Smoked meats, corn on the cob and a colorful spread of tasty pasta salads — these are the hallmarks of a good backyard barbecue. Though it’s critical to your barbecue-hosting success, the menu isn’t the only thing you need to think about when planning your backyard feast. There’s also the décor, the entertainment and the environment as a whole. Luckily, we’ve got all the tips you need to succeed the next time you bring out the grill tools and invite your friends over for some barbecue binging.
- Skip the Breakable Plates — Baked into any barbecue invite is the assumption of informality. There’s no need to use the fancy china or linen napkins. Instead, opt for durable outdoor dinnerware that casually complements your tablescape. Better yet, leave a stack of plates by the grill for a buffet-style feast!
- Serving a Crowd? Upgrade the Grill — There’s no shame in cooking up your burgers and hotdogs in batches over the mini grill, but you may want to consider updating your setup if you plan to routinely host big-crowd barbecues. Consider buying or renting a large barrel grill, smoker or a gas grill with a larger cooking surface.
- Keep Hot Food Hot in Chafing Dishes — The beauty of a backyard barbecue is that there’s typically no set time. Give your friends a window and allow them to come and go as they please throughout the day, grabbing a plate from a buffet set up somewhere cool and shaded. As convenient as this sounds, it can be tough from a serving perspective. To keep food warm and fresh, consider putting warm side dishes in covered chafing dishes in the garage or under a tent.
- Keep Food Covered — Bugs, humidity and unexpected weather come with the territory during the peak of barbecue season, so you want to make sure you have a food-covering strategy if you plan to leave dishes out. Plastic wrap, covered serving dishes and bug nets are essential.
- Don’t Forget the Vegetarians — As much as we all look forward to the wings, brisket, ribs, burgers and dogs, we’ve got to balance things out with some healthy veggies. Adding a few meatless grilling recipes to the menu will ensure that every guest has something to eat.
- Pre-Prep Your Sides the Day Before — There’s nothing quite like the hustle, bustle and excitement the hour or two before guests arrive! But this scenario can quickly turn from invigorating to overwhelming if you’re not prepared. It’s a good idea to do a bit of day-before side dish prep to ensure that everything comes together quickly as you’re fluffing the patio furniture and filling the cooler. Choose salads and side dishes that keep well in the fridge, such as chickpea salad, pasta salad or potato salad. You can also pre-thread skewers, chop veggies and marinate meat the day before to ensure that everything is ready to go.
- Offer an Array of Sauces — Part of the fun of any good barbecue is trying the many sauces! Let your guests try a ton of different sauce flavors and selections. Rather than having guests bring a side dish or beverage, make the party BYOS (bring your own sauce). Ask each guest to bring their favorite barbecue sauce and then have a taste test to try them all. Oh, and don’t forget to buy wet wipes in bulk!
- Keep Beverages Cool — Of course, just like with any good gathering, your coolers should be stocked with soda, beer and water for your guests. But if you want to add an extra-special beverage or fun refresher to the mix, consider filling your party beverage coolers with large batches of iced tea, sangria or a signature cocktail.
- Create Some Shady Enclaves — There’s simply no predicting the weather in the middle of summer, so you want to make sure you’re prepared for every scenario, including extreme heat. Set up a few seating and dining areas in shady corners or beneath pop-up tents.
- Set a Rain Date — Nice weather is crucial to the success of your fiesta. When you send out the invitations to guests, make sure to include a rain date so you have the opportunity to move it to a sunnier day if needed. In the few days leading up to the event, watch the forecast closely before grocery shopping or thawing your meat.
- Set Up Some Lawn Games — Give your guests something to do before and after the big feast by setting up a few fun lawn games. Whether it be a volleyball net, Spikeball or some old-school lawn darts, this will undoubtedly keep the kids and grown-ups entertained for hours. If you’re on a budget, consider making your own yard games with items you already have around the house.
- Enhance the Ambiance with Lighting — If your barbecue is likely to go into the evening, make sure you have a strategy so it’s not pitch-black out when people are heading home. Hang up string lights and place solar-powered path lights around sidewalks and walkways. You can also create a relaxed vibe by placing plenty of candles around the space. Set out citronella candles to help deter mosquitoes and other uninvited pests.
- Offer Blankets and a Bonfire — We think a lot about harsh sun and rain during barbecue season, but it’s important to remember that temperatures can dip pretty low in the evening, too. That’s where your blankets and bonfires come into play. Set up chairs around a small fire pit and offer cozy blankets draped over your patio furniture. Don’t forget the s’mores!
When the weather starts to warm up, there’s nothing better than firing up the smoker or kamado grill and getting outside with tongs in hand. But with barbecue season comes a few unique considerations. Use the above tips to help you prepare for anything the summer months throw your way — from unexpected downpours to last-minute invites.