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Hosting a Backyard BBQ: 21 Ideas to Improve Your Cookout

Looking to host the ultimate backyard party? Cookouts are a great way to gather family and friends for food and fun. If you need inspiration for planning your backyard BBQ, check out these 21 ideas for outdoor party themes, setup, food, and more!

Find the Perfect Theme

Get creative with your backyard BBQ by picking a party theme! You can create a unique, memorable event this way and better establish the party’s vibe, menu, and music. Host a luau with an island theme, set up a screen and a projector for a dinner-and-movie party, or spark friendly competition between families with a day-long backyard Olympics followed by an epic feast.

Offer Enough Seating

How many people are you planning to invite to your grill out? If it’s only a handful, a few card tables or a picnic table may be all you need. If you’re hosting a larger group, you may want to consider finding some benches and large tables. You could even add a low table that allows guests to sit on the ground with comfy pillows! Better yet, put out smaller, moveable chairs so your guests can gather and sit wherever they like.

Make Sure Your Grill’s Ready

Person Brushing BBQ Sauce on Ribs. Photo by Instagram user @briewilly

Photo via @briewilly

Depending on what type of grill you own, ensure that you have enough fuel to make it through the cookout. If you have a gas grill, keep an extra tank of propane on hand. The same goes for getting extra charcoal for a charcoal grill and wood pellets or wood for a smoker. And remember to test your grill before the cookout to ensure it’s functioning properly. With a little preparation, you can make sure you won’t have any surprises!

Light Up Your Space

Backyard Sitting Area on a Patio with Lots of Lights Overhead. Photo by Instagram user @no1_home_decor

Photo via @no1_home_decor

Keep your cookout going after the sun goes down with a mix of landscape lighting styles. If you love hosting outdoor get-togethers, invest in hidden outdoor lighting throughout the space. Brighten walkways with in-ground or post lights so guests can navigate your backyard. Create a festive mood by hanging string lights. Or employ brighter landscape uplights that cast warm white light and fully illuminate the area.

Add Outdoor Decorations

Set the mood for your backyard BBQ with fun decorations that match the theme! Create themed centerpieces for tables, adorn the space with festive balloons, and hang signage or banners that welcome guests to your outdoor party. You should also find tablecloths, napkins, silverware, cups, and plates that fit the vibe!

Provide Relief from the Sun

Keep your guests from roasting in the summer heat by adding some shade to your backyard. If your backyard design doesn’t already include shade with trees or tall bushes, you could add a pergola, a backyard canopy, patio umbrellas, or any other means of shade to ensure your cookout is cool and comfortable!

Keep Bugs Away

Don’t let bugs ruin your backyard barbecue! Place citronella torches and candles in your outdoor space to keep pesky bugs at bay and provide bug spray or repellent for guests to use. If you’re planning on being outside often or hosting more backyard cookouts, considering planting bug-repelling bushes and flowers like marigolds and chrysanthemums.

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Stay Warm with a Fire Pit

The easiest way to create a warm, cozy gathering place for your guests as the sun goes down is with a fire pit! You can install a wood-burning pit to supply the pleasing, familiar aroma and crackling noises of a bonfire or a gas fire pit for the convenience of being able to instantly turn it on and off with a switch. Be sure to surround the fire with comfortable seating options like chairs or benches and small end tables for plates and drinks.

Use Music to Set the Mood

What’s a cookout without music? Don’t forget to create a fun playlist that matches your barbecue’s theme and sets the vibe for the whole party! Look for music genres that might appeal to everyone, such as golden oldies, classic rock hits, sing-along country songs, or contemporary pop music.

Get the Necessary Supplies

Grilling Utensils. Photo by Instagram user @dollartree

Photo via @dollartree

Make sure you have the necessary grill tools and serving items for guests! Have skewers, tongs, metal spatulas, hot pads, and other grilling utensils at the ready, as well as serving platters, bowls, and slotted spoons for serving up your delicious cookout meal. Drape tables with disposable tablecloths, and set out a garbage can or two to make gathering up trash easier!

