Grilling Like a Champ: Top Tips for An Epic Backyard BBQ

tips to host a successful backyard barbecue

With summer just around the corner, you may already be planning to spend more time outdoors and take advantage of longer days. A popular way to enjoy fun in the sun with family and friends is with a barbecue. Before you decide to host a backyard barbecue or fire up the grill at a local park, it’s important to plan.

There’s no need to build an outdoor kitchen or buy a $5,000 grill. Use these tips to ensure you have a successful summer BBQ, and don’t forget to bring your appetite (and plenty of napkins)!

1. Get A Head Count Before Shopping

menu planning
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Ask people to RSVP to get an accurate headcount for your barbecue. Use this number to decide how many ingredients you need for your planned menu. Knowing how many people to expect helps you purchase the proper amount of food and supplies and plan appropriate activities.

2. Prep What You Can In Advance

prep food
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You don’t want to spend the entire barbecue cooking or grilling. Of course, you’ll want to mingle with your guests and have fun. Preparing anything you can in advance helps keep things rolling smoothly. So take the time beforehand to chop, dice, marinate, clean, and prep as much as possible before your barbecue.

3. Keep Your Barbecue Menu Simple

backyard bbq grilling burgers
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There’s no need to create a gourmet menu for your barbecue. If you end up with overly involved, convoluted dishes to cook, you’ll be chained to the grill the entire time instead of getting to mingle. Keep things simple for your featured grill items. Consider the classics, such as burgers, hot dogs, and chicken drumsticks.

4. Clean The Grill Before You Use It

clean the grill
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Take time to clean your grill before your barbecue. The last thing you want is to get ready to throw some burgers on the grill and realize you forgot to clean it. It’s also not a good move to skip cleaning the grill, thinking the heat will simply burn off any muck. Nobody wants to get sick or find last week’s grill remains on their plate.

5. Test Your Grill A Week Before

test the grill
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Unless you regularly use your grill, test it about a week before your barbecue. If there are any issues, you’ll have time to resolve them before the day of the event. Make it fun and enjoy dinner on the patio with your family, or invite the neighbors over. This is also the perfect opportunity to clean the grill, so it’s one less thing to think about on barbecue day.

6. Prep Your Yard

mow the lawn
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Don’t get so busy preparing your menu, shopping for ingredients, getting a head count, and picking a playlist that you forget to prep your yard. Cut the grass, trim weeds, beautify your garden, and scan the lawn for potential hazards. Lastly, set up your seating areas and plan out where things will go for the actual barbecue.

7. Don’t Forget The Ice

get ice
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Beautiful, sunny summer days also mean the heat starts to rise. You’ll want plenty of ice on hand to keep cold foods cold and beverages frosty. If you have an ice maker, ensure it’s working properly and pack some ice into bags a few days ahead. Stow them in your freezer to grab when needed. No ice maker? Pick up a few bags of ice at your local convenience or grocery store.

8. Maintain Your Beverage Supply

make cold drinks
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Gather a simple but diverse assortment of beverages and have enough for everyone to have a few. Depending on your guest list, provide a mix of alcohol and alcohol-free drinks. Keep cold drinks on ice in a cooler or an ice bucket. A lemonade bar is a lot of fun, or create a special cocktail (or mocktail) for the occasion and serve it from an oversized beverage dispenser.

9. Pick The Perfect Playlist

set a playlist
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Create a pleasant ambiance with background music that lifts the mood and encourages people to relax and have fun. Cater the list to your guests, choosing songs that appeal to the masses. Use a Bluetooth speaker or a voice assistant, like Alexa, to play music at a level that’s easy to hear but still allows people to hold conversations without shouting.

10. Plan A Few Games Or Activities

plan games
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Barbecues might feature a lot of food, but they aren’t just about people sitting around eating. These casual gatherings focus on enjoying time with others and often last several hours (sometimes all day). Therefore, it’s best to plan a few outdoor activities as entertainment. Some good examples are cornhole, horseshoes, lawn darts, sack races, and tossing a frisbee.

11. Create A No-Bug Zone

ward off insects
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Don’t let annoying pests crash your party. Nobody wants flies, mosquitoes, and other insects on their food, buzzing about or biting them. Set up citronella candles, provide insect-repellant for guests, and use herbs that bugs find unpleasant, like rosemary and mint. Keep trash cans at a distance, and make sure food stays covered.

