It only takes a few balmy days of early summer to get our minds set on the smell of charcoal and the sound of sizzling burger patties. The backyard barbecue is right up there with the 4th of July as a cherished ritual of American summertime (and indeed, the two often mix for delicious results).
But if you're going to go to the trouble of hosting your friends and neighbors and making the lawn presentable with a fresh mow, you want to make sure your backyard BBQ is the best it can be. From the proper sides to the ideal seating arrangement, here are some thoughts on pulling it off.
Firstly, you'll have to expect that people will show up hungry. Which is a good thing—otherwise your backyard BBQ would be a bust from the start. While big appetites are to be encouraged, you don't want to wind up with hangry behavior. Stave off hunger pangs brought on by the smell of a charcoal grill by having a few small dishes set out for snacking as soon as the guests arrive. These initial dishes don't have to be a major production: it can be as simple as laying out a few bowls of potato chips and pretzels.
We aren't anti-burger, but we'd encourage you to add some hot dogs and brats to the mix alongside whichever ground beef patties you're planning on grilling. Why? Aside from adding more variety, they're great insurance in case your grilling skills are feeling a bit rusty from the wintertime and that first batch of burgers comes out on the crispier side of well done. Pre-cooked hot dogs are cooked easily, and ready in a snap. In case of a crisis, fire up a pack of hot dogs for the guests as you prepare to take your burger mulligan.
BBQ or not, the grill doesn't have to touch everything that's being served. After all: what's a great BBQ without good sides? While it's easy enough to pick up a few cold scoops from the deli counter, we'd encourage you to try your hand at a few homemade examples too. From the classic, creamy pasta salad to a mustard-laced German potato salad, these cold dishes are packed with flavor and surprisingly easy to prepare. Best of all, you can make them ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator as you begin grilling in earnest, ensuring that you won't have your attention split when there's a spatula in your hand.
Once the grilling has been taken care of, you'll want to make sure that every guest has seating that's both comfortable and optimal for eating a meal. A round dining table and chairs made from recycled plastic is an easy (and eco-friendly) way to seat a party. If you have more guests than the table can handle, or would like to make it a more casual affair, you can simply pull together a smattering of rocking chairs or Adirondack chairs. If you go for this route, just make sure to have some side tables on hand for resting burgers, beers, and sodas.
After the meal has ended, the partakers—and especially, the grill master—will want to take a rest. There's no better spot for a post-BBQ afternoon nap than a teak chaise lounge (sorry, hammocks).
While not necessary, having a few games or activities going during your BBQ can really lighten the mood and give people something to do besides eating and talking. Games and activities are also a great ice breaker if some of your guests don’t know one another. Some people love outdoor games like volleyball or cornhole. You can also buy huge backyard versions of games like Jenga and Connect 4 to play on your lawn. If you have a pool and or a hot tub, you can also turn your BBQ into a swim party.
In addition, if you have a projector, a sheet, and some speakers, you can also screen an outdoor movie right at your backyard BBQ around dusk. If you decide to do this, give your neighbors a heads-up so they know why there’s noise coming from your backyard.
No matter what you decide to do, having a BBQ without games and entertainment might go alright, but it could be even better with more options for people to entertain themselves.
But naptime doesn't have to spell the end of your backyard BBQ. Extend it through the evening with a fire pit and a full complement of s'mores-making materials for dessert. You can make your guests comfortable by adding a small ring of Adirondack chairs to the fire pit and keeping the fire going by carrying in extra logs with a waxed canvas log carrier. You may even get a helpful hand from some grateful guests.