First things first, I don’t do appetizers, unless my wife makes me. This is because I usually go overboard with the rest of the food and I want to minimize leftovers. But in case you do appetizers, I’d like to pass down the advice my mother gave me: Make it salty, make it spicy. It encourages your guests to drink, maybe a little more than usual, which always makes for an interesting party. I like interesting parties.
The best part about being food editor of a magazine is that you can skew all the recipes to your own personal tastes, most of the time. So, all my go-to recipes come from the Cook’s Country archives. I fell in love with the pork sandwiches at Hite’s Bar-B-Que in West Columbia, South Carolina, several years ago and have been addicted to our version of South Carolina Smoked Fresh Ham ever since—though when I make it at home, I usually cook it through entirely on the grill and just use the oven to crisp the skin. For a nonpork alternative, I’ll opt for this Texas-Style Barbecue Beef Shoulder. It’s simple and surprisingly good for the minimal effort.
What’s a barbecue without the proper side dishes? Sides should be refreshing and interesting enough to stand on their own. I always opt for Texas Potato Salad and Spicy Barbecue Coleslaw. True story: The first potato salad I ever ate in Texas tasted exactly like this one . . . and that was two years after we published this recipe. Think about that. The beauty of slaw is that it’s not only a side but also a sandwich topper, and if given the opportunity, it’s always going on my sandwich.
Dessert is usually something very simple, like this Easy Blueberry Cobbler. It’s perfect because there are both minimal ingredients and minimal effort involved (there’s a laziness theme developing here), and it can be cooked off long before the guests arrive. As an alternative, I’ll often have fresh melon, runny cheese, and grilled bread doused in good olive oil.
I love mezcal, the smoky, more elegant sister of tequila (your personal interpretation of “elegant” may vary with brand), so that's what we're drinking. What goes better with smoked meat than smoked drink? I like a simple, tough-and-tender mezcal gimlet. The ratios are 2:1:1—mezcal, lime juice, simple syrup, respectively.