Nothing says summertime like a group of friends and family gathering to eat, drink, and soak up the sun. Here are 10 tips that will ensure your next backyard bash is the most unforgettable shindig of the summer.
(One thing to note: Pretty much everyone from the South will tell you that a barbecue is the act of slow cooking meats, so if you’re serving hot dogs and hamburgers, you may want to call your event a “cookout,” so as not to disappoint guests who are expecting a feast of ribs and pulled pork. But hey, it’s also your party, so go ahead and call it whatever you want!)
Prep the Day Before
The good thing about a cookout is that you can get a lot done the night before. Marinate meats, bake desserts, assemble side dishes, chop vegetables, etc. This is also the time to make sure you have enough dishware (or paper plates), buns, propane/charcoal, and to clean up the space where you’ll be hosting the party.
Get the Grill Ready Ahead of Time
Make sure the grill is cleaned and ready before your guests arrive. If you have a gas grill, check the propane tank. And if you’re cooking with charcoal, it can take a while to get them hot enough, so make sure you get that going before your guests arrive.
Keep the Menu Simple and Classic
Whatever you’re cooking, it’s best to keep things simple so that you’re not spending your entire time in the kitchen or standing over the grill and can actually mingle and enjoy your company. And just because you’re “grilling out” doesn’t mean that everything has to be cooked on the grill either. You can’t go wrong with hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, and coleslaw or potato salad. And don’t forget to have vegetarian options for those who may not eat meat. Want to make it extra special? Hire a caterer to bring hors d’oeuvre and desert.
Make it a Potluck
Most people actually enjoy contributing to a meal like this, so don’t be nervous to ask your guests to bring a dish to share with the group. If you don’t want to end up with 10 pasta salads, consider assigning a dish to each guest. All you have to do is customize the invite to say something like, “Please bring a salad to share,” “please bring a dessert to share,” “please bring a vegetable dish to share,” etc.
Create a Pitcher-Perfect Signature Drink
Fill one cooler with soda and beer and then set out a pitcher of a signature adult punch that people can poor over ice and enjoy. Keep the recipe simple—no more than three ingredients—so that you can easily make (or assign someone to make) a new batch when the time comes. And make sure you have plenty of ice on hand (about two times more than you think you’ll actually need).
Design the Buffet Table for Ease of Use
Yes, a cookout is a casual setting, but you still want your guests to feel comfortable and able to get whatever they need. Place serving spoons and forks alongside all of the dishes, put napkins and utensils at the end so that your guests don’t have to juggle those while they’re filling their plates, and consider putting all of the condiments in a separate area so that people aren’t holding up the line while they’re putting the finishing touches on their burger or dog.
Set-Up Lawn Games
Summer cookouts are the perfect opportunity to play no-skill-needed lawn games like horseshoes, cornhole, badmitton, croquet, and, if you’re feeling a little silly: Twister.
Prepare a Summertime Playlist
Though there’s a good chance one of your friends will take over your iPod after a few beers, you should at least have a 50 to 100 song playlist piping through the speakers when guests arrive. If you’re not sure what to play, pick laidback and fun songs with themes like sunshine and summer nights.
Come Up With a Theme
This is totally optional of course, but it’s true that everyone loves a theme party. Potential themes could be: Americana, the Old West, Hawaiian luau, a white party, 80s/90s, Christmas in July, Surfin’ USA, etc.
Save Room for Dessert
No matter how much meat there is to fill up on, everyone always has room for dessert. Considering putting out a make-your-own sundae bar, offering different kinds of pies, or passing out brownies and cookies; after all, a sweet treat is something everyone will enjoy and does double duty, signaling that the event is coming to an end.