How to host a cook­out with so­cial dis­tanc­ing

Merced Sun-Star - - Community - BY MELISSA CLARK

Here’s a maxim for en­ter­tain­ing in the age of COVID-19: The only way to bring peo­ple to­gether is to fig­ure out how to keep them apart.

De­pend­ing on where you live, guid­ance from your lo­cal author­i­ties and your com­fort level, it may be pos­si­ble to get to­gether out­side in small, phys­i­cally dis­tanced groups where guests can re­main at least 6 feet away from one another. Even as we texted our in­vi­ta­tions, we knew there was no way to have peo­ple over that was 100% safe. But there were ways to re­duce the risks.

Our goals were to be as care­ful as we could, given our knowl­edge of the virus, and to use the com­fort thresh­old of the most anx­ious per­son in the group as our guide. Be­cause while pan­demic eti­quette was new to all of us, mak­ing guests feel at ease and wel­come in our home is not.

Al­though most ex­perts agree that the chances of catch­ing the coro­n­avirus from touch­ing ob­jects is low, stud­ies have shown that, un­der ideal con­di­tions, the virus can live on a sur­face for up to 72 hours. Quar­an­tin­ing the items for three days and un­pack­ing them with gloved hands would lower the risk to a point ac­cept­able to ev­ery­one in at­ten­dance.

The first step was to quar­an­tine the table­ware. I put a set of plates, sil­ver­ware, glasses and nap­kins on a sep­a­rate tray for each group, then wrapped each tray in a bag. I also wrapped up cans of seltzer and in­di­vid­ual bags of fancy potato chips.

We also had the slightly awk­ward ex­pe­ri­ence of send­ing out pre-party group emails to strate­gize about the bath­room.

All in­volved agreed that they felt fine about shar­ing it – as long as only one masked per­son

went into the house at a time, and as long as ev­ery­one promised to close the lid be­fore flush­ing.

The day of the party, Daniel and I snapped on gloves and packed an ice-filled cooler with the seltzer cans, spaced apart for easy grab­bing. (We also set dis­in­fect­ing wipes next to the cooler.) Each group had a sep­a­rate fold­ing TV ta­ble next to care­fully spaced chairs, and on the ta­ble we set bags of potato chips next to a canapé­size hand san­i­tizer. This wasn’t the abun­dant hors d’oeu­vres spread I was used to, but chips and Purell is surely the snack combo of 2020.

Af­ter all the plan­ning and lo­gis­ti­cal ar­range­ments, cook­ing it­self was a snap. We served the food di­rectly off the grill, and each guest pulled a pip­ing-hot serv­ing off the fire with their own uten­sils. Min­i­mal risk, min­i­mal fuss.

As ev­ery­one set­tled in, 6 feet apart, wine­glasses in hand, we grad­u­ally re­mem­bered what it was like to eat and drink with loved ones. That feel­ing hadn’t changed a bit.


For this din­ner of gin­gery grilled chicken thighs with charred peaches and grilled corn with jalapeño-feta but­ter, the food is cooked on a grill, and each guest pulls a serv­ing off the fire with their own uten­sils to min­i­mize risk.

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