Easy Make Ahead Summer Menu Starring Baby Back Ribs

Grilled ribs and corn on a platter

I love summer entertaining! Maybe it’s just me, but everything about summer parties is more relaxed and casual. Guests show up in t-shirts and sandals, we chat and nosh on the porch at our leisure, and thanks to the longer days, we can linger much later into the evening enjoying each other’s company. The easiest way I know of to harsh the mellow of a summer party is to spend the entire day leading up to it in a complete frenzy of preparation and cooking. Okay, I feel that way generally about any party but in summer it seems almost a crime to ruin a great party with a crazy day.

To help keep all our summer parties just a little (or a lot) on the laid-back side, I put together this dinner party menu that comes together largely the evening and morning before. You’ll do a bit here and there in preparation but you’ll have most of the day of the party to yourself to relax at will. You’ll be refreshed and relaxed when your guests arrive which will set just the right tone for this party.

The Menu

This menu serves four guests but every recipe on it can easily be doubled or tripled for a larger party.

Apple-Glazed Barbecued Baby Back Ribs

Grilled Summer Vegetable and Bulgur Salad

Grilled Corn with Chipotle Cilantro Compound Butter

Quick and Easy Strawberry Shortcake

To Drink

Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Zinfandel or Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé

The Plan

In total you’ll spend about four hours preparing for this dinner, including setting the table and cleaning up, but most of it happens the evening and morning before your guests arrive. You’ll have most of the day before your party to yourself to relax or, if completely necessary, run errands or get things done around the house. Personally I vote for relaxing so you can be well-rested when your guests arrive.

The detailed minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow for this menu is also available in PDF form with specific times for a 6:30 pm dinner.

The Week Before

Review all of the recipes carefully and make your grocery list. If you’re comfortable with what’s involved with each recipe preparation and cooking will be much easier.

The Night Before

You’ll need about an hour for these preparation activities. You can also do all of this prep work the morning of the party, just quick cool the bulgur and vegetables in the freezer for about 15 minutes before you chop and mix them.

  • Cook the bulgur
  • Grill the vegetables (but do not chop)
  • Make the puff pastry stars

The Morning before Dinner

You’ll need about two hours for all of these activities, but then you are largely off the hook until about 90 minutes before the party. You’ll need to put the ribs in to cook mid-day but that’s a quick and easy bit of work.

  • Set the butter out to soften
  • Chop the grilled vegetables and mix them with the bulgur; remember to reserve 1 Tbsp. of dressing
  • Pull the husks down but not completely off of the corn; remove the silk, and pull the husks back up; tie the top of the husks with some kitchen twine refrigerate the corn
  • Make the compound butter
  • Whip the cream and store it in the refrigerator
  • Set the table and set out your serving dishes

4.5 Hours before Dinner

Take a quick break from your afternoon of relaxation to put the ribs into the oven. They’ll fill your house with a great smell as the slowly cook.

  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees; prep the rib spice mix, rub the ribs and place them in the oven
  • Make the cider, jelly, and rub mixture; set aside for later

90 Minutes before Dinner

This last hour and half is when you’ll be busy finishing the menu and getting everything served and plated. How early into this last 90 minutes your guests arrive is totally up to you. If they arrive earlier you can chat with them in the kitchen and even enlist their help. You may be more comfortable without an audience though and if that’s the case I’d suggest asking them to arrive 15-20 minutes before you plan to serve dinner. They’ll see you pull the ribs and corn from the grill which will only whet their appetite.

  • Pour the cider mixture over ribs, cover with foil, and continue cooking as per the recipe instructions
  • Make any last minute touches to your table and prepare drinks
  • Slice the strawberries and mix them with the sugar and vanilla
  • Preheat the grill
  • Remove the ribs from the oven, brush them with the sauce, and transfer them to grill
  • Place the corn on the grill
  • Remove the ribs from grill and transfer to a serving platter and to rest; tent with foil
  • Add the reserved 1 Tbsp of dressing to the bulgur salad and plate
  • Remove the corn from the grill and plate; serve with the chipotle butter

After Dinner

Don’t assemble dessert until you’re ready to serve it or the puff pastry stars will be soggy. It comes together quickly though so you won’t be away from your guests for long.

Quick and easy strawberry shortcake with puff pastry





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