If you’re looking for cutesy decor ideas for an outdoor Pinterest party, this probably isn’t the post for you. If, however, you’re looking for practical tips on the kind of barbecue everyday people actually host, this is most definitely the place to be. Real people having real fun eating real food.
The invitations are up to you. We suggest text message, phone call, or a face-to-face invite. It may not be fancy, but it gets the job done and doesn’t require postage. From there, we’ll give you a few more details.
Unless you frequently eat out in your backyard, you may need to do a little setting up to be ready to host people. It wouldn’t be fun for everyone to stand on a slab of concrete next to a yard full of weeds. Mow first. Then you’ll be free to deal with these things.
If you choose to have your cookout in the evening, the sun will eventually set on your festivities. To keep your guests from tripping over each other, you’ll probably want some light. The porch light could work in a pinch, but it may not light enough of the yard to do the job alone. For reinforcements, consider stringing up Christmas lights along the fence, setting lanterns on tables, or lighting citronella tiki torches and placing them strategically in the yard. It doesn’t have to be bright so long as folks can see where they’re going.
For those of you not fortunate enough to have a pool in the backyard, you’re going to need another way to keep guests cool while they eat. Start with shade. You can add shade to your backyard by setting up a portable canopy, hanging a tarp, or using beach umbrellas. Once the shade has been established, use fans and misters to keep guests cool. Just make sure the misters don’t drench the guests (or the food). For a fun twist, fill a stock tank or kiddy pool with cold water guests can put their feet in while they sit and talk. (It’s the same group dynamic as a fire pit without the heat and smoke.)
Plates and utensils
This is the point where the age-old struggle between ease and responsibility surfaces. Paper plates are easier to clean up afterward but not as earth-friendly. Plastic plates (glass is just a bad idea for outside) are more earth-friendly but require more effort to clean after the fact. It’s up to you. But think about using plates that won’t blow all over your neighborhood on a breezy day.
Unless your backyard has a lot of patio furniture, you’ll need to bring in extra seating for the occasion. It doesn’t have to be fancy so long as it’s functional. Use camping chairs, folding chairs, or picnic benches. Instead of providing a chair for every kid in attendance, put a blanket down on the ground (This is why you mow!) as a kid’s “table”. Make sure the blanket is in the shade. Hot and hungry kids are cranky, and crankiness has been known to break up parties faster than a teenager’s parents coming home.
Food at a cookout can be divided into two categories: finger food and food that requires utensils (utensil food). Finger food is often easier to serve and eat, but utensil food gives you more options. It’s your call whether you want to quickly steal bites as you walk by the serving table or be civilized and use a fork.
In the realm of finger foods, there are the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs (or bratwurst). Kabobs can be finger foods, too. Just leave enough of the skewer exposed to give folks a handle. Chicken wings qualify as well (if there are enough paper towels on hand).
Utensil foods could be anything from venison to brisket, pork chops to salmon. It all depends on what you like, what you have enough of, and how much room you have on the grill.
Pro tip: Leave time to thaw and marinate the meat before you put it on the grill.
Finger food sides could include watermelon (cut with rinds left on), veggies and dip, chips and dip, bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapenos, deviled eggs, or corn on the cob. If you don’t have room on the grill to roast the corn, cook it in your ice chest by adding two pots of boiling water to shucked corn and closing the lid. The corn will cook and stay hot in the rotomolded cooler.
Utensil sides might be salads (fruit, green, potato, pasta, or a slaw), beans (baked or ranch), mac and cheese, or stuffed mushrooms. (Stuffed mushrooms don’t count as finger food because there’s no stem to grab that won’t burn your finger when they come off the grill.)
Finger food desserts are easy. Brownies and cookies are always crowd-pleasers and handle the outdoor climate well. S’mores are a fun tradition if you have a fire pit. The best utensil dessert, though, is ice cream.
Note: if you serve ice cream cones, then ice cream could arguably be classified as a finger food. In that case, we recommend pies and cobblers as utensil food options.
The least expensive options for backyard barbecue beverages are iced tea and lemonade. To keep bugs out, serve these out of a container with a lid and a spout. Be sure to keep a cooler full of ice nearby because the drinks themselves will get watered down if you continue to add ice throughout the meal.
To provide guests with more beverage options, serve drinks that come in individual containers like cans or bottles. Don’t buy the lie that putting these in a stock tank or kiddy pool full of ice will keep the drinks cold enough. You don’t want to be guilty of serving moderately warm beer. That kind of reputation is difficult to live down. Fancy presentation can’t top the best coolers for keeping drinks cold. (Shameless plug: Bison’s 125-quart cooler will hold enough drinks to quench the thirst of the whole neighborhood.)
People like to talk to people they already know. People also like to be entertained or given a way to break the ice with people they don’t know well. Providing entertainment creates a new dimension of interaction and makes the time together more memorable.
Set out yard games for guests to play. Corn hole is a crowd favorite and doesn’t require participants to be athletic. The same goes for ladder ball and bocci ball. Or keep it super simple and just provide a frisbee to toss. (Hint: use a hula hoop as the target for some frisbee golf.)
Get everybody in on the action by having a team competition. Wiffle ball doesn’t require much equipment. Volleyball is great if you have a net. Or if you have a way to show the big game on a screen on your back porch, watching a sporting event can be entertaining, too. (And it keeps guests from checking their phones for the score while they’re there.)
For the kids
Kids will enjoy yard games and team competition, but if you want something that’s specifically geared toward your younger guests, invest in some water guns and bubbles. If you want to up the ante a bit, turn on the sprinklers for the kids to run through or create a scavenger hunt of challenges that can be completed in the yard (Catch a lightning bug, find the longest blade of grass, spot the first star, collect 5 different types of leaves, etc.).
Simply because the nature of a backyard barbecue is to hold the event outside, there are some extra things to think about that wouldn’t apply to an indoor meal. Figure out a way to address the following.
Serving food outside means finding a balance between keeping the food accessible and keeping the bugs off. It also means serving food at the proper temperature (keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold). Throwing a party that ends in food poisoning or salmonella is worse than hosting a party with warm beer. A rotomolded cooler provides the solution to both situations. Keep meat warm by wrapping it in foil and placing it in a cooler. Keep salads, fruits, and drinks cold by placing them in a cooler with ice. Two temperatures, one solution. (Of course you’ll need more than one cooler.)
As you set up and plan seating and utensils, think about weighing things down so they don’t get blown everywhere by the wind: tablecloths, plates and napkins, tarps, etc.
Ants and mosquitoes are every outdoor event’s worst enemy (second to weather, maybe). There are some homemade bug repellent options you can look in to. You could light citronella candles and place them strategically. You could add sage to the fire pit or grill (after you’re done cooking). Or you could simply have bug repellent available for guests to use.
As for the ants, we recommend applying gasoline and a lighter to their mounds. (Apply this tip at your own risk.)
Now you’re ready. All that’s left to do is enjoy the time with family and friends. If you take pictures at your barbecue that include Bison products, tag us on social media. We appreciate other folks who know what it means to work hard and play harder.