Gathering with family and friends in the summer helps to create enjoyable memories of afternoons and evenings spent with delicious grilled foods, fun games and good socializing.

Organizing these gatherings isn’t difficult, and with a little practice, you’ll be known by your family, friends and neighbors as an expert, both in organizing an excellent outdoor gathering, and in your grilling techniques.

To spice up your barbecue menu and make the gathering one to remember, Chef Aaron McCargo Jr., host of Big Daddy’s House on the Food Network, has some planning and grilling tips to share.

“Summer barbecues should be fun, flavorful and carefree.  And, it all starts with a flavorful menu,” McCargo Jr. says. “This is the perfect time of year to experiment with flavor combinations when planning your menu. From seasonal fruits and vegetables to marinades and sauces, there are many different ways to combine flavors that best represent the mood or theme of your celebration.”

* Prep your food perfectly. Marinate your meat in Glad(R) freezer bags overnight or several hours before to lock in the delicious flavors you’re going to be serving.

* Gather together some useful, but often forgotten materials that will make life a little easier during your event, like weights or clips, markers and stickers. The table weights are to keep the table cloth down – old unused keys pinned on the corners work well. Markers are so everyone can write their names on their cups for reusing. For a fun twist, encourage people to make up a name, and then guess whose cup belongs to whom. Finally, put stickers on the underside of a couple of plates and mix up the pile. Hand out a door prize to the people who end up using the stickered plates.

* Games are also very important, and have a variety on hand for kids and adults alike. Family Dollar offers a fun selection of prizes and activities for everyone, in every age group – without breaking your barbecue budget. Create your own kickball field, or establish a smaller bean bag toss game to encourage a little friendly competition. Another activity perfect for kids is sidewalk art.

* When grilling, turn meat only once. For steaks, turn the meat when the juices start to bubble on the top. The clearer the juice, the more well-done the meat.

* Apply sauces containing honey, brown sugar or molasses during the last 10 minutes of grilling to prevent the sauces from burning.

* Keep a spray bottle handy so you can calm down grill flare-ups, which could blacken the food.

* Clean up throughout the gathering, both to make the process easier when everyone’s ready to go home after dark, and also to help keep the insects away. Check out Family Dollar for the best value on basic cleaning supplies, such as trash bags, disinfecting wipes, and Scott(R) Brand Paper Towels.

For grilling and side dish recipes to make your summer gathering a success, try these:

Crispy Fried Honey Mustard and Chipotle Chicken Wings
3 pounds or 24 to 32 wing pieces
4 cups of canola oil for frying
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 envelope of garlic herbed dressing
1/4 cup of canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (chopped fine)
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons canola oil

Toss wings in one envelope of garlic herbed dressing and 1/4 cup of canola oil until coated evenly. Use charcoal and lighter fluid to prepare grill. Place wings on the grill and cook for approximately 14 to 18 minutes, turning consistently to avoid burning until desired crispness. Remove from grill and toss wings with sauce and serve.
Sauce: In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients together and add wings in batches. Once well coated, remove wings with tongs shaking off the excess sauce as to prevent sogginess.

Savory Ranch, Bacon and Cheddar Cheese Mashed Potatoes
5 Russet potatoes baked, halved and scooped
1 4-ounce pack plain gourmet instant potatoes
1 cup chopped (crispy) cooked bacon
8 strips raw thin-sliced bacon (for Twice Baked Potato recipe)
1 cup heavy cream (heated to warm)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 envelope of Hidden Valley(R) The Original Ranch Salad Dressing and Seasoning Mix
1/2 cup chopped fresh scallions
16 toothpicks

Directions for mashed potatoes: 
In large sauce pan with heated heavy cream, add dressing and stir on medium low heat. Add the potatoes (use both the scooped and instant potatoes) and stir into the cream mixture until smooth. Turn off heat and fold in cooked bacon, cheese and scallions. Serve.

Directions for twice baked potatoes: 
Chill potato halves. Put equal amounts of mashed potato mix in each potato half. Wrap each half with raw, thin-sliced bacon and put toothpicks into the loose ends of the bacon to secure it while grilling or baking. Place wrapped potatoes near the front of the grill where there is less heat and rotate every 12 to 14 minutes or until you achieve the desired crispness. For oven cooking, place potatoes on a sheet tray seam side down and bake at 400 degrees for 14 to 16 minutes or until desired crispness.

Courtesy of BPT