Almost any occasion could justify a backyard BBQ. Big game coming up? Let’s play cornhole and eat some corn on the cob. Summertime birthday party? Let’s serve up some grilled steak and chicken — a perfect way to spend the evening.
Who even needs an excuse? After all, you woke up and got out of bed today, right? Clearly, you and your friends deserve a full rack of ribs, a cooler of cold drinks and a relaxing night.
But before you can party, you need to plan. Which is why Pro Tips has you covered with this BBQ checklist, filled with great backyard BBQ ideas to throw a memorable cookout.
THE DAYS BEFORE
You’ll want to invite guests a couple weeks ahead of time, and then put your plan into action a few days before the party, starting with the basics.
Consider mowing your lawn about two days ahead of time to help save guests who are sensitive to lawn clippings.
If you have to reconfigure your outdoor space to accommodate more people and have a better flow, do so the day before. Get your outdoor furniture together and see if you need any folding chairs and tables for more seating. Still not enough outdoor seating for all of your guests? Set some blankets out on the lawn and go picnic-style. (This is always a fun option for the kids, too!)
Pick up table cloths and clips to help hold your table cloth in place. If you’re using paper plates, make sure to get the sturdy kind. You don’t want your friend’s full plate of flavorful food to end up on the ground. Your dog may consider that good fortune, but your guests won’t.
Before you go shopping for food, know who you’re cooking for. If any of your guests have food allergies or dietary restrictions, make sure you know so that you have options for them. And don’t forget to have a rainbow of condiments for a range of tastes. You don’t want to run out of food, so it’s always best to have more than you think you might need. If you have too many leftovers, you can always send your friends home with doggie bags.
Double check to make sure your grilling utensils are in good shape and check that you have enough charcoal or propane to fuel your grill. If any of the food can be prepared ahead of time (like putting kabobs together or making desserts), do so the night before to save time the day of.
Will you be grilling after sundown? If so, don’t forget a grill light! You can also decorate your yard with a set of string lights and lanterns so that everyone can see well into the night.
THE MORNING OF
Now that you have the supplies you need, it’s time to start setting up.
A large canopy can offer shelter from rain and double as a place of refuge to help keep people cool on hot days.
Don’t let Mother Nature steamroll your party. It’s time to get on weather duty. Did a last- minute rainstorm come by before you could set up a canopy or a tent? If so, have a broom or shop vac ready to clean up water from your porch or patio. If wet grass is the issue, try laying out a tarp or two as a protective layer between your guest’s shoes and the mud. If it’s really hot outside, bring the breeze by setting up a few oscilating fans to help keep your guests cool.
Also, have at least two or three coolers filled with ice. You can have one for adult beverages, one for soft drinks and water, and one for drinks your guests bring. The third is nice to have so there’s less foot traffic in and out of the kitchen. Fill these coolers several hours ahead of time so that the drinks are chilled by the time your guests arrive.
Ice can melt fast, so make sure you have plenty of extra. Keeping your coolers in the shade can also help slow the melting process.
Serving up food buffet-style is always great for a BBQ. Putting your main courses and side dishes in one area can help you keep an eye on what needs to be replenished and can make cleanup easier. Set your serving dishes and platters up ahead of time so you can make sure you have a spot for all the food you’ll be serving. Doing this can help you be organized and keep you from digging through your cupboards trying to find a platter as the burgers are getting cold.
You can scatter snacks like chips and dip throughout the party space though so that your guests can help themselves wherever they are. Finish food prep by cutting lemons and limes for drinks and dicing up your burger toppings.
Next, put a couple trash bags and recycling bins around and mark them with clear signs so guests can clean up after themselves as the party goes on. This can save you time later in the night.
And no backyard BBQ is complete without entertainment. Set up a wireless speaker to stream music so you and your friends can enjoy your favorite summertime tunes. Craft a perfect playlist ahead of time so that you won’t have to keep checking on the music. Set up your yard games before anyone arrives as well, so guests have something to do while you cook. There’s an endless selection of games to choose from, like cornhole, washer toss and ladder toss.
AS GUESTS ARRIVE
As guests arrive, make sure to give them the layout of the party. Show them where the yard games and appetizers are, and where the food will be when it comes off the grill. Take any dishes they may have brought and place additional beverages in the third cooler you set aside earlier in the day.
Have insect repellent and sunscreen readily available for guests and set out a few citronella candles/torches to help ward off bugs.
Watch the clock so you can start cooking at a reasonable hour.
WHILE YOU COOK
Prepare some snacks ahead of time to keep people fed while they wait for the main event, but try to avoid super sticky or sweet foods that can draw and trap bugs. Chips and dips always make great appetizers for people to munch on while mingling. To help keep bugs out of your food, try covering them with a mesh food net.
Encourage your guests to look through your playlist, to start playing yard games, and to help themselves to snacks and drinks. Don’t let everyone wait for the food — work the room and get the party started right away!
Once you’ve finished cooking, it can be tempting to dive right into eating, but you’ll save yourself time and effort if you scrub the grill while it’s still warm.
Then you can settle in with your guests for the night. At this point, your BBQ is going strong!
Before you can kick up your feet for the rest of the night, consider cleaning up the leftover food. Aluminum foil, plastic wrap and glass or plastic containers for storage can help you keep leftovers organized. Take care of this as soon as you can and you’ll have more time for fun and games. And if your guests ask if you need help with cleanup, take it. You don’t want to spend a large chunk of time washing dishes while everyone else is outside having fun.
If you plan on lighting up a fire pit once it gets dark, make sure to start it up early. When the sun goes down and the temperatures fall a bit, you’ll be glad to already have a fire going.
Finally, just remember to be mindful of the noise level and of your neighbors, especially as it gets late.
With these BBQ tips, you’ll have what you need for a great day in your backyard. Just remember to bring the fun!