Every year in late May, American's across the country gather in their backyards for good food, good friends, and large amounts of beer. It's Memorial Day, one of the greatest free eating opportunities of the year.
But one cannot simple charge into the nearest backyard and begin devouring everything in sight. For one thing, many items in America's backyards are either inedible (lawn furniture, garden gnomes), ill-edible (house pets), or illegal to eat (other people).
And the goal here isn't just to stuff ourselves, snacksters. The goal here is to be invited back as many times as we possibly can before no one cares anymore.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of one of the grillingest days of the year.
Don't throw your own Memorial Day picnic until people stop loving you
Spending several hundred dollars on food and supplies is an excellent way to get people that normally wouldn't give you the time of day to hang out in your back yard for several hours. It's expensive, messy, and ultimately unfulfilling, but for that brief, shining moment you feel as if that "Kiss the Cook" apron you ironically bought at Wal-Mart might actually been seen by someone, anyone, as definitive instructions on how to handle your greatness.
In reality those people are just there for the food, and the food is just a way to counterbalance the fact that no one ever calls you unless they need something. You can say you're doing it because you love feeding people; that you enjoy doing nice things for your "friends". You can tell yourself that these people are here for you. Whatever — it's validation with potato salad.
There's nothing wrong with that. I'm just saying that you should strive to be the kind of person that is invited to the cookout, because once you become the person throwing the cookout, it's pretty much game over. I expect this will be my last year as an attendee.
Cultivating a diverse friend base is key
If your entire social circle derives from a single pool of friends, that's the pool you'll be standing around all day long, nursing your beer because you aren't sure how many more are in the cooler. If all of your friends are from, say, the local goth scene, the only way you'll get more than one cookout invite is if Nathaniel and Circe aren't speaking to each other, and then the burgers are laced with even more spite than usual.
You need to branch out. It's a great big world out there, with countless lonely people willing to buy your time with free food.
Be gregarious. Engage in water cooler conversation at the office, even though every instinct screams against it. You could be one smile away from being invited to an event with normal people, who'll be so terrified of you they'll leave you alone to stack your plate high, thankful that there's something in your mouth keeping the words from coming out.
Get to know your neighbors! Not only will this increase your chances of cookout invites (ones that don't involve driving), it also means that when the tension between the crazy couple next door finally reaches the breaking point they might, out of sheer appreciation, angle their bullets so they don't punch through the wall into your apartment.
And be sure to make sure you pick friends that enjoy eating at different times of day. Being invited to five events doesn't matter if they're all at 3PM.
Bring Tupperware for leftovers, but be subtle about it
Who wants to be microwaving cold hamburgers and hot dogs for days following the annual Memorial Day cookout? You do, of course, but you don't want to be obvious about it. Showing up at an outdoor culinary event with a full complement of food storage equipment strapped to your person is a sure way to get other visitors piling their plates high in an attempt to thwart your leftover agenda.
Go to Wal-Mart the day before the cookout. Purchase socks, some dish detergent, and a copy of The Woman in Black, the horror movie in which Harry Potter plays a young lawyer. Place all of these things in a Wal-Mart bag with a cheap package of disposable Tupperware containers.
Then, as the cookout is winding down, spring The Woman in Black on your hosts. "Hey, have you guys heard of this new Daniel Radcliffe movie?" If they are the sort of people whose food you want to wander off with, they will be so amused and morbidly curious about this film that they'll beg you to grab it out of your car to prove its existence.
Oh, what's this? Tupperware? Might as well fill that up for you while they're sharing a laugh.
Never use the same paper plate twice
Snack royalty understands that some of the finest flavors available only make themselves known after the third serving of picnic food has hit the paper plate. That sublime mixture of potato chip crumbs, burger bits, excess ketchup and mustard, potato salad droppings maybe — just maybe — a little corn on the cob salt and butter, is one of the perfect food items.
Regular people do not realize this. Regular people — the sort of people you want to invite you to subsequent dining functions — see a dirty plate and take it as an indicator that you are a disgusting pig that is only in attendance for the free food. Of course that's why you're there, but they don't need to know that.
So discard your plate after each visit to the buffet table. Other attendees will see you wandering around with your neatly organized food mounds and falsely believe you to be the sort of man or woman incapable of getting too far past the salad course. They'll invite you over for dinner, and then you'll pounce.
Around the paper plate a perimeter make
In the event that your host does not provide enough paper plates for multiple trips, your task then becomes piling as much on the one plate provided as you possibly can, thus avoiding the need for more visits to the table.
The key to successfully piling your plate high with artery-clogging goodness is to transform that plate into a bucket through creative use of dense foods specifically created for such tasks.
Take potato salad, for instance. A thick, starchy mess, it makes excellent mortal and material for a food retaining wall. Apply liberally to the outside edges of your plate, and then fill the middle with less solid treats, like baked beans or gravy.
Variations on this theme are endless. I've known cookout connoisseurs that have laid down a foundation of potato salad and then stacked hot dogs on top, covering them over to create a protective meat shield. It's where the popular role-playing term came from. Look it up (don't look it up, I am lying).
Everything's a condiment as far as that hamburger is concerned
With the possible exception of corn on the cob, there is no cookout food that cannot be stacked atop a hamburger patty between two pieces of bread. If you are limiting yourself to more traditional fare — cheese, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and condiments — you are limiting yourself, period.
Cole slaw, baked beans, potato salad; these are all things that can extend the life of your plate while delighting other cookout guests with your creativity. Take a handful of potato chips, sprinkle them on top of the pile, and then crunch them to pieces using the top bun. Toss a hot dog on there, or some barbeque. Mixing meats is okay in such a circumstance.
Never shorten barbeque to just 'que
This makes you a dickhead of the highest order.
Never forget the true meaning of Memorial Day
Memorial Day isn't about eating food and having fun. It's about...soldiers or something. I don't know, look it up on Wikipedia. It's very moving.
So moving that, should someone start giving you shit about your horrible cookout etiquette, food hoarding, and leftover gluttony, reminding them what this holiday is about will make them feel like complete jerks for bothering you with their petty concerns.