Grilling and chilling: How to host the ultimate backyard BBQ

Photo of author

| Updated:

There’s nothing quite like a backyard BBQ to create unforgettable memories. Gather your friends and family, serve some good food, and enjoy the sun, laughter and good times as you host the most epic backyard BBQ.

Man cooking kabobs on an outdoor grill.
Man Cooking Meat. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Backyard BBQs are the quintessential summer party. A blend of feasting, having a great time and enjoying the outdoors, these gatherings are a must, but hosting doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to hire a posh party planner or spend your whole paycheck to have an epic event. With these tips, you’ll host an unforgettable event that’s the hit of the summer.

The menu

Backyard BBQs are synonymous with good food; everyone will expect you to fire up your barbecue, or if you have one, also the smoker. One of the keys to having a great party is to offer a tasty and diverse menu that’ll please everyone. 

You have a few choices. You can:

  • Cook everything yourself,
  • Make the event potluck style, and everyone brings a covered dish and something to put, on the BBQ, or
  • Handle the meats and BBQ options and ask everyone else to bring something to share.

Whatever route you take, ask about guests’ allergies and restrictions and include dishes that will accommodate them. Also, provide a variety of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options to have something for everyone.

Regardless of whether you do all the cooking or just some of it, the grill and smoker will be the main attraction. Be sure to offer a mix of classic BBQ favorites like burgers and hot dogs, but add some more unique options like grilled steak skewers with mojo rojo for those wanting to try something different. 

A mother and daughter at the grill with friends in the background.
Outdoor grilling. Photo credit: Yayimages.

“I am all about preparing and assembling foods and decor way in advance of hosting a BBQ. My day-of preparations include grilling some burgers, getting some drinks and enjoying the guests.” —  Jere’ Cassidy, One Hot Oven

If you plan on using the backyard smoker or an outdoor griddle, be sure to account for the additional time it takes to smoke the food. Dishes like brisket and pulled pork can take literally all day to smoke, while other dishes like smoked shotgun shells — bacon-wrapped pasta tubes filled with a cheesy meat mixture — can be prepared ahead of time and are quickly smoked.

Don’t forget dessert. Make desserts that can be made ahead of time, or include a variety of frozen treats that will appeal to kids and adults alike. 

Always be aware of food safety. Keep dishes refrigerated until the last minute, make sure your grill is clean before cooking on it, and promptly pack up leftovers. 

“I try to pick food items that don’t require constant attention. You can make plenty of impressive dishes that are relatively hands-off, leaving you more time to spend with friends and family.” —  Gen La Rocca, Two Cloves Kitchen

Subscription Form

Save this article and we'll send it to your inbox. Plus we'll send you more great article links every week.


If your event is outside, have plenty of refreshments on hand for thirsty guests. If you offer alcohol, be sure to also have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks for those who don’t care to imbibe. If you’re on a budget, ask guests to bring their own alcoholic beverages or limit the offerings to just beers. 

A group of friends with cocktails at a table at night.
Nighttime Party. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Preparing the backyard

The backyard is an extension of your home and can be an excellent place for entertaining. Turn it into a welcoming space by

  • Tidying it up and removing any clutter
  • Picking up after the dog
  • Mowing the lawn and trimming the plants
  • Having plenty of seating options on hand, or asking guests to bring lawnchairs
  • Providing ample shade
  • Having room for the kids to run around and play
A backyard with a BBQ and swing set.
Backyard with Grill. Photo credit: Yayimages.

To take your backyard BBQ to the next level, add a touch of warmth and charm with colorful tablecloths and linens, fresh flowers and centerpieces. 

Ensure you have plenty of room to set up a buffet and mesh covers for food if pests are a problem.

The ambiance

Now that you’ve got the menu and the location ready, think about setting the ambiance for the perfect event. Pick music that will appeal to everyone, and keep the volume low so you don’t irritate neighbors or drown out conversation. 

If you expect your event to last past dark, have outdoor string lights, lanterns or other safe lighting options to keep the mood cozy.

Have something for the kids and adults to do. Fun outdoor games include cornhole and horseshoes, or if you have a pool, invite your guests to bring bathing suits. If you’re splurging and have the room, rent a bouncy house for the kids, and that’ll keep them entertained for hours.

After our long, cold winters, we love to host big BBQs for friends and family. Usually, we will provide the main meat for grilling and soft drinks. The others bring salads, homemade desserts, and, of course, sourdough bread. We also make sure we have a plan B for indoor activities just in case it rains, and we can’t eat outside.

Sarita Harbour, An Off Grid Life

Take your BBQ to the next level

If you really want to pull out all the stops, these ideas will transform your humble shindig into one people talk about for years to come.

  • Tidy up the house in case people need to go inside to escape the heat or rain or to get away for a few minutes.
  • Have a themed event. Go with a tropical luau theme with food and decorations to match, or pick colors, like red, white and blue, for a 4th of July-themed party (serve this 4th of July cheesecake as a special dessert).
  • If you’re celebrating a special event, homemade banners and signs add a personal touch that everyone will love.
  • Jazz up the food — offer a hot sauce or BBQ sauce tasting and ask people to bring a bottle of their favorite homemade or purchased sauce to share.
  • Deploy backyard misters if you expect it to be very hot, and ensure plenty of shade.
  • Have snacks on hand to keep people from getting hungry before and after the main meal. Snacks like chips, fruit and vegetable trays and smoked Chex mix won’t wilt in the heat.

Just because you are hosting doesn’t mean you have to do it all by yourself. When people offer to help, don’t be shy about accepting it. Each two-minute task you can delegate is two more minutes you get to relax with your guests.

Renee Gardner, Renee Nicole’s Kitchen

The final sizzle

A fun and memorable backyard BBQ is about more than just the food; it’s about creating a fun, safe, entertaining and inviting atmosphere everyone can enjoy. From laughter and conversation to games and just relaxing, these tips will help you create the most epic backyard BBQ. Grab your apron, fire up the grill and invite your family and friends for an event they won’t forget.

Jenn Allen is a retired chef turned cookbook author, blogger, and traveler. She lives at home with her family and the cats that rule them all. Sign up for all her best recipes at Cook What You Love.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.