7 tips for hosting a picnic or braai in a public park
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We are about to officially roll into peak braai and picnic season. Picnics are inherently festive no matter when you have them, a chance to eat casually without the formality of a sit-down, or even indoor, party. Everyone pitches in, and if done right, the burden never falls on one person.
One way to ensure the we’re-all-in-this-together spirit is to host a braai or bring-and-share gathering at a public park.
When no one is the official host (you may want to designate one person as the organiser, however), it encourages guests to pitch in on the food – and clean-up. Especially when you live in an urban area, parks give anyone the opportunity to throw a party.
Even if you’re the organiser, don’t expect to be able to do everything on your own. Try to come up with a system for people to sign up to bring food and other necessary items, whether it’s through social media, a Google doc or a physical sign-up sheet.
Figure out who has a car to help transport large items. You might also want to assign someone when the event is over to be in charge of doing a final rundown of the site to make sure nothing is left behind and you’re leaving it in as good (or better!) shape as you found it. Don’t be shy about asking for help when you need it.
Read up on park rules and the details of your site
Check to see if you need a permit or a booking. Pay attention to the number of people allowed and what equipment (generators, sound systems, etc.) may not be allowed. Can you bring alcohol? What about pets?
See if there’s a source of running water and, of course, a grill.
Plan your food
This is why you want to have a pretty good idea of how many people are coming and what they’re bringing. For mains (meat, wors, burgers, hot dogs, etc.), count on about one per person, though you should have a few extra.
For sides and salads of the non-lettuce variety, try to have about half to one cup each per person. Account for at least one dessert serving per person, but too much dessert is rarely a problem. Bring zip-lock bags and/or plastic containers for leftovers.
Have all the tools you need for grilling
Grilling expert Steven Raichlen, author of Project Fire suggests a few must-haves: A wire brush or wood scraper for cleaning grills, spring-loaded tongs with long handles, a pair of oven gloves and an instant-read thermometer for checking meat. As for that wire brush, despite stories of people ingesting the bristles, “you’re as likely to win the lottery, with happier results of course”, Raichlen says.
But you can also choose to use a balled-up piece of aluminium foil held in your tongs (and you’ll probably want foil for other uses anyway). A spatula you can use to flip burgers can be useful, too.
You need to have a pretty good idea of how many people are coming and what they’re bringing.
Don’t forget other necessities
You’ll want to bring refuse bags (you can have separate ones for regular refuse and recycling), paper towels (in addition to the napkins and tableware people will be eating with), hand sanitizer, water, sunscreen and bug spray.
Try to have all these items in a central location so people can have easy access to them.
Practise smart food safety
Raichlen says it’s important to have a constant source of ice and to be sure to keep meat cold until it hits the grill. Avoid cross-contamination: Have separate cutting boards for raw and cooked meat. Be sure to keep other cooked food or items to be eaten raw (salads, fruit, etc) clear of raw meat as well.
Keep foods cool in a cooler box or bag with ice, frozen gel packs or even frozen food. To avoid having to root around and open the coolers too often, fill and label them according to category. Some serving trays have built-in compartments for ice that are handy once the food is out for serving.
When you are cooking and eating outdoors and there are a lot of people involved, something will inevitably go wrong. That’s okay! Be prepared for contingencies, and have a friend or two you can rely on to help you in a pinch.
As long as you have a sufficient supply of food and drinks – a sense of humour helps, too – everything will be all right.