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The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Backyard BBQ

The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Backyard BBQ

Hosting the perfect backyard BBQ doesn’t begin and end with the food—though that’s certainly a delicious place to start.

The backyard BBQ is the essence of the season, all wrapped up in one glorious get-together with friends and family. Burgers and brats. Fireflies. Staying up late. The kids playing horseshoes with their favorite cousins. And, of course, you making the absolute most of your grill or smoker.

The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Backyard BBQ

As with any get-together, the perfect backyard BBQ starts with planning. You’ll need to have the right tools on hand, and not just for cooking. You’ll want to be sure your guests have everything they need to stay entertained, thoroughly fed and hydrated, and feel at home.

Plus, you’ll need what it takes to make all this as easy as possible for you, the host, so you can enjoy the party. There’s nothing worse than missing a BBQ in your own backyard. You don’t want to be too busy cooking or searching for things you could have prepared beforehand and miss out on the fun.

Whether you are planning a block-party blowout or just a backyard dinner, here are the tasks, shopping lists, and checklists for your backyard BBQ.

Backyard BBQ Prep: Table of Contents

1. Clean and Stock the Grill

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If your grill missed its spring cleaning, now is the time to give it a tune up.

First, make sure everything is working. Clean the grill from the inside, out, following the grill manufacturer’s instructions. Scrub the grates, and stock up on fuel, whether that’s wood, charcoal, propane, or pellets.

What you’ll need to clean and stock the grill:

2. Prep the patio for partying

Summer will ensure that you won’t be dealing with a snowstorm. But depending on where you live, you might be dealing with other things Mother Nature tries to throw at you. It’s best to anticipate the what-ifs and do any set up before your backyard BBQ.

The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Backyard BBQ

Fans. A few strategically placed fans will keep guests comfortable while also keeping pests away from the dessert table.

Insect repellent. Citronella candles or torches smell amazing and keep mosquitos away. Your guests will swoon over a bottle or two of strategically placed sunscreen. Same with bug spray.

Outdoor lights. Make sure the party doesn’t have to wind down at sunset. Outdoor lighting also helps keep everyone from a false step that would end them up in the hedges. Tiki torches are great, and so are strings of bistro lights and solar-powered path lights. A fire pit can keep things cozy.

Tables and seating. Once you know how many guests you’ll have, you can set up the right number and configuration of folding tables, picnic tables, and seating. It doesn’t matter whether you go with your patio set or lawn chairs. It’s whatever is comfortable. The main thing here is to make sure there is a seat for everyone.

Set up tables out of the way of grill smoke. Set up a table for drinks and appetizers away from the kitchen or the grill. Plan to direct guests here once they arrive. It’s tough to finish up the cooking if your guests are crowded in the kitchen or hovering over the grill. (Though they do deserve a peek.)

Music. Before guests arrive on the day of the BBQ, set out a bluetooth speaker or two. Create a BBQ playlist or ask your smart speaker for the right playlist.

Prep-the-patio checklist:

3. Plan the menu (including how much food to plan for each guest)

Go big or go home, right? We agree. But don’t try to make ribs, brisket, burgers, brats, dogs, and whatever else you think you can squeeze onto the grill. Narrow it down to two mains.

Why? Because you want to enjoy the party, not spend it spinning a thousand plates. Before you finalize the menu, be sure to check with your attendees to know if there are any dietary restrictions you need to accommodate.

The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Backyard BBQ

Put the menu in plain view for arriving guests. This will cut down on questions for you while you’re wrapping up with cooking. A chalkboard on an easel makes this easy. Have the artist in your family make it a masterpiece.

Backyard BBQ Menu Planning Resources:

4. Hit the store like a pro

How much food should you buy for a backyard BBQ? It’s a real head-scratcher: you want to buy plenty of food to feed all your guests. Worst scenario, what you buy doesn’t stretch. But the thought of having leftover burgers and brats for a week after your backyard cookout doesn’t sound so great, either.

Lucky for you, there are a few rules of thumb for how much to food to buy and cook for your backyard BBQ:

How much food to make for each person at your BBQ: Main Dishes:

Keep in mind, these amounts assume you are serving two mains in amounts guaranteed to please and to make your serving table look full and plentiful.

If you cook more than just two mains, you won’t need quite so much per person. Adjust down slightly per meat if you plan three or more mains.

