6 Tips (Plus Recipes) for a Project Smoke Labor Day Barbecue Feast

Home / Blog / 6 Tips (Plus Recipes) for a Project Smoke Labor Day Barbecue Feast

6 Tips (Plus Recipes) for a Project Smoke Labor Day Barbecue Feast

By Steven Raichlen Labor Day is one of our most popular grilling holidays (just after Independence Day and Memorial Day). According to the HPBA (Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association)—they should know—55 percent of us will fire up our grills and smokers this weekend. Everyone else will line up with a big appetite and an empty plate.
If it’s your turn to host this final salute to summer, I have three words for you: keep it simple. Labor Day pays homage to the American workforce, but there’s no reason you should have to spend the whole day laboring behind the grill and not enjoy your own party—even if you’re cooking for a crowd.
A feast on the set of Project Smoke. Photo by Rob Baas.

Here are the six steps—and recipes—from my new TV show Project Smoke—to help you execute a low-labor, totally over-the-top Labor Day feast.
Need more inspiration? Watch Project Smoke on your local PBS station (look for a marathon of episodes on September 5, or wait for it to start airing on Create TV on September 18).
Plan your menu buffet style around a large hunk of protein: It’s easier to smoke, grill, or spit-roast an imposing hunk of meat than individual steaks, chops, burgers, chicken breasts, etc. Pork shoulder, for example—a definite crowd-pleaser—has the added advantage of being economical and forgiving with cooking times. Season like crazy and smoke low and slow for 6 hours. Shred, chop, or slice and serve with vinegar sauce or mustard sauce. Just remember: the cooked weight will be 50 to 60 percent of the raw bone-in weight; figure on 1/3 to 1/2 pound per person if you’re serving hearty sides.Other Raichlen crowd-pleasures include a whole home-smoked ham, smoked turkey, spit-roasted prime rib, or a double-long pork loin (ask for both the rib and loin sections). For the ultimate extravaganza, smoke a whole beef tenderloin and serve it on crusty rolls with horseradish whipped cream.

Photo by Richard Dallett.

Serve appetizers that can be prepared and grilled in advance: Tomatoes are at their seasonal peak; make smoke-roasted gazpacho a day ahead of time, then chill overnight and serve as shooters. Charred Vegetable Salsa with tortilla chips is another timely option. Another great Labor Day starter is a smoked shrimp cocktail. Just don’t boil the shellfish (which diminishes the flavor); instead, crust large peeled deveined shrimp with your favorite barbecue rub, then smoke in your smoker or grill over a screaming hot fire. A grill basket eliminates the need for tedious turning. Chill the shrimp and serve on toothpicks or knotted bamboo skewers. Fire up the cocktail sauce with minced chipotle chiles.
Photo by Richard Dallett.

Serve an ember-roasted vegetable platter—yes, you can grill it ahead: Bell peppers are at their prime at the farmers’ market this time of year; so are tomatoes, onions, and corn. Grill them caveman-style—directly on the embers. Char the skins black on all sides (do not husk the corn), then transfer to sheet pan to cool. Scrape away any burnt skins, husks, and seeds and arrange on a platter. Season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil—when vegetables are this fresh and smoky, that’s all the flavoring you need. The beauty of this dish (besides its vivid colors)? You can grill it ahead or even at a previous grill session and serve it at room temperature.
Photo by Richard Dallett.

Mac and cheese will always please: One of the all time favorite recipes at BarbecueBible.com is our mac ’n’ cheese made with smoked cheese and grilled onions, corn, and chiles. Assemble it a day ahead, then smoke-roast it in a large cast iron skillet just before serving; the skillet will keep it warm until everyone’s been served.
Less is s’more: To wrap up the party, a dessert that has charmed Americans for generations: s’mores. Upgrade the fixings: craft marshmallows, Tate’s chocolate chip cookies, artisanal chocolate—you get the idea. (Extra points if you use a marinade injector to inject bourbon or other booze into the marshmallows.) Then provide fire (in a hibachi, kettle grill, kamado cooker, or campfire) and skewers and let your guests grill their own. Think of these as s’mores for grownups. Click here for some of my favorite s’more combinations.
Finally, be ready accept offers of help: When your guests ask “What can I bring?,” don’t be polite and say “nothing”; be ready. Steer them towards filling the gaps in your menu: a cool cocktail, a pass-around, a side dish (maybe a vegetarian option), or a favorite dessert. People enjoy a party more when they get to contribute.
Have a safe, fun, and smoke- and fire-filled weekend. Be sure to post photos of your Labor Day bash on the Barbecue Board.

Related Posts