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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.
When it comes to summer, backyard barbeques are a fact of life. They’re fun, and a great way to bring the whole community together…or maybe just relax with your family and a few close friends. That flexibility is the best thing about them, the ability to either be a big to-do or a small intimate gathering as needed.
At a base level, a barbeque is pretty nice…but don’t you always want to try and make an event feel special? Take your backyard barbeque from good to great with some of these simple ideas!
1. Pick a Theme
This can be pretty much anything, but as long as you stick to it, it makes for a fun time. People like having something to latch onto, and especially for large gatherings like 4th July celebration and Graduation season where a lot of people might not know each other, having conversation starters like sports naturally worked into the party makes breaking the ice so much easier.
Costume parties and similar themes work best for this; they’re not just for Halloween. Plus, getting people to dress up is a great way to get the kids involved and more at ease too. Just keep the theme as something that allows people to wear light and breezy clothes; a Greek theme is great, while a movie monsters theme might not be…people aren’t really going to be inclined to wear latex masks and dark clothes in 90+ degree weather.
But even beyond costumes, even a simple theme like a tiki party or something goes a long way to get imaginations flowing, particularly for the kids. I’m not saying use your kids at entertainment, but…I’m strongly implying it.
2. Get Your Guests Involved
This is perfect for doing two things: taking the stress off of you and your household, and for keeping your guests engaged. You can do this in a number of ways.
The first is outsourcing the food duties by turning your party into a potluck. Barbeques are great for potlucks, since the food prepared by the host is typically being prepared outside, where you have relatively little room to work with, ironically enough. Hosting a potluck helps you focus on grilling burgers and mingling instead of needing to spend half the party inside preparing sides for the main dishes.
However, this isn’t just limited to a potluck. You could get people involved in super simple ways, like providing a condiment bar, or setting up a little ice cream sundae shop in the kitchen. Things that have people getting a bit creative with their food instead of just eating it. Also if you have vegan friends, they will appreciate it as they can prepare their own food.
Another fun idea is to have everyone bring some kind of decoration to the party; anything from little tea lights to a big banner. This helps make everyone feel at home, and the hodgepodge of different styles will have its own charm! Plus, it gives you and everyone else a great idea of what kind of things the other people like…a great way to get some sneaky recon on what might be a fun gift for birthdays and holidays.
3. Keep Your Cool
Summer is hot, unsurprisingly, so keeping cool is many peoples’ big priority. As the host, you want to make sure people are spending more time having fun and less time sweating.
Depending on how hot it is and what your circumstances, this could be any number of ideas.
Providing shade, of course, is a big one. Having a little pavilion set up, or just a nice leafy tree that gives good shade goes a long way.
Outdoor electric fans can provide a bit of a breeze near key areas, and are great to set up around your patio or porch, as well as the picnic tables or wherever you happen to be eating.
Providing small paper fans is a good solution as well, and can double up as something else: entertainment. Provide ways to decorate and customize fan for people that want it; it makes a great idle activity while people are chatting, and is another good way to keep the kids out of trouble, especially while the rest of your guests are still finishing up lunch and maybe don’t want to be bothered by more rambunctious activities.
And, of course, there’s always combining your barbeque with a pool party, if you happen to have a pool of course.
Finally, cool beverages go a long way. Speaking of which…
4. Keep an Open Bar
Cold, boozy beverages go a long way toward keeping people cool and happy. Providing ways for people to have fun and mix and match all sorts of drinks is great for learning new recipes as well; almost everyone has a favorite drink, and most are pretty simple to make.
If you have kids running around, provide them their own “cocktail” bar with fruit juices, sodas, seltzer water, and the like so they can mix, match, and make all sorts of fun creations for themselves!
5. Provide Entertainment
Who doesn’t like games? Especially on work holiday like Labor day celebration. While your guests might be fine with sitting around, sipping a nice drink, and talking after lunch, getting up and active at the same time is always a good thing. It helps digestion, and makes people stick around longer instead of the inevitable “well, I’m full…maybe I’ll go home and take a nap” thoughts creeping into their head.
There are all sorts of fun party games you can play in your backyard, from the classics (badminton, croquet, that sort of thing) to weirder ones like outdoor scrabble or Twister (always a fun one when people have had a couple already).
The more reasons you provide to stick around, the longer people will want to do so even after the food is gone and the drinks have dried up.