Hosting the perfect backyard BBQ doesn’t begin and end with the food—though that’s certainly a delicious place to start.
The backyard BBQ is the essence of the season, all wrapped up in one glorious get-together with friends and family. Burgers and brats. Fireflies. Staying up late. The kids playing horseshoes with their favorite cousins. And, of course, you making the absolute most of your grill or smoker.
As with any get-together, the perfect backyard BBQ starts with planning. You’ll need to have the right tools on hand, and not just for cooking. You’ll want to be sure your guests have everything they need to stay entertained, thoroughly fed and hydrated, and feel at home.
Plus, you’ll need what it takes to make all this as easy as possible for you, the host, so you can enjoy the party. There’s nothing worse than missing a BBQ in your own backyard. You don’t want to be too busy cooking or searching for things you could have prepared beforehand and miss out on the fun.
Whether you are planning a block-party blowout or just a backyard dinner, here are the tasks, shopping lists, and checklists for your backyard BBQ.
Backyard BBQ Prep: Table of Contents
- Clean and stock the Grill
- Prep the patio for partying
- Plan the menu (including how much food to plan for each guest)
- Hit the store like a pro
- Prep and pack the coolers
- Prep food for your backyard BBQ beforehand
- Ready the Serving Dishes and Tableware
- Let the (lawn) games begin
1. Clean and Stock the Grill
If your grill missed its spring cleaning, now is the time to give it a tune up.
First, make sure everything is working. Clean the grill from the inside, out, following the grill manufacturer’s instructions. Scrub the grates, and stock up on fuel, whether that’s wood, charcoal, propane, or pellets.
What you’ll need to clean and stock the grill:
- Grill grate brush
- Fuel (propane, charcoal, wood, pellets)
- Aluminum foil
- Butcher paper
- Cooking oil (we like canola)
- Basting brush
- Paper towels
- Hand towels
- Cutting boards
- Trimming knife
- Spray bottle
- Meat thermometer
- Grill gloves
- Chimney starter
- Sheet pans
2. Prep the patio for partying
Summer will ensure that you won’t be dealing with a snowstorm. But depending on where you live, you might be dealing with other things Mother Nature tries to throw at you. It’s best to anticipate the what-ifs and do any set up before your backyard BBQ.
Fans. A few strategically placed fans will keep guests comfortable while also keeping pests away from the dessert table.
Insect repellent. Citronella candles or torches smell amazing and keep mosquitos away. Your guests will swoon over a bottle or two of strategically placed sunscreen. Same with bug spray.
Outdoor lights. Make sure the party doesn’t have to wind down at sunset. Outdoor lighting also helps keep everyone from a false step that would end them up in the hedges. Tiki torches are great, and so are strings of bistro lights and solar-powered path lights. A fire pit can keep things cozy.
Tables and seating. Once you know how many guests you’ll have, you can set up the right number and configuration of folding tables, picnic tables, and seating. It doesn’t matter whether you go with your patio set or lawn chairs. It’s whatever is comfortable. The main thing here is to make sure there is a seat for everyone.
Set up tables out of the way of grill smoke. Set up a table for drinks and appetizers away from the kitchen or the grill. Plan to direct guests here once they arrive. It’s tough to finish up the cooking if your guests are crowded in the kitchen or hovering over the grill. (Though they do deserve a peek.)
Music. Before guests arrive on the day of the BBQ, set out a bluetooth speaker or two. Create a BBQ playlist or ask your smart speaker for the right playlist.
- Citronella candles
- Yard torches
- Bug spray
- Outdoor lights
- Fold-out tables
- Lawn chairs
- Bluetooth speaker
- Chalkboard easel with chalk
- Trash bags
- Extra trash cans
- Place cards for toppings tips
- Mason jars
3. Plan the menu (including how much food to plan for each guest)
Why? Because you want to enjoy the party, not spend it spinning a thousand plates. Before you finalize the menu, be sure to check with your attendees to know if there are any dietary restrictions you need to accommodate.
Put the menu in plain view for arriving guests. This will cut down on questions for you while you’re wrapping up with cooking. A chalkboard on an easel makes this easy. Have the artist in your family make it a masterpiece.
Backyard BBQ Menu Planning Resources:
- Mistakes to Avoid With Your Next Rack of Ribs (Plus our top ribs recipes)
- RECIPE + VIDEO TUTORIAL: Texas-Style World Championship Brisket
- How to Make the Best Burger of Your Life (Plus our favorite burger recipes)
- RECIPE: Oven Roasted BBQ Potato Salad
- RECIPE: Head Country Coleslaw
4. Hit the store like a pro
How much food should you buy for a backyard BBQ? It’s a real head-scratcher: you want to buy plenty of food to feed all your guests. Worst scenario, what you buy doesn’t stretch. But the thought of having leftover burgers and brats for a week after your backyard cookout doesn’t sound so great, either.