If bugs persist, consider setting up a distraction zone. For example, put a couple of cups of sweet soda or similar sugary, enticing temptations in an area far from your gathering.

12. Provide Enough Seating

seats for backyard bbq
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It’s highly unlikely that every person at your barbecue will sit simultaneously. Typically, a few folks sit to eat, while others play horseshoes, and some stand and mingle around the drink station.

But it’s important to provide ample seating so those who want to sit have a place to do so. At the very least, aim for enough seating to cover roughly three-fourths of your guest list. For example, if you expect 16 people, at least have seating for 12.

13. Set Up Convenient Condiments

condiments for backyard bbq
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When people have their hands full with food, napkins, drinks, etc., adding condiments to their plates can get messy. They need to put down their plate to open the jar of mayo, scoop it out, close it up (if they remember), etc.

Make things easier with mini cups of condiments so people simply pick up the ones they want. Another option is to fill a muffin tin or place condiments in small bowls with spoons to eliminate the need for guests to hassle with lids.

14. Incorporate A Meat-Free Option

meat free backyard bbq
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Nobody wants to attend a barbecue and realize there isn’t anything on the menu they can eat. Serve a meat-free option, especially if you know certain guests follow a meatless diet. Roast corn or veggie skewers on the grill or toss a few black bean burgers into the mix.

15. Add A Dessert Bar

dessert bar backyard bbq
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Everyone loves dessert; any time is a good time for something sweet at a barbecue. Set up a table to display all the sweets and treats. Pies, tarts, cupcakes, bread pudding, and similar desserts do well at a barbecue since they won’t melt as easily as something like ice cream. But if you have little ones at the party, consider placing some popsicles into a cooler for an easy on-the-go treat.

16. Clear The Area Around The Grill

grilling at backyard bbq
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Having too many people around the grill is dangerous and can also affect how the food cooks. Keep a wide berth around the grill zone. Use visual markers to make spotting the boundary easier for young children.

17. Know Your Cooking Temperatures

meat thermometer
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Use a meat thermometer to verify when food is ready and at the proper internal temperatures. You don’t want to overcook food, but serving undercooked meat and other proteins is a major health concern.

18. Practice Proper Food Storage

food storage
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Observing proper food storage techniques is essential since a typical barbecue lasts over a few hours. It’s common to find trays of food left out on tables throughout an entire gathering, with people returning to fill their plates a few hours later. But this practice can lead to unfortunate consequences.

During the event, keep cold food like pasta salads, and fruit trays on a bed of ice or in a cooler. Once meat starts to cool, it’s best to wrap it and put it in the fridge. If food sits out for more than two hours at an improper temperature, it’s safer to toss it. For leftovers, have containers ready to store food, label it, and place it in the fridge or freezer.

19. Let The Meat Rest Before Serving

meat resting on grill
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After spending all that time sweating over the grill and drooling over delicious food, it’s tempting to dig in right away. But most meat needs to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before you serve to allow the juices to settle and everything to cook fully. So take a quick break to grab a drink and chat while your grill creations become even more flavorful.

20. Appoint A Designated Grill Master

backyard bbq
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Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” Basically, it means when you have too many people trying to do the same thing at once, you won’t get the best results. Let one person be in charge of handling the grill. This person also needs to keep an eye on monitoring the grill throughout the barbecue to make sure there are no safety issues.

21. Set Up Designated Trash Cans

trash can
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Set up a designated zone for trash cans. Ideally, use trash cans with lids. If possible, find cans with a foot lever so people don’t have to touch them and can easily drop their garbage into the bin. Make sure the garbage cans are situated away from the barbecue so guests aren’t bothered by bugs and stinky smells.

22. Make It A Potluck

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Save time, money, and lots of hassle by asking guests to bring a side dish, dessert, snacks, or drinks. Barbecues are popular potluck events. Therefore, the odds are good that your friends and family won’t think twice about bringing something to share.

23. Keep Pets And Kids Safe

backyard bbq
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If you have pets, make sure they are safe and secure during the barbecue if you plan to have them outside during the event. Secure the area around the grill so your pet can’t get near it. Keep gates locked and let guests know that there are pets present. Likewise, if young children are at the event, tell them to stay away from the grill and have someone supervising them at all times.