How to Throw an Awesome Backyard BBQ This Summer!Adam Brinkman
Are you planning a backyard BBQ this summer?
Sorry, dumb question, let’s start over: How are you planning to throw the best and most awesome backyard BBQ this summer?
Rome wasn’t made in a day, and neither was your Grammy’s world-famous potato salad! Both of these mighty feats of human ingenuity required planning, preparation, collaboration, delegation, and tons of hard work (but if we’re being honest, Rome is a fallen ancient city that used to rule the world, and Grammy’s world-famous potato salad still rules, so we think it’s obvious which of these accomplishments is more impressive).
Besides Grammy’s world-famous potato salad, you’ll need a few more things to make your backyard BBQ awesome. Not to worry if you’re new to this—or are looking for some tips to shore up your usual process—that’s what the internet is for. Luckily, you’ve found the best place on the internet if you want to throw an awesome backyard BBQ this summer!
Organization Is the Name of the Game
Okay, we admit it’s not the best game (the best game is Cornhole, obviously), but getting organized at the beginning will help keep everything on track—all the way from your first vague thoughts of what to do this summer to cleaning up the beer cans from the yard the next morning.
Heads up: this is an interactive article; it works best if you take notes along the way. More of a thinker than a note-taker? Do whatever works for you, but we highly recommend putting at least a little bit of serious time into planning to help avoid last minute panic-shopping or panic-anything-else-ing later.
When’s the BBQ?
This is one of those times in life when you should sweat the details. Choose the date and time based on what works best for you and will also work well for your guests. This is one of the most important parts of pre-planning your BBQ planning.
Once you’ve chosen a date, do some recon: check the weather, make sure you didn’t accidentally pick a holiday or the date of a local event or anything else people may have already made plans for.
Making invitations—either physical or virtual—is a good way to signal that this isn’t just a “hey u wanna bbq this weekend?” text message level of BBQ. Invitations that have a little care put into them means this backyard BBQ aspires to be an awesome backyard BBQ.
Invitations should always include, at minimum, the time, date, and location of your party. You can also include an RSVP date, the menu, the dress code (remind people to bring swimsuits if they’ll need them!), whether there are alternate plans in case of rain, and any other helpful information.
Tip: Asking guests to RSVP isn’t just for fine dining. Getting a headcount beforehand will help you save money on food and supplies, and it also means you won’t end up with more leftovers—either burgers or balloons—than you can handle!
Who’s on the List?
You know what they say: the people make the party! (Does anyone say that?) The next most important pre-planning part of your BBQ planning is brainstorming your guest list.
The smaller your gathering, the more important it is to ruthlessly curate your invites to make sure everyone who attends passes the vibe check—the general vibe you’re going for is awesome backyard BBQ, so make sure everyone there has an awesome vibe.
The larger your gathering, the less important it is to base your invites on vibes. Make sure everyone you invite will know a minimum of 2-4 other people there that they’ll be able to hang out with or talk to, and you’re golden!
Once you have your guest list, you’ll have a general headcount to start from, and you can start thinking about things like seating, tables, garbage bins and recycling, shelter from rain and bright sunlight, and disposable plates, cups, bowls, cutlery and napkins.
(It’s all starting to look like a backyard BBQ! We’re so excited!)
What Are You Serving?
When it comes to BBQ cooking, the three things to consider are how many people will be there, what kind of budget you’re working with, and how much time you want to spend at the grill. (Yes, a BBQ is all about the BBQ, but you might want to do more than just man the grill all night—unless you don’t. If that’s your thing, we support you!)
This is where you’ll probably put most of your awesome budget. Meat is expensive. Feeding a lot of people meat is exponentially expensive. Plan accordingly.
Grilling burgers and dogs is a classic and a crowd-pleaser. If you’re serving hamburgers, hotdogs, or other sandwiches (yes, we just said hotdogs are sandwiches, we feel strongly about this and are prepared to die on this hill), add these essentials to your shopping list:
- Buns of appropriate type
- Cheese, at least one type
- BBQ sauce
- Salsa (just trust us)
Yes, add it all to the list even if you already have all this stuff. Nothing kills the vibe at a BBQ faster than running out of ketchup or burger buns. (Or both. Learn from our mistakes.)
If you’re feeling flush with cash and really want to treat your guests, consider grilling something like tri-tip or salmon, or any other meat that’s good on the grill (read: all meat. All meat is good on the grill).
For a main course you don’t see at every BBQ, consider going with ribs or wings. Smaller, handheld size meats like chicken legs and thighs are also perfect for rounding out your menu, offering an alternative protein for anyone who isn’t especially tempted by the main main, or for those who want a smaller portion size.
