Having a cookout is a great way to celebrate a special occasion, but you can also host a barbecue just because. A cookout can be a small intimate gathering or a huge affair, and the key to planning is getting a head start. To give yourself lots of time, you should start planning things like the guest list and the menu a couple of weeks in advance. In the days leading up to the cookout, you can get ready by going shopping, making sure you have everything you need, and preparing some foods in advance.
EditPlanning the Details
- Select an appropriate day. You can hold a cookout on a holiday, to celebrate an event, or on any day of the week you feel like. Pick a time and day when most people you’ll be inviting are free from work and school, such as a weekend.
- Check the long-range forecast before deciding a date, and try to choose a day that has no chance of rain or storms.
- To make sure you and your guests have lots of time to prepare, start planning your barbecue at least two weeks in advance.
- Choose your guest list. Your cookout can be as big or small as you like, and you can invite anybody you want. Some people you might want to consider, include friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and classmates.
- Remember that the more people you invite, the more food you’ll have to prepare.
- Send out invitations. The invitations don’t have to be formal or even written, but you should give guests plenty of warning so they can plan to attend. On the invitation, you may want to ask guests to inform you about dietary restrictions. The invitations should include the event type, date, time, and location. There are lots of ways you can invite your guests, including:
- Formal written invitations
- An email with all the details
- A phone call to each person
- Ask guests to RSVP in advance. Having a guest list is essential not only so you know who’s coming, but also so you know how much food to purchase and prepare. On written invitations, write a date by which you want guests to respond. On the phone simply ask guests to tell you by a certain day if they can make it.
- The RSVP deadline should be at least a few days before the cookout so that you know how much food to buy.
- As guests RSVP, make a note of who is and isn’t coming.
- Make a shopping list. Go through your kitchen, barbecue tools, cupboards, and party gear and make a list of things you need for the cookout (other than food). Things you may need include:
- Barbecue fuel
- Barbecue utensils
- Aluminum foil
EditChoosing Your Menu
- Choose snack items and appetizers. Food is one of the most important elements of a cookout, and there are lots of different courses to consider. You can start planning the menu before you have a finalized guest list, but you’ll have to determine quantities later. Popular appetizers and snacks for barbecues include:
- Fresh fruit
- Fresh vegetables with dip
- Pick a main course. The main course at a cookout is typically a red meat dish, but it can also be poultry, fish, or a plant-based protein. Pick a food that you really like, and that will also be popular with your guests. Good options include:
- Hot dogs
- Pork butt
- Portobello mushrooms
- Select a few side dishes. There are lots of popular side dishes you can serve at a cookout. You can pick your favorites, try to pair the sides with the main you’re serving. For instance, if you’re serving something lighter like shrimp or mushrooms, you might want a heavier side like potatoes. Popular cookout sides are:
- Roasted vegetables, such as asparagus, zucchini, and bell peppers
- Potato salad
- Corn on the cob
- Baked potatoes
- Pasta salad
- Plan a dessert. Dessert isn’t necessary at a cookout, but it’s a nice touch. You can either go simple and opt for things like cookies, fruit, or ice cream. Other options include cake, brownies, cupcakes, squares, and marshmallow treats.
- Pick some beverages. Beverages can be simple like pop, juice, and beer, or you can even have a themed drink or cocktail for the cookout. It’s good to have a variety of drinks to accommodate kids, people who don’t drink, and people with beverage preferences. Here are some drink ideas:
- Iced tea
- Plan for dietary restrictions. It’s possible that not all your guests will want to or be able to eat the food you’ve decided in your meal plan. One way to accommodate dietary restrictions is to offer a number of different dishes, including different meat options and a vegetarian option.
- Check your RSVPs to determine if any of your guests listed allergies or restrictions.
- Ask guests to bring dishes. Cookouts are fairly informal gatherings, and it’s totally acceptable to hold a potluck-style barbecue. Especially if you’re having a lot of people come, don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring a dish so that you don’t have to worry about it.
- The custom is typically that the host will provide the main dish, and can ask guests to bring sides, appetizers, snacks, and desserts.
