A few weeks back, I assembled a dozen or so gentlemen together for an evening of food and fellowship. The main goal, besides steak eating, bourbon drinking, and cigar smoking, was to show support for a friend of ours who had been in a rut. Knowing we had all reached out to him on an individual level, without much success, I thought it prudent to round up the troops for what I was calling a gentleman’s dinner. Besides, I was really in the mood for a steak.
The benefit of living in Tennessee during this period of el niño is that our often cold and grey fall evenings have been unseasonably warm. Such a phenomenon allowed us to gather in a field, instead of around a dinner table. Call me crazy, but a campfire-lit meal while sitting on tree stumps and wrestling with paper plates beats the pants off a fancy dinner any day.
Though I was quite comfortable handling the food duties for this gentleman’s dinner, I was also careful to delegate responsibilities to each man in the group — assigning each gent to bring items to support the cause: tables, chairs, firewood, coolers, plates, cold beer, lights, music, a generator, etc. Call it a potluck of sorts, where each man contributed to the total affair.
With steaks sizzling on cast iron, the smell of charcoal perfuming the cool, crisp air, and Del McCoury’s tenor bluegrass vocals soaring into the night, I knew we’d pulled off an event not only for a friend, but for ourselves too.
I saw friends that night that I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. Good friends. It wasn’t as though we’d all lost touch, but we had all allowed the demands of life (work, family, travel, etc.) to take priority over the necessity for brotherhood.
For those of you reading this piece who might be in high school, on sporting teams, or at university — you’ll find such a circumstance hard to believe. After all, you are practically forced to be around your mates 24/7. So, how could you live in the same city as some of your best friends and never see them? Just wait gents, the real world happens, and it happens real fast.
The truth of the matter is that you have to constantly make friendship a priority. Surrounding yourself alongside men who challenge, support, mentor, and call you out on occasion is all part of our never-ending journey of manhood. If you don’t seek such counsel, don’t expect to grow. And this dinner was an effort towards that end.
As we sat around the campfire that evening, sipping on bacon-infused bourbon with our bellies painfully full, we came to realize — after the support session for said friend had been completed — that perhaps we all needed such an evening of “therapy.” You see, we all required the gathering as much as our struggling brother, and we made a commitment to schedule such an assembly at the very least on a quarterly basis from that moment forward.
Perhaps many of you gather the gents together from time to time for fantasy football, a card game, or a movie — but I tell you to change that habit every once in a while. Have dinner instead. Make it unapologetically manly — grill steaks, get outside, have a bourbon or two, and enjoy the company of one another. Laugh, joke, tell stories. Use such moments as a chance to create deeper, more meaningful relationships.
In the end, I think you will find that we all crave real friendships just as much as we do a great meal. Below you’ll find both the guidelines that we’ve set out for our gentleman’s dinner, as well as some recipe ideas for the get-together. This isn’t so you can replicate what we’ve done exactly (though feel free to!), but to give you a push into doing something similar that would fit with your group of friends that you call brothers.
Tips for a Successful Gentleman’s Dinner
1) Don’t worry about making anything too complicated. The point of such a dinner is to enjoy each other’s company — great food is just the icing on the cake. I’ve laid out one of my favorite menus below — and it’s often something I repeat since it’s so classic and well enjoyed.
2) Everybody needs to pitch in. Assign a task (a dish to share, an extra cooler, cleaning up, etc.) to each man so that everyone does their part and carries a bit of the responsibility. There’s just something more authentic when the whole group pitches in rather than one person doing all the work or paying for everything.
3) Take the cotton out of your ears, and put it in your mouth. Use this opportunity to learn more about others and sit next to someone you haven’t had the chance to catch up with in a long time. Or, simply hold back some of your own stories and conversations to let some other folks shine. Of course, you can always close the evening Costanza-style by leaving on a high note!
4) Set a realistic goal for continuing the tradition. For those early in their careers and without families, once a month is probably doable. For others, it might be a quarterly, or at the very least, a bi-annual tradition. Don’t get too caught up on finding the perfect date either. Life happens; everyone will not be able to attend every time. Just keep it going.
5) Have fun. Sounds so painfully simple and stupid, but I mean it. Turn your phone off. Absorb the moment. Relax and realize that these are hard-to-come-by moments and are meant to be enjoyed. Finish your evening with thoughts of thankfulness and humility — not regretting that you stepped away from that evening business call that in the end wasn’t that important.
