Last Updated on September 17, 2023
It is finally that time of year. The weather is getting warmer. The succulent summer produce is almost at its peak. And the summer barbecues are about to commence! With longer days and sunny weather, there’s nothing holding you back from hosting your very own outdoor BBQ. Whether it be on your lawn, your deck, or even in your favorite public park, there’s nothing quite like getting together with those you love and firing up the grill. And thanks to Butcher Box, you’ll have your selection of quality meats ready to go.
But what about all of the other details when it comes to hosting an outdoor BBQ? If this is your first time hosting and all of the responsibilities of an outdoor BBQ stress you out, don’t sweat it. We asked some of the top hospitality and grill experts across the country for their tips on making your outdoor gathering a seamless hit, so you can stick to the thing you love most—grilling your favorite Butcher Box meats.
1. Start with a list.
“You don’t want to be stressed and rushing when it’s time to have the BBQ, so start planning in advance and buy all ingredients the previous day or earlier,” says Joonas Jokiniemi, founder of Grill Smoke Love.
But we know an outdoor BBQ isn’t just about the food; it’s also about getting the house ready for guests. So along with having a checklist of all the food you need — including your meat from ButcherBox — Kate Shungu, owner and blogger at Gift of Hospitality, says to prepare for less stress by also making a checklist of all the things that need to get done before guests arrive and divvy up the duties so you don’t have to do it all yourself.
“Kids can roll utensils into paper napkins,” says Shungu. “The non-chefs in the family can tidy up the backyard and light the outdoor candles to keep the bugs away. Guests arriving early can chip in, too — which helps to break the ice sometimes!”
2. Prep your meat and veggies before firing up the grill.
To minimize how much you need to get done the day of, take some time to prepare your food the day before. This includes chopping all of your veggies and getting your meat prepped for the grill.
“Make sure that all of the cold side dishes are prepared before your guests arrive and that meats and veggies are cut and ready to go for the grill,” says Jokiniemi. “If you are going to have recipes that require marinating, prepare the marinade ahead and let the meat marinate overnight.”
Some of the best overnight grilling marinades and rubs include Marinated Grilled Chicken Thigh Skewers, this Carne Asada in a Cilantro Lime Marinade, or this Marinated NY Strip Steak, which pairs perfectly with an herby potato salad!
3. Make the sides potluck style.
Does prepping additional side dishes feel like a bit too much? Jokiniemi says an easy solution is to ask your guests to bring their favorite sides potluck style, so you don’t have to stress. “Most people will be happy to prepare a dish that they can introduce to everyone,” she says.
If a guest isn’t sure what to make, this refreshing Chopped Bacon Salad would pair nicely on the side with any grilled meat!
With less to worry about, you can concentrate on what matters—grilling. Rob Gentry, co-owner of Hello Monty in Chattanooga’s Southside Historic District, says a tasty chef-level trick to try is experimenting with tossing your steaks (or baked potatoes) in the coals when finishing. “This gives the steak extra color and texture,” he says. “We even cook our famous baked potatoes under the coals with foil then finish the pot on the coals for nice blistering and flavor.”
4. Get the right tools.
Because you can’t be the grill master of your dreams without having all the necessary tools, right?
Sturdy, long-handled wire brush
“Invest in a sturdy wooden wire brush with a long wooden handle to make sure your grill is clean,” says Jim Dunleavy, the food and beverage director at Eatzi’s Market & Bakery in Dallas, Texas. “Clean the grates of the grill after you finish cooking and before the grill cools down as any stuck food and sauce will come off more easily when the grill is still hot. The long handle will keep your hands from burning as you clean.”
“Beginners should invest in a good meat thermometer when first starting out,” says Dunleavy. “As long as it’s calibrated, a thermometer will always be the most accurate method. Make sure you insert the probe into the center of the meat when checking the temperature.”
Tongs and spatulas
“Go long, go big, and go sturdy,” says Dunleavy. “Flimsy tongs will cause problems when you’re trying to grill chops or a nice juicy steak, and the broader surface of a good grill spatula can handle even the largest burger. You’ll appreciate the extra length when the grill flares up and your knuckles don’t get roasted.”
A spray bottle
“Keep a spray bottle of water near the grill and use it to knock down any flare-ups,” says Dunleavy. “Flames shooting up from the grill may look cool, but the charred meat they leave behind is nobody’s idea of a good meal.”
Insulated food covers & trays with ice compartments
If your BBQ is going to be outside, you want to make sure you have the right supplies when it comes to serving your food and keeping it either hot or cold. “Keep hot things hot with insulated food covers, and cold things cold by placing them in a food tray with an ice compartment underneath,” says Virginia Frischkorn, an event planner and the founder of Partytrick. “This also reduces your trips in and out of the house to grab things from the fridge.”