Lucky for you, there are a few rules of thumb for how much to food to buy and cook for your backyard BBQ:
How much food to make for each person at your BBQ: Main Dishes:
- Baby back ribs as a main: 6 ribs, or half a rack, per person
- Spare ribs as a main: 4 ribs, or 1/3 of a rack, per person
- Brisket: 1 pound of raw brisket (or ½ pound of cooked brisket) per grown-up, ½ pound (or ¼ pound cooked) per kid
- Burgers as a main: 1 pound of uncooked meat, per person, ½ pound of uncooked meat per kid
- Brats as a main: 3 per adult, 1-2 per kid
- Hot dogs as a main: 3 per person, 1-2 per kid
Keep in mind, these amounts assume you are serving two mains in amounts guaranteed to please and to make your serving table look full and plentiful.
If you cook more than just two mains, you won’t need quite so much per person. Adjust down slightly per meat if you plan three or more mains.
Generally, the serving size for a side dish is ½ C. per person. But this is a backyard BBQ we’re talking about here. These are foods everyone loves, and it’s been months since they’ve enjoyed them. Count on your guests to come hungry.
Better safe than sorry. Plan for about 50 percent more than the usual serving size on sides. Edge toward even more on bulkier side items like potato salad.
If you end up with more leftover sides than you can handle, send guests home with aluminum take-away trays—the kind with a lid and fold-over edges.
How much food to make for each person at your BBQ: Side Dishes:
- Potato salad: 1 C. per person
- Baked beans: ¾ C. per person
- Cole slaw: ¾ C. per person
- Pasta salad: ¾ C. per person
- Macaroni and cheese: ¾ C. per person
Make It a Potluck. Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring food, drinks, and supplies. Not only does this make things simpler for you as the host, but it also broadens your menu. This is how you ensure there will be something on the table for everyone. Plus, you’ll get to taste your guests’ specialties you’ve been hearing them go on and on about. And your guests will appreciate the chance to show off.
If you go the potluck route, don’t leave the menu completely to chance. Assign specific dishes, courses, or drinks to each guest so you don’t end up with 10 kinds of potato salad and no cobbler. (This would be truly sad indeed.) As for you? Your assignment is appetizers and mains. Remember, try to stick to cooking just two mains.
Go Crazy with Condiments. Add pizzazz and customization options galore with an abundance of condiments. Without a lot of hassle or expense, this maximizes the mileage of your two mains.
Plus, your guests will be able to go crazy creating their own combos with:
- Ketchup. Include the classic, but try adding a spicy or gourmet variety.
- Mustard. Don’t forget the yellow American mustard. Add some spicy brown mustard as well as some stone ground or whole-grain mustard.
- Mayonnaise. Keep some plain on hand, but try mixing up a few batches of 1) adobo mayo (a bit of adobo sauce mixed with mayo); 2) horseradish mayo (prepared horseradish plus mayo); 3) lime mayo (lime juice and zest + mayo); 4) and BBQ mayo (mayo plus your favorite flavor of Head Country).
- BBQ sauces. We have seven flavors for you to choose from: The Original, Hot & Spicy, Apple Habanero, Sweet & Sticky, Honey, Chipotle, Hickory Smoke, Sugar Free
- You can also try putting your own spin on BBQ sauce. Try raspberry BBQ sauce: Add a tablespoon of raspberry preserves to your favorite flavor of BBQ sauce. For bourbon-peach BBQ sauce, mix peach preserves and a splash of bourbon with BBQ sauce. And then there’s Hawaiian BBQ sauce. Add pineapple puree.
- Hot sauce. All the kinds. Everyone has a favorite. See if you can find a local or boutique favorite that no one in your circle has tried.
- Cheese. Grab everything from shredded cheddar to cubed Monterey Jack to blue cheese crumbles.
- Lettuce. Iceberg lettuce always gets the job done, but see if you can find some salad bowl or butter lettuce to try.
- Tomato. Get cherry or grape tomatoes for the veggie plate. Opt for big, fat, juicy tomatoes for burger toppings. Bonus presentation points if you throw in some colorful heirloom varieties.
- Onion. Offer colorful red onion slices, caramelized onions, and french-fried onions. Even the kids will be lining up.
- Jalapenos. Slice up some fresh, and have some pickled jalapenos ready to go, too.
- Bacon. Fry, smoke, or grill it, then offer it crumbled with the other condiments and toppings.
