It’s June. The weather forecast is starting to look like summer, and I’m looking forward to my favorite sunny-day activity: eating outside.
I can think of few things more leisurely than dining sprawled out on the grass or around a picnic table. Grazing on potato chips and watermelon. Sharing salads out of Tupperware. Downing burgers seconds after they come off the grill.
Or at least, that’s what meals outside should be like. It’s a lot less pleasant if you’re swatting away mosquitoes or struggling to ignite a grill.
As the editor of kitchen coverage for Wirecutter, The Times’s recommendation site, I spend a lot of time thinking about the best gear to make cooking and entertaining easier. So while I dream about perfect outdoor meals, I also know what it takes to prepare.
While all you really need to have a good time is good food and good company, you’ll enjoy it more if you have a comfortable place to sit and enough ice to keep the drinks cold. So in today’s newsletter, I’ll give you tips for a little preparation work that can make your summer more satisfying.
Prep the grill
If you like grilling, it’s important to give your grill a once-over before the first big cookout of the season. Ideally you should deep-clean your grill at the end of the summer, but if you missed doing it last year, now is the time.
A clean grill means you’ll always be ready to cook as soon as the thought of a burger pops into your head. And you’ll avoid disasters like a grease pan overflowing all over your patio, or worse, catching on fire.
For gas grills, remove the grates, burner hoods and grease pan, and scrub them with hot, soapy water and a scouring pad. For charcoal grills, sweep or vacuum out any dry ash, then scour the grates and interior.
As cookout season continues, treat your grill like any other cooking implement and clean it after every use. Scrape the grates, then wipe them with a wet rag and brush them with a layer of vegetable oil — effectively seasoning them as you would a cast-iron pan — to keep them more nonstick and rustproof. Dump the ash from your charcoal grill or empty the grease pan from your gas grill.
Picnics made easy
Here’s my secret to pulling off impromptu picnics, even at the end of a workday: Keep a dedicated bag packed with all the picnicware essentials. When inspiration strikes, all I have to worry about is gathering the food and drinks.
I use one of Wirecutter’s favorite tote bags, the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, in the largest size. It stands up on its own in grass or sand, and it’s easy to see everything inside.
What do I put inside? A picnic blanket, of course. I also pack reusable outdoor dinnerware. Wirecutter has a guide full of gorgeous options, and my favorites are the light, bright Xenia Taler bamboo plates and Falcon Enamelware’s rainbow of tumblers.
You’ll need napkins and utensils. I’ve forgotten those and regretted it as I wiped my hands on the picnic blanket. Bug spray is also essential. Throw in nonperishable condiments, or perhaps a tiny jar of salt.
Much as I love to spend the summer dining outdoors, I also look forward to escaping my neighborhood for the beach in the coming months. For visits to the shore, you could just grab the same picnic bag and some towels and chairs. But if you’re going to a place with zero shade, it’s a good idea to assemble a supplemental sun protection stash.
At a minimum, check the expiration date on last year’s sunscreen and replace it if you need to. At Wirecutter, we’ve tested over 80 options and found four we think are great. You might also want a spare pair of cheap sunglasses to keep in your bag.
This is going to be the year that I embrace big, silly hats and invest in a beach shade that actually stays up. That way, I can comfortably linger until the last bite of potato salad is gone.
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