Along with dealing with the temperature outdoors, you want to also keep your food safe from any of the little creeping or buzzing critters outside. This is where food nets come in.
“Food nets can keep food safe from flies and bugs, which are a sure way to ruin anyone’s appetite,” says Frischkorn.
5. Choose a safe area for cooking.
Once you’ve got all of your supplies and your food is ready to go, it’s time to start firing up the grill. But before you do so, be sure to choose a safe spot for cooking so as to not put any of your guests— especially your littlest ones — in danger.
“It’s also very important to remember safety during an outdoor BBQ party with kids and pets running around,” says Jokiniemi. “Choose a safe cooking area away from the crowd and monitor that kids and dogs don’t go too close and touch the grill or even tip it over. It’s always good to have a fire extinguisher nearby in case some kind of accident happens.”
6. Have cold drinks ready when guests arrive.
The best way to kick off an outdoor BBQ is by having a cold drink in hand, so have a few ready to go when your guests arrive! Sure, a cooler of beverages is always a classic idea, but why not take it up a notch by mixing a batch of your favorite cocktail or mocktail? Or both!
“You can prepare a selection of cocktails and mocktails so that both adults and kids will have some delicious refreshments,” says Jokiniemi. Some of the best batch cocktails or mocktails to make include red or white wine sangria, a rum or whiskey-based punch, or mojitos. Even a mimosa bar could work!
If you’re more of a wine person, Grant Reynolds, co-founder of Parcelle, a wine shop and bar based in New York City, says you can easily serve your favorite selections of wines with your meal without having to put much effort into it. Reynolds says it all comes down to timing.
“The best outdoor BBQ are the ones that endure from day into night, so what’s needed is a constant steady flow of [drinks] and ready-to-eat food,” he says. When it comes to wine, “start with Champagne, then open some whites, then get into special bottles of red to work with the flow of the evening.”
7. Set up some lawn games.
The fun of having an outdoor BBQ is being able to hang outside, and to let the grill master do their work. An easy way to entertain your guests without having to leave your grill is by setting up a few lawn games for people to play with drinks in hand.
“Come up with fun activities that both kids and adults can join,” says Jokiniemi. “This can include anything from bocce and ring toss to charades and card games. Just make sure that any games that include throwing or running are done a safe distance away from the cooking area.”
8. Keep the weather/environment in mind.
We all love a good sunny day for an outdoor BBQ, but unfortunately, we’re not always guaranteed a sunny forecast. If you may be expecting rain, it’s best to have a backup plan — or at least some supplies prepared.
“Make sure you have umbrellas on hand, whether to deal with unexpected showers or even to just keep things shady,” says Frischkorn. “If it looks like a storm might roll in, think about a backup room or garage space you can prep for guests.”
Along with unexpected rain showers, you’ll want to consider other elements of your environment—like bugs.
“Think about bugs before the party and ensure you have bug spray on hand for your guests,” says Frischkorn. “There are also some options for repelling that have the bonus of making your yard smell great and look festive. Citronella candles work great, and scattering cloves around the yard is a natural way to reduce bugs.”
9. When it comes to cleanup, think ahead.
After a long—and very fun!—day, we bet the last thing you want to do is clean. So set yourself up for success by minimizing your cleaning by planning ahead.
“Don’t wait til the end of the party to clean up the mess! With a little advance planning, you can clean as you go and it will feel much less overwhelming,” says Frischkorn. “The most obvious solution is making sure you have trash receptacles around so people will throw their own stuff away – but who wants to look at garbage cans at a BBQ? Consider finding a wicker-style decorative can or placing plastic tubs around for trash.”
10. Don’t be so hard on yourself!
All in all, an outdoor BBQ is supposed to be a fun and relaxing way to spend time with people you love, and the last thing you want to do is stress about something that isn’t exactly going the way that you thought.
“Let go of perfection,” says Shungu. “Who says your BBQ has to be picture-perfect? Serve food on paper plates. Drink out of cans. Put all the food on one big table and let everyone go at it. The goal is to connect and enjoy time with your family and friends, so cut corners if you need to!”
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance journalist and content strategist, covering a variety of topics in the food, health, and lifestyle categories. Her work has been published by Reader's Digest, Taste of Home, Clean Plates, EatingWell, Eat This, Not That!, Bustle, Stacker, The Everygirl, and more. She also writes Forkful, a weekly essay on Substack debunking diet culture myths, and is in the process of publishing her first novel.