- Make a grocery list. Once you’ve decided on all your menu items and your drinks, make a list of all the food, spices, and condiments you need for your snacks, main, sides, dessert, and drinks. To help plan the quantity of food, each guest will consume, on average:
- Two beverages when they arrive, followed by one more every hour
- 6 to 8 ounces (170 to 227 g) of meat
- 1 cup (150 g) of pasta salad or potato salad
- 1 cup (100 g) of coleslaw
- 1 to 2 cups (75 to 150 g) of salad
- Two pieces of fruit
- 4 ounces (113 g) of cake or cookies
EditGetting Ready the Days Before
- Go grocery shopping. One or two days before the barbecue, grab your shopping list and your reusable bags and head out to grab all the things you need for the cookout.
- There may be things you need that you didn’t already put on the list, including ice, sauces, barbecue fuel, and other miscellaneous items.
- Thaw frozen foods. At least 48 hours before the cookout, remove frozen meat and veggies from the freezer to thaw them. Place them in the refrigerator to thaw. Don’t leave items on the counter, as they will be prone to food-borne diseases.
- The meat may only need 24 hours to thaw, but thawing it early will give you time to marinate it the night before the barbecue.
- Clean up the grill. Remove the grills from the barbeque and soak them in a bucket of soapy water. Wipe down the barbecue itself to remove food crumbs and oil. After the grills have soaked for at least 10 minutes, scrub them with a non-abrasive scrubbing pad.
- Return the grills to the barbecue and let them air dry. When they are dry, use a clean cloth to rub some cooking oil on them.
- Prep food and make your side dishes. The night before the barbecue, you can do a lot of food prep work. This includes making side dishes, making desserts, washing and cutting fruit and vegetables, and marinating meat. Transfer side dishes and chopped fruit and veggies to airtight containers for storage.
EditPreparing on the Day
- Set up a cooler. The morning of the cookout, fill a cooler with ice and put drinks in there that should be served cold. This includes beer, pop, juice, and other drinks that people typically don’t like warm.
- Clean the house and patio. You may want to dust, vacuum, clean the bathrooms, and tidy the patio before your guests arrive. People probably won’t be spending too much time inside, but it will be nice to have a clean house regardless.
- To clean the patio, wipe down any outdoor furniture, remove items that don’t have to be there, and sweep or power wash the deck or patio.
- Put up decorations. You don’t have to decorate for a cookout, but you certainly can. There are lots of decorations you can use, including flowers, plants, balloons, streamers, lights, torches, candles, and even special table cloths.
- Set up a food and drink station. Because barbecues are informal, guests usually take care of serving themselves food and drinks. Set up a large table with napkins, plates, utensils, and cups. When the guests start to arrive, you can put out snacks and drinks (ones that aren’t in the cooler).
- When the food is ready, place the side dishes and mains on the table as well, along with serving utensils so that guests can get their own food.
- Put out a large garbage can. Before guests arrive, place a large garbage can outside with a fresh garbage bag in it. This will give guests a place to put trash, make your job easier, and make it so guests don’t have to go inside.
- This is especially important if you’re using disposable serving ware and utensils.
- Fire up the grill before guests arrive. About an hour before guests are set to arrive, turn on the barbecue and preheat it for your food. This will make sure the grill is nice and hot and ready to go as soon as your guests arrive. When the grill is hot, put on long-cooking side dishes like baked potatoes and corn on the cob.
- Side dishes like corn and potatoes should go on the grill 30 to 60 minutes before you plan to eat.
- Start cooking the main when guests arrive. As soon as your first guests get there and lunch or dinnertime arrives, move your corn and potatoes off the grill and start cooking the main dish.
- To keep the sides warm while everything else cooks, wrap them in foil.
- Set food out on a table so guests can serve themselves. Once the food is ready, put the side dishes, appetizers, and main food on the table so that guests can serve themselves and dress their food. Now that all the hard work is out of the way, it’s time to enjoy your cookout!
- Roast Marshmallows
EditSources and Citations
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