The Perfect Backyard Latin BBQ in 5 Steps

iStockBy Ariel Nagi

Summer is almost over, but it's not too late to plan the perfect fiesta just-because. Invite your amiguitas over for a kick-ass time minus the exhausting party planning duties. Here are the five things you need for a fun, simple backyard bash, Latin-style.

1. Bebidas

It's never a party without cocktails. Here are three of our faves.

Aztec Summer
3/4 ounce Tequila Don Julio Blanco
1/4 ounce Apertif Wine
1/4 ounce Mezcal
1/4 ounce agave syrup
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
Cucumber slices for garnish

Muddle cucumber in a cocktail shaker. Add Tequila Don Julio Blanco, aperitif wine, mezcal, agave syrup and fresh lime juice into cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain contents into a glass with fresh ice. Garnish with cucumber slice. Yield: 1 drink.

Blueberry Sangria
1-1/2 cups ready-to-serve blueberry juice
1-1/2 cups chilled white wine or apple juice
1/4 cup orange-flavored liqueur, optional
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 cup fresh blueberries
1-1/2 cups chilled lemon-lime soda, such as Sprite

In a 2-quart pitcher, combine blueberry juice, wine and liqueur, if used. Add orange and lemon slices and fresh blueberries. Chill until ready to serve. Just before serving, stir in soda. Serve in tall glass over ice. Yield: 6 servings.

Blueberry Mojito
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons blueberries, fresh or frozen, divided
1/2 to 3/4 cup lemonade
splash of club soda
1 ounce light rum
1/2 ounce dark rum
Mint sprig and lime slice, for garnish

In a tall 16-ounce glass, add mint leaves, lime juice and sugar; mash the ingredients with the back of a spoon or a "muddler" until fragrant. Add 2 tablespoons of the blueberries and mash until juicy. Fill the glass three-quarters with ice. Add lemonade until the glass is two-thirds full. Add splash of soda, light rum and remaining blueberries; stir. Slowly pour dark rum into the drink so it floats on top. Garnish with a sprig of mint and slice of lime; serve immediately. Yield: 1 drink.

Tip: Use plastic margarita glasses. They're cheap, disposable and complement any drink. We love these neon ones.

Related: 6 Delicious Blueberry Cocktails and Treats

2. Chips and Dip

You can go out and buy simple tortilla chips, but you have to try Chef Pepín's delicious blueberry-pineapple salsa. Trust us, he paid CFL a visit and won us over with this one!

Blueberry-Pineapple Salsa
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup finely diced pineapple
1/4 cup diced red onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tablespoon grated lime zest
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and membrane removed and minced
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Combine blueberries, pineapple, onion, cilantro, lime zest and half of the jalapeno in a medium bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the lime juice and salt to taste. Add additional lime juice and jalapeno, as needed. Yield: 3 cups.

3. El Menú

We're so sick of the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers. Here are a few simple recipes to spice it up!

Grilled Corn
Shuck corn (remove husks) and remove silk. Spray each ear with vegetable cooking spray. Place directly over heat on medium-hot grill. Rotate when dark spots appear and kernels deepen in color (usually about 2 to 3 minutes) until ears are uniformly cooked (usually 10 to 12 minutes). The ear will be speckled with char spots. Add salt and serve with butter.

Quick Cuban-Style Churrasco Skirt Streak
3 pounds beef skirt steak, cut long
3 heads of garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 and 1/2 cups sour orange juice
1 cup onion, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
1 cup olive oil

Mash garlic, salt, and peppercorns into a paste, using a mortar and pestle. Stir in sour orange juice, onion, and oregano. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or longer. Whisk the garlic-orange juice mixture with the olive oil until well blended.

Place the meat in a large bowl or pan. Add enough mojo marinade to cover the meat. Place a cover over the bowl or pan and place in the refrigerator a minimum of five hours, but preferably overnight. Grill the marinated steaks outdoors on the barbecue. (Make sure your coals are hot and white!) You can cook them however you like your steak - from rare to well done.

Blueberry Waldorf Salad
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries, divided
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups (about 4 ounces) baby spinach
1 tart apple (e.g. Granny Smith), cored and thinly sliced
2 ribs celery, cut into 1-1/2-inch matchsticks (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup pecan or walnut halves, toasted

To prepare dressing: Combine 1/2 cup of the blueberries, oil, marmalade, lemon juice, mustard and salt; blend until a smooth, thick dressing forms. In a bowl, toss spinach with apple slices, celery, pecans and remaining 1/2 cup blueberries. Arrange equally on four serving plates. Just before serving, blend dressing again until smooth; drizzle over the salads. Serve immediately.

Grilled Pineapples
1 pineapple (cut in wedges)
3 tablespoons butter (melted)
1 tablespoons honey (brown sugar or Karo syrup are fine if you don't have honey)
1 teaspoon lemon juice (lime is fine also)

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Add the honey and lemon juice. Stir until mixed in evenly. Brush onto pineapple slices. Or, coat slices with mixture in a sealed baggie. Put the slices on the grill. Heat (medium hot) until you see grill marks (3 to 6 minutes). Turn and grill the other side.

Related: Fiesta-Ready Empanadas in 3 Simple Steps

4. Decorations

If you want to go simple on the decorations, we are loving this luau-style set that comes with plates, cups, cutlery, balloons and a curling ribbon. If simple is out of the question, try a mariachi theme. Shop for bold colors like turquoise, red and green for your tablecloths.

If you need extra light, opt for multi-colored paper lanterns like these or you can even bring out the old Christmas lights and wrap them around the tables, fences, doors or trees.

Related: Plan the Perfect Party

5. Music

A backyard barbecue should be fun and upbeat. Try a mix of hot dance tracks like reggaeton, salsa, merengue and bachata. Make a playlist ahead of time or create several stations on Pandora and keep them on shuffle. Here are some artists we love, new school and old school:

Daddy Yankee, Zion y Lennox, Don Omar, Shakira, Pitbull, Aventura, Prince Royce, Elvis Crespo, Hector Lavoe, Marc Anthony, Celia Cruz, Eddy Herrera and Selena.

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