Hosting can be a lot, especially when part of the game is having the soirée you put together look effortless. In this series, veteran party-throwers tell us how they pull off their highly specific, flawlessly executed gatherings. This installment comes from recipe developer Dan Pelosi (of holiday-cookie-party expertise and the forthcoming cookbook Let’s Eat), who tells us how he plans and executes an afternoon-to-evening hot-dog party on his Brooklyn stoop.
In the summer, Dan Pelosi is a hot-dog fiend. His ideal build starts with a pillowy bun, then two dogs, ketchup, spicy brown mustard, baked beans, and crumbled bacon. But he also knows that everyone has their own strong preferences — which is why he says he believes a hot-dog party where guests take a link from the grill and gussy it up themselves is an ideal event. “Hot dogs are the canvas, toppings are our medium, and we are the artists,” he says of the onions, jalapeños, pickles, cheese, tomatoes, crispy bacon bits, and as many as ten condiments he offers to his guests.
If that sounds like a lot, it’s not. What makes this party so appealing — and so doable — is its casual nature. Pelosi hosts right outside of his Brooklyn brownstone (the stoop plus some foldable lawn chairs serve as seating) and offers classic paper hot-dog trays as the only vessel to eat from. There are no finicky ingredients so he can shop ahead — and even more important, make the salads and sides ahead too. “They literally taste better after they’ve been sitting and melding flavors for a couple of days,” he says. Setup is easy: a folding table pushed against the wall to hold all the food, big Yeti coolers filled with ice so friends have somewhere to put the beer they bring, and clean liners in the trash bins that already live outside.
He invites as many as 35 people but lets them know he’ll be grilling for hours — usually about 5 to 9 p.m. so they can drop by whenever for an early dinner, an appetizer hot dog before they go out, or a later meal. He cooks up rounds of dogs as people come and go, handing some to neighbors as they walk by, replenishing sides as necessary. And maybe he lets a friend take the Weber reins for a bit too. “I’m usually a control freak, but with this party, I don’t mind letting someone else cook,” he says. “Hot dogs are the easiest thing in the world to grill. You really can’t mess them up.”
A week before: Stock up on condiments
First thing is to make sure I have all my non-perishables for this party. This includes all the condiments that people will eventually be putting on their hot dogs: ketchup (for me, always Heinz, but you could also do something fun like Brooklyn Delhi’s curry version), relish (regular, spicy, or both), mayonnaise, and several kinds of mustard. As for toppings, I also like to have shredded cheddar cheese, an underrated accompaniment. And onions, which you can do raw or caramelized. (I’ll admit, my grill has a fancy side burner so I can keep those warm in a skillet, but it would be totally fine to prep them ahead of time and have them be room temperature too.) And I like some bacon for bacon bits.
I’m also buying the dogs and the buns. The buns should be soft and pillowy — not a hoagie roll. They need to not overtake the dog and the toppings. And I don’t like the split-top ones. They just don’t go deep enough and you can’t get enough stuff on there. You need the full side split.
There’s always a beef dog (I’ve used Nathan’s, Ballpark, and Sabrett), a veggie dog (friends usually bring ones from MorningStar), and then another dog because I like to have variety. The other dog might be turkey, kielbasa, a knackwurst, or maybe even an Italian sausage. I usually just pick those up from my local grocery store, but when I can get ahead of things enough, I will place an order for these sausages or bratwurst from Farm to People. I just think it’s nice to have different kinds of links. I plan for two to three hot dogs per person. I go hard, but people like to eat hot dogs.
Then I’m grabbing some chips too — an easy, don’t-do-anything side that can sit out the whole party. I like Ruffles or Utz. They are both perfectly salty, have ridges for days, and hold up to the thickest dip in the land.
I get a bunch of the classic hot-dog holders. These are the only things people use to eat out of. They hold the dogs, but also the sides and dessert. They’re just small and contained and have sides, easy to hold in one hand — essential for a party where most people are standing around.
Three days out: Pick your sides
I pick my sides and shop for the ingredients for those. I’m blessed with time because that’s my job, so I like to go to the two or three grocery stores in my neighborhood like Super FoodTown or Met Fresh and eyeball which has the best whatever. I also like Chicky’s General Store for some fun extra condiments. I do different sides each time, but the requirement is that they can be made ahead and get better with time. I have several recipes that work well for this: Green Goddess Potato Salad, Kale Cabbage Slaw, Pelosi Family Pasta Salad, Summer Corn Tomato Cucumber Salad, Mediterranean Pasta Salad with Fried Halloumi. Any combination of three of these is the sweet spot. My recipes also all make a lot, and people are usually only having a small scoop, so I don’t even double. Besides, if you end up running out toward the end, you’re good if you still have dogs. This is a hot-dog party, after all — everything else is bonus. I might also do sliced watermelon for snacking and a Lipton’s French onion dip to go with the chips (this can also be made ahead). I like to keep it classic, but sometimes I double the onion-dip packets. This is not for the faint of heart, but the girls who get it, get it.
