Putting on the perfect outdoor (Winter) dinner party

The guide to putting together a winter feast and how to cook outdoors in winter, taking inspiration from cultures around the world.
Olivia Higgs
Dec 14
4 mins
Dec 14
4 mins

For many, when the winter months roll around the instinct is to shut the doors, cosy up on the sofa, and binge-watch your favourite Netflix shows, but with new Covid strains on the rise, a little fresh air goes a long way! 

We’ve put together a guide for the perfect winter feast, taking inspiration from cultures around the world who know how to take the holiday festivities outside!


First off we want to minimise the amount of faff on the day of your feast itself. 

Taking a leaf out of the pro-chef’s handbook, pre-prep or “mise en place” is key. When your outdoor dinner party is in full swing, the last thing you want to be doing is rushing in and out of the house!

Pre-chop, measure out ingredients and get any utensils or equipment ready before your guests arrive. Also have a think about what side dishes you can prepare in advance to go with your main and some easy desserts which you can easily grab and just warm up for serving. 

How to Grill Outdoors

Make sure you have good lighting around you when working the grill and for greater flexibility with your cooking you want to be creating different temperature zones. 

Across the Rassa courses whether you’re learning Filipino, Israeli or Irish grilling, one thing our chefs emphasise is having these different temperature zones - the best way to do this is to place the charcoal on one side of the bbq leaving the other half of the bbq empty.

This allows for an area that isn’t just brute force! Cooking fish for instance, needs to be done delicately, so being able to keep cooking without using the fierce heat of the coals is a must.

For most, the go-to is the humble barbecue but you can take inspiration from other cultures with their earth or ground ovens such as the Hawaiian ‘Imu’ or the Icelandic geothermal underground oven.

 If you’re feeling adventurous you can dig your own in-ground pit smoker in your back garden by following these tips (word of warning we take no responsibility for digging up that pristine lawn of yours!).

Home Smoking

When outdoor cooking, you can also have some fun smoking (not that kind!)

When Cold smoking fish, the process usually requires temperatures of around 25-30 degrees celsius (77-86F) whereas with hot smoking you’re talking 75-80 degrees celsius (167-176F).

To ensure that your fish is ‘cooked’, it is important to cure it first.

How do you cure fish? Well, by encasing it in a salt mixture you help draw moisture out of the meat so that bacteria doesn’t grow - this is especially important for the lower cooking temperatures which you have with cold smoking. 

Picking your smoking fuels

Charcoal is a firm favourite for many but there is actually a lot of fun to be had with different smoking fuels. 

But what wood can you use for smoking food?

When using wood for smoking, different varieties have different effects on the flavour. Hickory and oak are good all rounders that work well with a wide range of meats, maple adds a sweet flavour which works well with pork dishes. Or for a fruitier flavour, cherry or applewood are delicious for smoking chicken. 

Look to your region and culture for inspiration. For example, on the Rassa Irish course the chefs experiment with whiskey oak chips and even Irish peat for adding a sweet, earthy flavour to your meat for hot smoking salmon. 

For more delicate flavours for cold smoking you can try burning woody herbs from your local area - rosemary, thyme or lavender all work well, or different teas for a more floral flavour. 

Picking your flavour palate

We’re all about going out of your comfort zone when it comes to your food and encouraging you at home to explore flavours from around the world. Below we’ve gathered some great flavour combinations from the world’s barbecue cultures to get you thinking about how to experiment with your seasoning:

  • Mexican flavours of cumin and chipotle chilli and of course finishing off with a zesty squeeze of lime
  • Take inspiration from the Irish natural larder and wild coasts with fresh herbs, sea or rock salt and seaweed (great for adding to a salt cure or brines)
  • With levantine inspired dishes you can try date syrup, pomegranate molasses, tahini and warm, aromatic spice mixes like baharat or sumac
  • Make your feast a Filipino grill with red chilli, calamansi (Filipino lime), coconut vinegar dipping sauces or you can learn to make your own fruity banana ‘ketchup’ marinade on the Rassa Filipino course from Chef Budgie Montoya
  • Greek grills are filled with plenty of olive oil, fresh basil, mint, red wine, garlic and toppings of feta or greek yogurt 
  • Or you can go take inspiration from Russian shashlyk, creating marinades of onion, lemon, mayonnaise, sour cream, beer or even honey which is delicious once caramelised over coals
  • Or look to the South African Braai, have a go at making your own dry rubs for that characteristic braai crust, playing around with smoked paprika, dried basil, coriander, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper and sea salt

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Picking your produce

Once you know the cuisine and flavour you’re going for you can start putting that shopping list together. 

Meats are your obvious choice when it comes to barbecue with your fattier cuts of brisket, pork belly and a juicy rack of ribs sizzling up nicely over flame.

But if you’re looking to stray further afield, you can try a firm, robust fish that will withstand the heat like a halibut, monkfish or tuna or even lobster. 

For the vegetarians, you will want to choose vegetables that can handle high temperatures.

So what vegetables are best for grilling?

One such option is asparagus. When cooked directly over coals gives it a more rustic look and delicious flavour. 

Another vegetable that works well with high heat is Cauliflower (popular among our Israeli chefs). Known as Jaffa style cauliflower, with a splash of oil, you can extract a beautiful rich nutty flavour by almost blackening the often-bland vegetables.

Other great options to try are butternut squash, aubergine, courgette and halloumi cheese or you can go fruity with barbecued peaches, honey-barbecued figs or watermelon drizzled in olive oil. 

When filling up your basket don’t forget about those side dishes:

  • Fermented/pickled: sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, horseradish
  • Salads: potato salad, cold beans with a tangy dressing, Mexican corn salad, radish and caraway seeds
  • Rice: coriander and lime rice, rice and peas (kidney beans or pigeon peas), coconut rice
  • Dips and Sauces: sawsawan (Filipino vinegar dipping sauce), mango sauce, blue cheese dip

But remember when it comes to putting together the perfect winter feasting menu, locally sourced and in-season is always better! 

Picking the Setting

If you’re anything like us, you’re at a feast for the good food and the good laughs but when you’re sitting outside in the height of winter, the cold can either be your enemy or your inspiration for some fun decor.

First of all, location. Whether it’s your back garden, front terrace or local park you can get creative with the outdoor spaces available to you or you can head further afield to a nearby river bank or back to nature setting yourself up in a forest glade.

Next up, heat and lighting. A fire pit with plenty of logs, electric fire heaters and plenty of blankets not only provide warmth but a nice cosy setting for your winter feast. For lighting, you can’t go wrong with fairy lights, lanterns and garden torches but if you want some candles you can put them in jars to shield the flames from the wind.

For your seating you can get creative just with what’s in your house. A mix of seating create the perfect bohemian dinner party - wooden chairs, benches and arm chairs. Post-feast you can get creative with hammocks, rocking chairs for people to relax on or if it’s not too heavy to lug outside, even a comfy sofa. 

We get a little obsessed when it comes to tableware and love stumbling across a good plate. 

Again, see what’s in your house and don’t be afraid to go for a higgledy-piggledy mix of plates, mugs or glasses - the weirder the better if you ask us as they’re bound to create some convo around the feasting table.

Cake stands are also a great way for creating levels on the table - perfect for draping grapes or floral arrangements for a lavish table arrangement fit for a banquet!

And there you have it, the ultimate winter barbecue feast - just don’t forget to dress warm!

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