Generally, the serving size for a side dish is ½ C. per person. But this is a backyard BBQ we’re talking about here. These are foods everyone loves, and it’s been months since they’ve enjoyed them. Count on your guests to come hungry.

Better safe than sorry. Plan for about 50 percent more than the usual serving size on sides. Edge toward even more on bulkier side items like potato salad.

If you end up with more leftover sides than you can handle, send guests home with aluminum take-away trays—the kind with a lid and fold-over edges.

How much food to make for each person at your BBQ: Side Dishes:

Make It a Potluck. Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring food, drinks, and supplies. Not only does this make things simpler for you as the host, but it also broadens your menu. This is how you ensure there will be something on the table for everyone. Plus, you’ll get to taste your guests’ specialties you’ve been hearing them go on and on about. And your guests will appreciate the chance to show off.

If you go the potluck route, don’t leave the menu completely to chance. Assign specific dishes, courses, or drinks to each guest so you don’t end up with 10 kinds of potato salad and no cobbler. (This would be truly sad indeed.) As for you? Your assignment is appetizers and mains. Remember, try to stick to cooking just two mains.

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Go Crazy with Condiments. Add pizzazz and customization options galore with an abundance of condiments. Without a lot of hassle or expense, this maximizes the mileage of your two mains.

Plus, your guests will be able to go crazy creating their own combos with:

Know what’s fun? Writing out your favorite condiments and toppings combinations for your guests. It gives them a place to start diving into the variety. And no one will feel like you’ve thrown them in the deep end.

Write out your favorite combos on your chalkboard, or sketch out a few of your favorites on place cards and set them by the spread of condiments and toppings.

Backyard BBQ Shopping Checklist:

5. Prep and pack the coolers

A thirsty backyard BBQ guest is not a happy guest. It’s important to have a variety of drinks on hand.

Signature cocktail. Make your favorite cocktail in one big batch. This could be a sangria, punch, a Bloody Mary with homemade Bloody Mary mix, or spiked lemonade. A signature drink is fun, and making a big batch means your folks can serve themselves throughout the party. There’s no reason to play bartender when you could be playing cornhole or babying burgers. Serve it in an extra-large pitcher, or opt for a drink dispenser.

Drinks for all ages. Fill coolers or beverage tubs with beer, wine, soda, juice, water, and anything else you and your guests love to sip on. Don’t forget to stock up on ice. The only thing worse than running out of drinks at a backyard BBQ? Running out of ice.

Backyard BBQ Drinks Checklist:

6. Knock out the food prep beforehand

Making BBQ, burgers, and sides for your best backyard BBQ? It’s easy to do some prep ahead of party time.

Prepping food before party day all keeps stress levels to a minimum on the day of the get-together. Plus, the cooking will go from the grill to the table more smoothly than if you tried to do everything the day-of.

Here is our food-prep list for a backyard BBQ:

Backyard BBQ food prep checklist:

The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Backyard BBQ

7: Prep Serving Dishes and Tableware

Think of this task in two parts:

  1. Prepare what you’re going to use to serve the food. That’s platters, salad bowls, and serving spoons.
  2. Prepare what you’re going to use to eat the food. We mean plates, bowls, knives, forks, spoons, and cups.

Set out everything you’re going to use to serve your BBQ feast ahead of time. Mark each platter and bowl with a reminder so you know what food goes where. This is also how you can make sure you have enough serving vessels for mains, sides, and everything else.

When it comes to guests and what they will need to feed their faces, make sure you have plenty of plates, cups, forks, knives, spoons, napkins (wet naps, if you’re serving BBQ), and toothpicks. Mason jars are an easy and inexpensive way to keep these things corralled.

It’s also a good idea to have plenty of trash and recycle bins around to collect waste. You don’t want to send your guests on a scavenger hunt with their dirty dishes.

Backyard BBQ Serving Dishes and Tableware Checklist:

8: Let the (lawn) games begin

You’ve got the food and the drinks. Your grilling tools are ready. But the best backyard BBQ wouldn’t be complete without some games.

Games are great for any little ones you have attending, but it’s an easy mixer for adults, too.

The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Backyard BBQ

If you don’t have these lawn games on hand, it’s worth picking up a few at your local store. Plan to have a few board games and a deck of cards, too.