Patio Party Prep

There's nothing quite like sitting around with friends in your backyard, eating great food that’s been grilled to perfection and drinking fruity beverages you can only get away with serving between now and Labor Day. But what goes into hosting a fabulous backyard bash? We’re here to tell you! From décor and organization to ideas on what to serve and how to keep everyone entertained and mingling, consider this your go-to outdoor entertaining guide for summer 2011.

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Locally grown foodFood & drinks

The food and drinks you serve at a summer party don't have to be complicated, but they do have to be tasty, fresh and colorful. Before we get to recipe ideas, there are a few general tips to consider.

Buy local and seasonal. Summer is all about highlighting the freshest ingredients and getting them to your table not long after they've been harvested. Rather than trolling the grocery store aisles for your goods, try a farmers market or shop that stocks local and seasonal goods. Not sure where to go? Find a place near you to shop local using Local Harvest, a website devoted to keeping consumers up-to-date on what's been grown closest to them.

Lighter fare is best. If you're hosting an event in the summer you can be sure that unless it rains, it's going to be hot out -- and the last thing people want when they're spending time in the sun is to eat a really heavy or greasy meal. Instead, opt for lighter meals that offer sustenance and flavor without weighing people down.

Offer vegetarian options. As much as summer is synonymous with steaks and juicy beef burgers grilled to perfection, not everyone eats meat -- and for a vegetarian, barbecues can be particularly precarious because the standard menu usually only features two options: hot dogs and hamburgers. Do your best to offer grilled vegetables alongside your meats, along with some substantial sides like potato or pasta salad.

Keep it simple. You don't want to be chopping, stirring, sautéing and mixing all day and during the party, so opt for dishes that can be cooked quickly without much maintenance. The grill is great for this because you can cook lots of things all at once without ever having to turn on the oven.

Up next: Theme & activities for your summer patio party >>

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