An authentic Caribbean cookout should be a festival of spicy entrees and hearty side dishes, in which hosts can explore some lesser-known meat cuts and exotic vegetables. This is also an occasion to showcase the bar with a tropical cocktail menu.
Because much of the fresh catch in the Caribbean is earmarked for export, salt cod shines as the signature fish dish across many of the islands. Most closely associated with the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, salt cod fritters, or accras, feature a Creole twist. Soak the cod to remove the salt, boil, shred and mix with batter, and deep fry until the fritters are soft and spongy.
Jerk chicken occupies many a grill in Jamaica and beyond, but for a lighter version that captures the spice without satiating guests early on, baste chicken breasts with the Jerk seasoning, principally comprising allspice and Scotch bonnet pepper. Thread the chicken onto skewers, along with some mango or sweet pepper segments.
Tostones from the Spanish Caribbean make a salty, crunchy alternative to chips, but they need to be eaten hot before they harden. Cut a green plantain into rounds, fry in hot oil, then bash them flat with a kitchen mallet and sprinkle with salt, ready to serve with ketchup or hot sauce.
Nothing shouts real Caribbean like an unctuous bowl of pigtail or bull foot soup, thick with root vegetables and with plenty of Scotch bonnet pepper to cut through the oil. Something of a comfort dish, these bone-in soups are also served towards the end of the party to restore balance, quite literally, after one rum too many.
Grilling over coal sets the typical pace for a Caribbean cook-out. Lay out ribs, chicken legs and pork butt on the rack and let them smoke slowly, adding any basting sauces towards the end to prevent flare-ups. Budget approximately half a pound of meat per guest.
Otherwise, let guests serve themselves to slow-cook stews based around ingredients associated with the region.
- Curry goat, for example, is lean and gamey but sucks up the
spices. Start marinating at least a day in advance.
- Sancocho is the celebration stew across the Spanish
Caribbean, incorporating chicken, pork, sausage and root vegetables. Simmering
it in the hours leading up to the party allows the host more freedom once
- Coconut fish stew can be creamy or spicy, depending on the amount
of pepper. Give it your own stamp either by adding shrimp and lobster, or
focusing on fresh herbs such as cilantro and thyme.
Particularly for the stews, serve side dishes that will absorb plenty of sauce and hold flavor.
- Rice and peas is the standard Caribbean side dish across the
islands, using crisp pigeon peas or soft kidney beans to give the rice a pink
tinge. Adding coconut milk makes for an even creamier version.
- No dish leaves the kitchen in the Dominican Republic or
Puerto Rico without a serving of beans and a salad side. Soak kidney beans and
simmer until soft with plenty of onion and garlic, and fine shred lettuce and onion along with tomato slices, dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice.
- Roast sweet potato wedges dressed with grated nutmeg and chopped chili peppers.
Brewing is alive and well in the islands, so if you can source some Caribbean island beers as an alternative to the standard U.S. brands, all the better. Either way, a lime segment in the bottle neck enhances the tropical theme.
Rum-based cocktails will get the party going, and wind it down to a conclusion.
- Start off with rounds of Ti Punch, little more than a
shot of dark rum with a lime wedge and sugar, before moving on to some
- Pina Colada, a Puerto Rican invention, combines white rum,
pineapple juice, cream of coconut and a maraschino cherry.
- The Painkiller hails from the British Virgin Islands and
incorporates rum, pineapple and orange juice, and cream of coconut.
- Cuba’s Daiquiri is similar to the Ti Punch, but with
grapefruit juice added to the rum, lime juice, and sugar, the mix shaken and
poured over crushed ice.