Entertain with Backyard Games

People Playing Big Backyard Jenga. Photo by Instagram user @indigowaiheke

Photo via @indigowaiheke

No cookout is complete without backyard games! Get the games started with cornhole, ladder golf, croquet, and even some large yard Jenga. Need more kid-friendly options? Consider setting up kids activities like a scavenger hunt, arts and crafts tables, or bubble stations to keep the little ones entertained!

Prep Food Ahead of Time

Bowls of Food at a Party. Photo by Instagram user @grubsfoods

Photo via @grubsfoods

While you’ll likely be cooking some items during the cookout, be sure to prepare as much as you can the day before or the morning of your backyard BBQ. Cold dishes like salads are easy to have on hand, and you can make and store side dishes in the fridge or in a crockpot until it’s time for the party!

Make Your Outdoor BBQ a Potluck

People Picking Food Out of Trays at a Party. Photo by Instagram user @twinfallsnails

Photo via @twinfallsnails

Take some of the cooking burden off of yourself by asking guests to bring their favorite drink or side dish to share. Not only does asking for a little help make getting everything ready easier, but it also can create a fun party environment where everyone can share their favorite cookout foods with one another!

Grill Up Some Burgers & Brats

Burgers Cooking on a Grill. Photo by Instagram user @can2_bbq

Photo via @can2_bbq

There’s nothing wrong with sticking to the basics when it comes to your backyard party menu! Grill burgers, hot dogs, and brats, and set everything out with a condiments station that includes all the fixings! And if you’d like to wow your guests, consider creating your own burger blend!

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Get Fancy with Surf & Turf

Looking to get a little fancy at your grill out? Go with a surf-and-turf selection! There are a number of high-quality steaks you can choose from, and “surf” options like lobster tail, salmon, swordfish, and tuna all cook great on the grill. It may not be traditional BBQ food, but it’ll have your guests lining up for seconds!

Don’t Forget Side Dishes

Grilled Corn on a Cast Iron Griddle. Photo by Instagram user @barbecuebeast

Photo via @barbecuebeast

There are a number of great BBQ side dishes you can create yourself, including pasta salads, grilled corn on the cob, and classic potato salads. But if you’re short on time, there’s nothing wrong with buying trays of fruits and vegetables or some chips, salsa, and guacamole!

Set Up an Ice Cream Bar

Simple Ice Cream Sundae Bar Set Up. Photo by Instagram user @shootmybrand

Photo via @shootmybrand

Help your guests cool off in the summer heat with a fun ice cream sundae bar! Set out different flavors of ice cream, bowls and cones, chocolate and caramel syrups, and all kinds of candy and sprinkles so everyone can create their perfect summer BBQ dessert!

Create a S’mores Bar

S'Mores Bar Next to a Fire Pit in a Backyard. Photo by Instagram user @marymdunn

Photo via @marymdunn

Take everyone’s favorite outdoor treat to the next level by constructing a s’mores station near the fire! Provide marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bars, and skewers so guests can make their own s’mores. You can even set out some different chocolate options like peanut butter cups and candy bars!

Include Plenty of Cold Drinks

Lemonade Stand in a Backyard. Photo by Instagram user @giggleliving

Photo via @giggleliving

Keep everyone at your BBQ hydrated by stocking a couple of large coolers with soda, sports drinks, water, beer, and other beverages. Want some drinks in larger quantities for big groups? Put together a beverage stand with jugs filled with water, lemonade, and fruit punch!

Set Out a Signature Drink

People Cheersing Multiple Drinks. Photo by Instagram user @permasteelinc

Photo via @permasteelinc

A great way to set your outdoor party apart is to create your own signature drink! Opt for a refreshing, summertime drink like a strawberry-lemon mojito, or get a little fancier by creating a Thai-basil sangria!

Send Guests Off with a Party Favor

Monogrammed Koozies. Photo by Instagram user @gift_chick

Photo via @gift_chick

Leave your guests with something to remember the party by! Hand out custom koozies, monogrammed cups, or a little baggy of candy. Give out these little favors during the party to help keep drinks cold, or set them out near the door for guests to grab as they leave!

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Looking for a place to store your grill or outdoor living furniture during the off-season? Extra Space Storage has convenient self storage facilities throughout the U.S. that can help you get more space at home. Find a storage unit near you!

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