Eyes on the Sides
Does anyone else feel like the sides are the best part of a BBQ? We believe that a spectacularly good side can salvage an otherwise lackluster BBQ. Conversely, we’ve seen a collection of sad sides set the tone for a BBQ that was decidedly not awesome.
Sides can also help you save money! Generally, sides will be much cheaper to buy or make than the meats you serve for the mains. Set out plenty of tempting options and your guests will fill up on these delicious morsels instead of going back for a second burger!
- Potato salad
- Pasta salad
- Mac and cheese
- Baked beans
- Corn on the cob
- Tossed salad
- Dips (for the chips)
- More dips (for the veggies)
- Fresh fruit
- (Are there dips for fruit?)
- Grilled flatbread mini pizzas
- Frozen watermelon (infuse it with booze if you dare!)
- Exotic fresh fruit
- Charcuterie board (forget what we said about sides being cheap)
Tip: Don’t you dare forget Grammy’s world-famous potato salad!
Can you have a BBQ without drinks? Sure, anything’s possible! Will it be awesome? Negative.
- Fruit juice
- Water (trust us, you’ll want some water)
While we do consider hotdogs a sandwich, we do not consider the “salads” on the side table with more marshmallows than any other ingredient a dessert. (To answer the obvious question: because those are on the sides table. We don’t make the rules.)
- Ice cream bars, popsicles, other frozen treats
- Ice cream floats
- Make your own sundae bar
- Fresh fruit
- S’mores (no fire pit? Cook them on the grill!)
Get your guests involved—and spend less of your time on cooking—by making your BBQ play by potluck rules! Your great uncle’s better-than-great chili? Yes please! Your cousin’s fruit salad that contains next to no actual fruit? Absolutely! Your friend who’s kind of a beer snob, but the kind who knows good beer? Put that superpower to work for you! Your friend who can’t cook? Sounds like the perfect person to bring potato chips and ice!
Whatever you do, don’t have an open call for everyone to bring “something.” You will end up with eight jello salads, one case of bottled water, and no napkins. That will not be awesome.
Instead, ask people to sign up with what they’ll bring, or ask people to bring something from a certain category (like “sides,” “veggies,” or “dessert”). If you already know what people are really, really ridiculously good at making, hint—or just ask—that they should bring a particular dish that always hits the spot.
What Are We Doing?
The best activities to make your backyard summer BBQ as awesome as possible depends on your guests!
Hosting kids, especially young kids, and even more especially lots of kids, and even most especially lots of young kids, means it’s a good idea to put some thoughts into what you’ll be offering to keep them entertained.
Water balloons, squirt guns, or a sprinkler can be lots of fun and help them stay cool on a hot day. Other yard games are also a good option, along with other kid-approved activities like coloring books or a giant piece of butcher paper spread out on the ground with crayons.
Tweens and teens might turn their noses up at “baby games” or they might be super into cutting loose and acting like little kids while playing games. There really is literally no way to know! This is a wildcard age group, do your best and be ready to pivot to a new suggestion at any time.
Some adults like sitting in the shade with a cold drink, other adults like holding a cold drink in one hand while they absolutely own at playing any game you have. You know your friends, make your choices accordingly when it comes to whether or not you’ll spend time putting up the volleyball net or just keep some extra red cups handy in case a game of beer pong needs to happen.
Heat stroke is a risk for everyone, but it’s more dangerous for seniors and young’uns. If possible, have a well shaded cool-down area with chairs, mini personal fans and a cooler stocked with bottles of water. Beyond being prepared for averting a potentially serious medical issue, this is also a great way to create a lounge space.
Tip: If it’s going to be especially sunny out (or buggy out), make an assortment of sunscreen, aloe gel, and bug spray available for your guests. Keep aloe gel in the cooler to make the most of a painful sunburn—this works especially well on kids, but anyone who gets too much sun will appreciate the option.
What More Do You Need?
This is the easy part: take a look at your lists. Is there anything missing? Add it to the list. Is there anything more you need to do before the BBQ? Put it on the list. Is there anything that could make your life between now and the end of the BBQ a little bit easier? Onto the list with it!
Is there anything you want or need or would be nice to have that doesn’t fit on any of the other lists? Make a new list. (That’s your last list: the list of things that don’t fit on any of the other lists.)
One More Thing
The final and most crucial step to making sure your backyard BBQ is the best and most awesome backyard BBQ this summer is by showing off your own custom cornhole board from Cornhole Worldwide! All you need to do is submit a request, and one of our digital artists will bring your design to life. We also have hundreds of themed sets if you aren’t interested in designing your own.
Now that you’ve got your date set, your guest list, your shopping list, your activities list and (if you’ve really been paying attention to the lesson) a few other lists that are specific to your planning process and the awesome backyard BBQ you want to throw this summer, all you have left to do is everything on the lists you’ve made!