Know what’s fun? Writing out your favorite condiments and toppings combinations for your guests. It gives them a place to start diving into the variety. And no one will feel like you’ve thrown them in the deep end.
Write out your favorite combos on your chalkboard, or sketch out a few of your favorites on place cards and set them by the spread of condiments and toppings.
Backyard BBQ Shopping Checklist:
- Ingredients for Main Dish 1
- Ingredients for Main Dish 2
- Ingredients for Appetizer Dish 1
- Ingredients for Appetizer Dish 2
- Ingredients for Side Dish 1
- Ingredients for Side Dish 2
- Ingredients for Dessert 1
- Ingredients for Dessert 2
- Condiments (see above for ideas)
- BBQ sauce
5. Prep and pack the coolers
A thirsty backyard BBQ guest is not a happy guest. It’s important to have a variety of drinks on hand.
Signature cocktail. Make your favorite cocktail in one big batch. This could be a sangria, punch, a Bloody Mary with homemade Bloody Mary mix, or spiked lemonade. A signature drink is fun, and making a big batch means your folks can serve themselves throughout the party. There’s no reason to play bartender when you could be playing cornhole or babying burgers. Serve it in an extra-large pitcher, or opt for a drink dispenser.
Drinks for all ages. Fill coolers or beverage tubs with beer, wine, soda, juice, water, and anything else you and your guests love to sip on. Don’t forget to stock up on ice. The only thing worse than running out of drinks at a backyard BBQ? Running out of ice.
Backyard BBQ Drinks Checklist:
- Ingredients for signature cocktail
- Bottle openers
- Coolers or beverage bins
- Extra pitchers
- Drink dispensers
- Bottled water
- Drinks for kids
6. Knock out the food prep beforehand
Making BBQ, burgers, and sides for your best backyard BBQ? It’s easy to do some prep ahead of party time.
Prepping food before party day all keeps stress levels to a minimum on the day of the get-together. Plus, the cooking will go from the grill to the table more smoothly than if you tried to do everything the day-of.
Here is our food-prep list for a backyard BBQ:
- Trim meats like brisket or ribs. You can season these cuts the night before, or you can wait until the morning of. (You’ll be rising early if you’re making a brisket dinner. Buy yourself some nice coffee to enjoy while get the grill going.)
- Make burger patties. Form and season your burger patties, or opt for the ready-made patties at the grocery store.
- Slice and dice toppings. Take care of your tomatoes, onions, and lettuce beforehand. Store with paper towels in freezer bags in your refrigerator.
- Knock out make-ahead sides. We’re talking potato salad, pasta salad, deviled eggs, and coleslaw. All these sides can be made the day before. The flavor actually improves when you do.
- Cooked sides and appetizers. Mix the filling for jalapeno poppers. Go ahead and fill the peppers and wrap them with bacon. From there, you’re ready to grill. Same with baked beans. The more you can do this with any cooked sides or appetizers you’re serving, the better.
Backyard BBQ food prep checklist:
- Serving trays, platters, bowls
- Food storage containers
- Plastic wrap
7: Prep Serving Dishes and Tableware
Think of this task in two parts:
- Prepare what you’re going to use to serve the food. That’s platters, salad bowls, and serving spoons.
- Prepare what you’re going to use to eat the food. We mean plates, bowls, knives, forks, spoons, and cups.
Set out everything you’re going to use to serve your BBQ feast ahead of time. Mark each platter and bowl with a reminder so you know what food goes where. This is also how you can make sure you have enough serving vessels for mains, sides, and everything else.
When it comes to guests and what they will need to feed their faces, make sure you have plenty of plates, cups, forks, knives, spoons, napkins (wet naps, if you’re serving BBQ), and toothpicks. Mason jars are an easy and inexpensive way to keep these things corralled.
It’s also a good idea to have plenty of trash and recycle bins around to collect waste. You don’t want to send your guests on a scavenger hunt with their dirty dishes.
Backyard BBQ Serving Dishes and Tableware Checklist:
- Disposable cups
- Disposable plates
- Disposable flatware (knives, forks, spoons)
- Disposable napkins
- Disposable bowls
- Wet naps
- Serving boards
- Serving spoons
- Serving forks
- Small aluminum take-home pans with lids
8: Let the (lawn) games begin
You’ve got the food and the drinks. Your grilling tools are ready. But the best backyard BBQ wouldn’t be complete without some games.
Games are great for any little ones you have attending, but it’s an easy mixer for adults, too.
If you don’t have these lawn games on hand, it’s worth picking up a few at your local store. Plan to have a few board games and a deck of cards, too.
- Ladder toss
- Bean bag toss
- Lawn bowling
- Bocce ball