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Casual get-together BBQs make the perfect summer celebration. One can’t help but relish those communal outdoor afternoons – cheerful chatter as you and your friends catch up, the telltale sizzle of hot dogs hitting the grill, a moment of total relaxation with a cold brewski in a shady spot. Nothing says “summer is here” quite like a cookout.
And the sentiment applies whether you’re throwing a summer barbecue in your spacious backyard or urban hidden rooftop. Welcome the onset of warm weather by hosting your best-ever BBQ.
One way to make your summer BBQ stand out? Give it a theme. You can’t go wrong with traditional BBQ, but don’t be afraid to mix things up. It could be as simple as “Red, White and Blue,” or all-out themed as a Korean BBQ. Picnic-type themes work well for small spaces, since finger foods require fewer plates and utensils (which in turn, requires less table & counter space).
Then, of course, comes the eternal Saturday v. Sunday debate. We’ll let you decide which works better for your crowd, but keep the inherent perks of each in mind. If you go for a Saturday, you can start on the later side (say, around 4pm). On the other hand, Sundays feel like – and are – work nights, even in summer – so plan for a day party, with the grill fired up by noon.
Unless you’re hosting your shindig to honor or celebrate an occasion, there’s no need to go over-the-top on invitations. Keep it casual with a simple BCC’d email, e-vite, or Facebook event. Do, however, follow up with a personalized reminder via text or phone call a few days in advance. If your old school and love handing out letters design one fast with Canva’s free invitation maker.
Speaking of invites, why not welcome the neighbors? Even if they’re no-shows, the simple act of giving them your cell number is a kind courtesy. Plus, they’ll be more inclined to call you directly if things get too rowdy for their liking.
Food is the main draw for any BBQ, and meat its piece de resistance. Make sure you have the best grill for your needs. Next, enlist the help of your tiny new sous-chef: a thermometer. This sidekick stick will help you determine when your BBQ chicken is ready, or if the grilled steak is done.
Some surefire crowd pleasers at any summer meal? Rich, let-it-simmer pork shoulder, zesty shrimp skewers, and deliciously balanced tri tip with chimichurri. Beyond meat, step up your barbecue classics with upgrades like jalapeno honey-butter cornbread, delicately spiced baked potatoes, and grilled brussels sprouts. To keep the grilling show boat going through dessert, throw some peaches on there.
Don’t forget to include plenty of pickled foods, like sauerkraut, pickled onions, and of course, pickles. These fermented veggies are the perfect complement to an otherwise typically fatty menu. Place salads and other keep-cold dishes over bowls of ice.
Tip: For small spaces, save surface space by stacking foodstuffs vertically – like on a tiered platter.
The need for food safety practices are amplified during the dog days of summer. If it’s over 90°F, don’t leave dishes out for longer than two hours. The best way to keep your table loaded is by bringing food out in smaller portions, while the main supply chills in the fridge.
Remember, dietary restrictions are a fact of life – ask for special requests when you send your invites, and include nibbling options for every possible diet.
The typical rule of thumb for alcoholic beverages at any get-together is 1.5 per hour, per guest. But of course, you know your audience best – so adjust up or down accordingly.
What beverages you serve at your cookout will likely depend on your tasting menu. When choosing a wine, for example, pick a variety that will complement the nuances of your sauces and cuts. Use this infographic from Wine Folly as your cheat sheet at the wine shop or grocery store.
And don’t forget to honor your D.D.s with plenty of non-alcoholic options. Water is vital all around, but the other P.G.-rated drinks needn’t be boring. A big batch of thyme lemonade or mint-ginger iced tea will keep even the snootiest of cocktail snobs swilling. Soda for the kids will do in a pinch, too.
Drinks are bound to be misplaced in any scenario, so let guests label theirs. Looking for a step-up from the classic Sharpie-on-Solo Cup? Elevate your name game with Washi tape, or try out some chalkboard stickers.
Whatever you’re serving, don’t skimp on the ice — Food Network recommends two pounds of ice per person.
As with food, the bottom line for drinks is: Overbuy. Worst case scenario, you have leftover beer and sparkling water to bring to the next BBQ. (Or keep for yourself – we’re not judging!)
Rather than grouping everything onto one table, have at least two serving stations set up. One can be for food, and the other for drinks. If you’re hosting in a small space, make use of even more surfaces – think shelves, kitchen countertops, window sills – to avoid “bottlenecking.”
When it comes to seating, remember the only thing worse than spending hours in the direct glare of the sun is standing for hours in the direct glare of the sun. Provide plenty of seating options for your guests, both under shade and in the sun for heat-tolerant folks.
If you’ve been planning on upgrading your outdoor furniture or grabbing some new backyard pieces, a barbecue is the perfect excuse to finally splurge for them. Just make sure you have a plan to get them home – you can get the ultimate backyard lounger without lifting a finger by utilizing Dolly for its delivery.
And if you plan to keep the party going past dark, plan for lighting, too. String lights make any spot look upscale, while candles are straight-up magical.
Leaving the house or apartment door open (with its screen shut, of course) will encourage mingling both outside and inside the house.
And whether you’re an urban dweller or suburban homeowner, your younger guests will appreciate a steady supply of sidewalk chalk at their disposal.
Another fun staple? A polaroid camera. As a bonus, attendees will have an instant, take-home commemoration of the party.
Come summer, even the best of hosts can fall prey to an unwelcome party crasher: the dreaded mosquito. Don’t let these little buggers suck the fun out of your BBQ.
Keep bug spray out for guests to apply liberally. And go heavy on decorating with plants like mint and marigold – they tend to thwart mosquitoes. Keep all bugs off any sweet cocktails by topping glasses with baking cups.
But the ultimate anti-mosquito tool might just be an all-around welcome addition: An electronic fan. Whether it’s overhead or a plug-in, this low-tech solution deters mosquitos from showing up in the first place.
The best hosts and hostesses are the ones who make an appearance at more than just the serving station. If your NextDoor neighbor brought his own special recipe for shrimp on the barbie, go ahead and let him man the grill while you take a much-deserved break.
Get your playlist queued up, and sit down to enjoy the party – after all, your guests are there to see you!