A Suggested Gentleman’s Dinner Menu
Charcoal Grilled Angus Rib-Eyes
Prep: 10 mins
Total: 45 mins
- 4 (12 oz.) rib-eye steaks, about 1.5 inch thick
- 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
- Let steak stand at room (or field!) temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat charcoal grill or smoker to 350°-400° (medium-high). (Coals will completely ash over.) Brush both sides of steaks with oil; sprinkle with pepper.
- Grill steaks, covered with grill lid, 3 minutes. Rotate steaks 45 degrees, creating nice grill marks, and grill, covered, 2 more minutes. Turn steaks over, and grill, covered, 3 more minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest portion of steak reaches 135° (medium-rare). Transfer steaks to a cutting board, and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let stand 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle both sides of steaks with salt. Place steaks on serving plates, or cut diagonally across the grain into thin slices before serving.
Grilled Corn + Tequila-Lime Butter
Prep: 30 mins
Total: 37 mins
- 8 ears fresh corn with husks
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tsp. seeded, finely diced jalapeno pepper
- 1 tsp. lime zest
- 1 ½ tsp. fresh lime juice
- 1 tsp. tequila
- ½ tsp. kosher salt (for butter)
- 1 tsp. kosher salt (for corn)
- Prepare corn. Preheat grill to 300°-350° (medium). Pull husks down, keeping them attached and intact; remove and discard silks. Pull husks back up to cover corn. Place corn in salted water, fully submerged, in a large bowl or stockpot, and let stand 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare tequila-lime butter. Combine butter and next 5 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon until blended. Spoon the butter mixture onto plastic wrap; roll tightly, forming a log. Chill until ready to use.
- Remove corn from water. Grill, in husks, covered, 15-20 minutes or until husks are blackened, turning every 5 minutes. Place corn on a serving plate, and fold back or remove husks.
- Cut butter mixture into 8 pieces. Spread 1 piece on each cob until melted, turning to coat each cob completely. Serve immediately.
Kitchen Sink Baked Beans
Prep: 10 mins
Total: 60 mins
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- ½ medium Vidalia or sweet onion, finely diced
- ½ green bell pepper, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (15.8 oz.) can great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (16 oz.) can dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- ⅓ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup bottled vinegar-based barbecue sauce
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup light molasses
- 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 ½ tsp. yellow mustard
- 4 hickory-smoked bacon slices
Note: If in a kitchen, follow the directions below. If outdoors, cook them over hot coals in a dutch oven until beans are warmed through.
- Preheat oven to 350°. Place a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 1 minute or until hot; add oil. Stir in onion and next 3 ingredients; sauté 7 minutes or until onion is tender and translucent.
- Stir in black beans and next 8 ingredients. Top with bacon slices. Transfer skillet to oven, and bake at 350° for 30 minutes.
- Increase oven temperature to 450°, and bake for 18 minutes or until bacon is crisp. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Bacon Old Fashioned
When it comes to bacon, we Southerners are always getting creative. Like, say, adding bacon flavor to bourbon. That’s what gives this traditional cocktail a makeover.
Infusing the Bourbon
- Cook 4 to 5 strips of your favorite hickory-smoked bacon in a skillet, and eat that delicious bacon. Mmmm.
- Pour 1 entire bottle (750ml) of your favorite bourbon, and the bacon drippings from the skillet, into a 4-cup glass measuring cup (or other container). Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
- Next, pop the container into the freezer for a couple of hours. Pull it out, and skim off the bacon fat (it will congeal and separate from the alcohol).
- Pour the ice-cold bourbon through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a glass jar to remove any particles. Your bourbon is now flavored with smoky bacon fat for use in all of your favorite cocktails.
Bacon Old Fashioned
- 1 sugar cube or ½ tsp. granulated sugar
- 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
- ¼ cup bacon-infused bourbon
- Garnishes: bacon strip, orange peel strip, or maraschino cherry
- Muddle sugar, bitters, and 1 tsp. water in an old-fashioned glass to release flavors, and blend ingredients. Swirl sugar mixture to coat inside of glass.
- Add 1 large ice cube, and pour bourbon over ice.
- Serve immediately.
Matt Moore is a regular contributor to the Art of Manliness and the author of A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen.