Tips for having a great beach barbecue . . . especially if you arrived by boat!

Beach BBQ

Cruisers love to get together – but we all have relatively small “entertaining space” aboard.  So why not have a party on the beach?

Holidays are an obvious choice – Summer Solstice, Canada Day or the Fourth of July – as well as birthdays and the full moon.  But don’t wait for a special occasion – “hey it’s Tuesday!” is also a perfectly acceptable excuse for a beach barbecue.

And don’t feel shy about being the organizer even if you don’t know any of the other boats in the anchorage:  cruisers, by their very nature, are very friendly – and it’s a great way to get to know a bunch of people at once!  Just get on the VHF, call for “boats in ___ anchorage” and then take them off to a working channel and say you’d like to have a beach potluck that night and you’re prepared to bring ____.  Ask who else is up for it, tell everyone to bring their own drinks, dishes and silverware, and find out who’s got what to bring.

Check local regulations before planning a barbecue.  Some places only allow fires in grills, some allow you to use driftwood, and some may prohibit a fire totally – in that case, you can cook the food on the boats, then bring it ashore.

A few tips and ideas:

Tips for having a great beach barbecue . . . especially if you arrived by boat!Grilling Ashore. If no one has a portable grill and regulations allow open fires, an oven rack can be balanced on a couple of rocks to form a grill, as in the photo.  Be sure to bring tongs and hot pads or mitts!  (See Light My Fire for tips on starting the fire.)

Tables. In many locations, you won’t find any tables ashore.  People can eat on their laps, but a few “tables” are nice for setting food on.  Dinghy seats work well to keep food out of sand – or you can just set food in dinghies.  If someone has a tarp (or piece of canvas), it can serve as a work area, again keeping sand out of the food.

Chairs. Some cruisers may have folding chairs.  But for those who don’t, an upside-down 5-gallon bucket works well (that’s what we used our entire time cruising).  Tarps also work for seating.

Transporting Your Food. Think about how you’ll transport any dish you’re thinking of making.  Deviled eggs may be great if you have a special plastic carrier for them, but they’ll be a disaster if you’re just going to put them on a dinner plate and cover them with foil and then take them in the dinghy!  Having a potluck bowl that stays closed even when dropped from the deck into the dinghy certainly helped us transport food.

Food Safety. You can wrap hot food in a bunch of towels to keep it warm, but few boats have the ice necessary to keep cold foods cold – which is sometimes important in avoiding food poisoning.  In general, I stay away from foods that have to be kept cold to be safe, opting for variations that aren’t as susceptible to food poisoning.  For example, I’ll take a pasta salad with a vinegar and oil dressing instead of one with mayonnaise.

Eating the Food. Plan your food in accord with how people will be sitting and eating.  If they’re at tables, it’s easy to cut meat.  If eating on their laps, less so but doable.  But if people will be standing, it’s almost impossible.  Soups are also hard if eating off your lap – where do you put the bowl when you want to eat a few bites of your salad – and almost impossible if standing, unless they can be drunk from a mug.  And remember, most people will just bring a plate to eat from, so if your contribution requires something else (say a bowl), let people know ahead of time.

Take Everything You Need. Unless someone else has volunteered, be sure to take everything that “goes with” your dish: condiments, serving utensils, serving dish if it’s different than what you’re transporting it in, and so on.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget:

  • Dishes
  • Silverware
  • Drinks (and opener/corkscrew if needed)
  • Napkins
  • Hot pads
  • Rags (something always spills!)
  • Chairs/seats
  • Bug spray
  • Handheld VHF
  • Flashlight
  • Trash bag (a great way to pack up your dirty dishes to take back to the boat . . . and there may be some trash)

And remember, potlucks and barbecues don’t have to be for dinner – you can do happy hour and grill clams or other snacks, or do a brunch.  But yes, watching the sunset with friends and then sitting around the fire and stargazing are popular pastimes . . . not just for cruisers, but for everyone since fire was discovered.

Enjoy your get-together!

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  • Amy
    Posted at 08 May 2012 Reply

    Every year on vacation (to Block Island on the boat for two weeks) we have a tradition of cooking on the beach one night. It is the WORST meal but the BEST time with friends. We keep it simple to hotdogs and cook the beans in the can, hoping no one forgot the can opener:) 4 people, 2 dogs – one of which is a very friendly 120# Golden that loves to dig and kick up sand. Wouldn’t miss it for anything.

  • Julie
    Posted at 20 May 2014 Reply

    We’ve done clam bakes on shore before:

    Granted, most of our boating friends are weekend warriors so they have homes to store large pots and can easily get charcoal. I’m sure it could be modified to the cruisiers lifestyle.

    Thanks for posting your tips!

  • Robert H. Sayles
    Posted at 20 May 2014 Reply

    I can’t i didn’t win the oven ?

  • Robert H. Sayles
    Posted at 20 May 2014 Reply

    OOOH, ok ill give it some thought. ; )

  • Brian F. Russell
    Posted at 20 May 2014 Reply

    Sandflies have always been the beach barbie bane…So tip # 1: Go where there are no sandflies!!

  • Carol D
    Posted at 24 May 2015 Reply

    We have an annual “Hobo” dinner at our marina, everyone brings cut up raw food, be it meat or veggies. Marinated chicken is popular as well as kielbasa. Then everyone makes up their own individual tinfoil pouch of food by mixing and matching whatever is on the table. We cook them right in the coals. Cooked rice is a popular addition, and someone usually brings a pot of baked beans as a side dish. One thing we’ve learned is do not forget to add some olive oil to the bottom of the pouch and it helps to double wrap with tinfoil. A shovel or long tongs is also a great idea.

  • JP Pedro
    Posted at 08 June 2016 Reply

    ARC is here. Last leg before Lagos (south Portugal). You should join one day.

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