The Front Burner by David Mazujian: Beach Blanket BBQ

Written by David Mazujian

Finally the invitation arrived; the coveted sunset beach BBQ dinner invitation.  The hosts chose a friendly email over Evite or Paperless Post.  This was going to be a cozy gathering of 10-12 – BYOBC (bring your own beach chair).   This was not Sunset Beach – the tony Shelter Island resort, but a rustic fire pit-anchored Hampton’s seaside dinner party with friends.  We arrived in the early evening and watched the ocean skies darken to a hazy crescent moon light.  Tonight the clouds shrouded the stars, though an occasional distant plane could be seen blinking towards another continent.  Any beach would do perhaps, but award-winning blissful Hampton’s beaches are idyllic.  Tonight was Wiborg.

There is something very primal about a raging, yet contained fire against nature’s movie set backdrop - beaches disappearing into the Atlantic and a very gigantic evening sky.  We were on the edge of the world creating fire, salivating at the promise of soon-to-be-served fruits of the (Hamptons) hunt.  Of course, mankind has been building fires since the dawn of time.  Hunted and freshly-slain fire-kissed animal meats and sides have satisfied our dinner hunger for centuries.  Our hosts were the “caveman hunters” of the day – our very brave and hospitable Hamptons Hunters!

But where are the fertile East End hunting grounds?  We can’t even get sharpshooters to thin the exponentially growing deer population!  Our hosts braved the traffic.  They braved the crowds.  They braved barreling Hurricane Arthur.  And perhaps most importantly, they braved and hunted for our dinner at Citarella!  Go to any specialty food store or grocer on any holiday eve and you understand.  How much prepared food is left?  Did you order ahead?  Didn’t they just cut in line?  Where are all these people from anyway?  There is something primeval that unfolds in a food store when provisions begin to thin, spreading fear and chaos across the well-heeled shopping cart crowd.  Be polite, but be assertive as you reach for that remaining perfect gourmet salad and navigate your shopping cart toward the checkout.  On these days, shopping is truly survival of the fittest!

It is perfectly ok to buy your seaside dinner.  Enjoy your guests and the experience.  Grilling your dinner at the planet’s edge is also a capital idea.  But know your guests and recognize you must transport everything to the beach and thoroughly clean up before departure.  You’re not just flipping on the backyard gas BBQ.  Loading and unloading the car, transporting, setting up, serving, cleanup, breaking “camp” reloading and unloading the car – again – can be a bit much for some, but it is absolutely worth it! 

Dinner began with drinks (alcoholic beverages are not permitted on the beach).  Can opaque sippy cups or paper bag cloaked drinks be searched by the authorities?  Someone was drinking grape juice from a Snapple jar, I believe.  I began to feel like a refugee from some sort of disaster.  By now, there were a few fire pits in the distance surrounded by huddled masses…  I was an East End “refugee!”  Simple hors d’oeuvres of softened brie and crackers were just enough.  Our Hamptons Hunters served crispy fried chicken, rice salad, grilled corn salad and a tasty diced red beet salad.  Our entrée required only a plastic, stackable dinner plate, fork (and linen napkin) and fingers for the chicken.  But alas!  There was one calling out for a knife.  “Bring me a knife,” he exclaimed, from his sand chair throne with built-in cupholder receptacle.  His chicken breast would be cut in pieces before consumption.  He was the civilized gourmand from Bridgehampton.  The rest of us devoured our chicken parts with our hands.  We were Hampton’s cavemen and women.

Our meal was what you would expect – gourmet market prepared food, sophisticated flavor profiles and fresh.  Everything was served at room temperature and kept cold in plastic transportable tubs.  Even cooked foods must be kept cold.  Time and higher temperatures will foster bacteria and food poisoning.  Culinary school training continues to flash these thoughts across my brain when picnicking.  Don’t let stomach cramps spoil your primal feast.  Ultimately, keep your beach BBQ menu easy and easily transportable.  Bravo to our hosts.

After dinner, we were all handed very long “spears” from Waldbaum’s!  These long sharp-ended sticks would pierce our very own soft, sugar clouds.  We were making S’mores!  This was a true campfire, one I hadn’t experienced since Boy Scout camp.  Those were the days we swapped scary stories.  There was the one about Hatchet Harry who escaped from prison and hid in the mountains, bearing his axe and chopping off the heads of young, innocent campers as they slept.  As a young teen, these stories kept me awake for nights!

Our hosts passed around graham crackers and chocolate pieces to sandwich our fire-charred marshmallows.  Americana on the beach.  This simple dessert remains a classic – hot, melty sweet chocolatey marshmallow cookie goodness, homemade on a real fire.  But beware of incoming enflamed marshmallow scud missiles!  One grape juice-filled guest quickly lifted his marshmallow from the fire pit only to see it pull away from the wooden spear, like a space module disengaging from the mother ship.  This marshmallow was now air borne, landing on the hapless writer; my favorite shirt was now a smoldering marshmallow mess!  Be careful!

The local police arrived soon after, not to arrest the Marshmallow Warrior, but to meet and record the responsible party for the event.  Be aware; the Towns and Villages thankfully take beach parties and fires seriously.  Large gatherings require a permit.  Beach fires must be contained in a metal container at a safe distance from grasses and structures.  All fires must be extinguished and removed before leaving.  Check your Town and Village websites for complete regulations.  Metal containers can be purchased from your local hardware store.

Extinguishing our fire was not a problem.  Hurricane Arthur had finally arrived and snuffed out our bonfire, along with a few buckets of sea water.  But Arthur stayed at bay long enough for us to enjoy the evening, the East End’s natural beauty, each other and the fire’s warmth gently toasting our sandy toes.  We grabbed our provisions and rushed to our cars.  We were all Hamptons Hunters retreating to our East End caves.


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