy mint-dill dressing.
Corn and Red Potato Salad
A classic down-home dressing of mayo, sour cream, lemon. and pickle relish perks up fresh corn on the cob and 'taters -- if you've got the time and grill space, grill the corn for added smoky flavor.
Spicy Grilled Brisket
Long, slow cooking makes for a mouthwateringly tender brisket and this tangy, not overly sweet homemade barbecue sauce packs some heat with plenty of jalapeno, onion, and garlic.
Banana Crunch Bars
It'll be hard to stop at just one: A buttery chocolaty cookie crust is piled with rum-flavored bananas and drizzled with a decadent chocolate peanut butter topping.
Chorizo and Cheese Quesadillas
Spicy chorizo sausages and the creamy fresh Mexican cheese, queso fresco, make a fab combo in this filling quesadilla. Both are becoming widely available in major supermarket chains -- but the alternates of Italian sausage and Monterey Jack are just as tasty.
Mustard Chicken Barbecue
Molasses, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme combine with spicy mustard in this great marinade, basting sauce, and finally (after heating to a safe temperature) barbecue sauce to serve with slow-grilled, juicy chicken.
Deep Chocolate Brownies
Recreate the flavor of German Chocolate cake in this great bar cookie: a moist, super chocolaty brown sugar brownie (studded with even more chocolate chips) is topped off with a rich butterscotch-pecan-coconut frosting.
No one can resist cream cheese brownies -- swirled chocolate batter and luscious cream cheese bake into a beauteous dessert sent over the edge by a sprinkling of chocolate chips toward the end of the baking time.