One big must a few days ahead is to make sure you have enough propane or charcoal for your grill. You don’t want to be dealing with lugging either of those from the store the day of. There’s actually this amazing company that does propane delivery in New York. It’s called Big Apple Propane. You just call a day ahead, put your old tank out, and they replace it with a full one.
Two days out: Cook everything that needs to be cooked
Getting the sides fully out of the way this far ahead is great for day-of hosting — and it’s great for taste too. Day-of potato salad? No thank you. Lipton’s dip is also better made ahead. The flavors just hit differently when you give them time to chill. I put everything into deli containers, which is nice because you can set some out when the party starts and keep others in the fridge to replenish as more people show and more food gets eaten.
Sometimes, I also make my own additional condiments, like maybe a spicy ketchup where I mix ketchup with my favorite hot sauce until it’s spicy enough for my taste. I have approximately 3,000 hot sauces in my fridge, but I think that gochujang Sriracha is great, or my go-to, Red Clay. Or I have a honey-mustard sauce made with spicy brown and yellow mustards (the same ones I set out as individual condiments), honey, mayo, sour cream, and a little hot sauce. And then I decant them into these classic squeeze bottles, which just screams nostalgia.
Noon: Set up outside
I wake up at 7 a.m. because that’s just who I am, but I don’t even start thinking about this party until noon. Everything is basically done.
At noon, I set up the outside. I pull out a folding table in the front patio area at the bottom of the stoop and push it against the wall in the shade for all the food to go on. Mine is a cool green color so I don’t usually put a tablecloth on it (it’s easier to just wipe it down after that way), but you could totally get a cheap disposable tableclot, too. I also set out a few foldable lawn chairs for extra seating.
One great thing about a stoop party in New York is that your garbage and recycling bins are right there. So I just put fresh bags in each and leave the tops open so people can discard directly into them during the party. Especially in a small area, and especially with people coming and going and eating over the course of five hours, it’s good to make sure there’s not a bunch of cans and leftover food lingering on the picnic table and the stairs.
I have three Yeti coolers, which I know is a lot. But I set those up with ice and drinks (seriously, the ice won’t even start to melt for, like, five hours if you leave them closed). It’s a good way to save fridge space. And then I bring them down right before people arrive.
I don’t drink, so I put some nonalcoholic cans in there. I love Brooklyn Best. I’m an Arnold Palmer person, and it has the best half-iced-tea, half-lemonade drink. And then people will bring beer and canned wine and whatever else too. You want there to be some room in the coolers for the drink selection to grow.
And finally, I pull out a few cans of sunscreen to place outside. I just think that’s a nice thing to do for an outdoor party.
3:30 p.m.: Pull out your sides
Any side that has oil, you want it to not be congealed from being in the fridge. So it’s important to pull those out just a little bit ahead of time. I transfer them to bowls and make sure I have serving utensils for each. This is also around when I’ll slice the watermelon and plate that. And then everything else — the packages of dogs and buns, bags of chips— goes onto sheet trays so they’re easy to transport downstairs. Same with all the tools: grilling tongs, hot-dog holders, forks for sides (the only utensil you need), plus a couple of rolls of paper towels for napkins. I like Great Jones sheet pans and the enamel trays that I also use for my cookie party because they’re nice to look at and sort of double as platters, but practically speaking, any old sheet pans will work great. (They also help so much with cleanup for carrying everything back upstairs when you’re done.)
4 p.m.: Party starts
I like to start in the late afternoon, because (1) there is a bit of shade at this point and (2) it allows it to be a late lunch or an early dinner or a regular dinner, depending on what time you like to eat and what time you get there. I also need people out of my house by 9 p.m.
A few people will always get there on the earlier end, and they can help you carry everything downstairs. They start with a drink and by picking at the watermelon or eating some chips. I also put someone else — a roommate or a friend you know will be there for a while — in charge of playing music on a portable speaker. I’m hosting and dealing with the grilling and will end up going up and down the stairs a bit, so it doesn’t make sense for me to be the one handling that. And it’s nice to give a job to someone.
A lot more people will inevitably arrive by 5 p.m. That’s when I get the grill going — when there are enough people there for a real round of hot dogs. I fire up about one and a half times of dogs per person to start. I would say as a general guideline, I’m usually putting a new round of hot dogs on about once an hour for the rest of the party, but really, you’re just feeling the vibe as people come and go.
After several hours of grilling, I am visibly exhausted. I’m the first person to be like, “So thank you so much. The party’s over.” But cleanup is so easy: The trash is already in the trash and you bring everything back upstairs on those trays. If you have any sides left (which you probably won’t), those will last for a few more days. The condiments go back in the fridge, and any leftover dogs and buns can go in the freezer for the next party. And the nice thing about it is, this party is outside. I can go in, lock the door, and people can keep sitting on my stoop.
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