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How to Host the Ultimate Outdoor Family Cookout

May 22, 2017
10 min. read


Some of us are natural planners, and some of us…not so much. But a little planning can go a long way in making your next cookout or BBQ extra special for your family and friends! Thinking through the simple “who, what, when, and where” of your next party can save you a lot of unneeded stress.

Read down through our list to make sure you have all your bases covered when planning your next cookout—and make sure to download our handy checklists and printables below!

Who – Attendees

How to Host the Ultimate Outdoor Family Cookout: Who - Attendees

Summer cookouts are the perfect opportunity to spend time with those you love most. For most of us, our guest lists are probably fairly consistent; maybe you always get together with your mom’s side of the family, or your kids and their families. But why not reach out to folks you may not have seen in a while, like your extended family, your college buddies, or your long lost friends? Summer is the perfect time to catch up! Just don’t forget to keep in mind how your attendee count could affect your party location and menu.

When – Date/Time

How to Host the Ultimate Outdoor Family Cookout: When - Date/Time/Occasion

With all of its exciting holidays, summer lends itself to having the perfect party occasions.

  • Memorial Day – Ah, the unofficial start to summer! Kick it off with a bang by hosting a festive bash!
  • Father’s Day – Falling on the third Sunday of June, Father’s Day is the perfect holiday to celebrate all the fatherly figures in your life! Decorate your event with Dad’s favorite colors, or add make his favorite burger a “featured menu” item.
  • July 4th – Celebrate our freedom by throwing the ultimate patriotic bash. Bring out the red, white, and blue, or stars & stripes décor!
  • Labor Day – While some argue this is the unofficial end to summer, there’s still time to throw a get-together incorporating all your favorite summer foods like grilled burgers and hot dogs!
  • Just Because – Hey there’s no shame in throwing a party “just because!” Take advantage of the nice weather and throw any type of summer get-together that appeals to you!

Where – Location

How to Host the Ultimate Outdoor Family Cookout: Where - Location

Need some help deciding where to host your ultimate summer party? Once you know how many people are on your guest list you can start deciding how big of a venue you need. Also think through the various amenities, like tables and bathrooms or transportation. For instance, you may need to plan for parking or ensure that older guests are able to walk to a park location.

Here’s some inspiration:

  • Your Own Backyard – Probably the most efficient and convenient, sprucing up your backyard for your party may just be the perfect solution. If your backyard’s not party-ready, try one of the below ideas.
  • A Local Park – Many parks allow you to rent out their pavilions for little to no cost. Take a field trip to scout out local parks around you; most have information posted at the pavilions about renting them.
  • A Local Body of Water – Do you have a pool, or live near a lake, river, or ocean? A picnic on the waterfront or beach may be the perfect choice for you and your adventurous family or friends!
  • Your Cul-de-sac – Do you live in a small, quiet neighborhood? Reach out to your neighbors about hosting a joint block party!
  • A Local Restaurant/Event Venue – While a potentially pricier option, if you live in a more urban area, a rooftop party or private patio of a restaurant could be the perfect place!


Want to make your cookout so much more than a meal? Put some love into your menu! The right food choices can make or break your party. It’s important to pick a good combination of food that you feel comfortable making.

Here are some factors to keep in mind when planning your menu:

  • Number of Guests – Preparing food for six people is a lot different than preparing food for 50.
  • Location – If you’re heading away from home, consider how easily food can be transported, how you will keep hot food hot and cold food cold, and what (if anything) you can make on-site.
  • Theme – Foods that complement your overall party vibe will take your event to the next level!
  • Time – Don’t bite off more than you can chew; if you’ll only have a few hours to prepare food, don’t choose a lot of elaborate dishes.
  • Budget – How much money are you allocating for this party? Keep this number in mind when considering whether to offer steak or burgers.

Next, try some of these tips when building your menu:

  • Start with your main dish first, then choose sides and accompaniments that will complement that dish well.
  • It helps to work in categories – make sure you have one or two items in each group:
    • Main Dish
    • Side Dishes
    • Dessert(s)
    • Extras (like appetizers, snacks, or take-home favors)
  • Think smart – using cooking tools like a slow cooker or using semi-prepared store-bought foods isn’t “cheating.”
  • Plan ahead for any food allergies or special diets – check with your guests ahead of time to see if you need to prepare any special items.
  • Keep it simple – Prep as much food as you can in advance, and don’t be afraid to ask your party guests to help out by bringing a side dish or dessert. The goal is to have fun and spend time with your guests, so don’t stress!
  • Consider Portion Sizes – Think about how much of each menu item your guests will likely consume, then multiple by the number of guests. Check out this helpful resource.
  • You can also plan two different menus – for smaller or larger guest counts. Something that’s fairly simple to prepare for 10-20 guests may become very time-consuming with a large crowd. Check out this resource for some ideas.


Make it More Than a Cookout/BBQ/Picnic

How to Make Your Cookout "More Than a Meal" - Party Ideas

Make your cookout so much more than a meal by putting some extra thought into each aspect, from the food you serve to the decorations and entertainment. By coming up with an action plan ahead of time, you can ensure that everything goes off without a hitch. You and your guests can focus on creating memories that last a lifetime, instead of worrying over last minute details.


Think back to the “when” from your planning stage—if you’re hosting your party around a specific holiday or celebration, decide on a color scheme or theme that best fits. Then, work in specific food or décor that goes in line with this theme.

Here are some ideas for popular summer holidays:

  • Graduation: Celebrate the graduate! Decorate with her school colors, include “Congratulations” signage, or have a photobooth with cap, gown, and diploma props.
  • Memorial Day: Pick a patriotic theme, or just a “start to the summer BBQ season” theme.
  • Father’s Day: Think everything “Dad” – favorite color, favorite food, favorite games or activities, etc. Or you can pick his favorite hobby, sport’s team, movie, or band, and theme your party around that.
  • July 4th –Make everything red, white, and blue, and make sure to include plenty of stars & stripes décor!


Need some menu inspiration? Try out some of these delicious recipe ideas!

Here’s another fun idea – make a Build-Your-Own Burger Bar!

Build-Your-Own Burger Bar

Check out our blog post to see how:!


Pretty up your outdoor space with colorful and festive decorations based on your theme. Try to make sure everything matches, including your tablecloths, plates, cups, napkins, centerpieces, signs, banners, food labels, or balloons.

Here are a few fun ideas:

  • Printables – If you don’t have a specific theme for your cookout, consider some classic summer grilling or BBQ imagery. Download our “Ultimate Cookout” printable decorations below, which include matching table cards (for labeling food), toothpick labels, and a DIY bunting flag banner!
  • Menu Signage – Consider using a chalkboard or easel to list your menu choices or to display a “featured recipe” for your guests to try.


Music is always a nice addition.  Plan to have your favorite tunes ready to go and your speakers fully charged.  Or better yet, plan ahead to have someone provide live music.

Games /Activities

How to Make Your Cookout "More Than a Meal" - Games/Activities

Try to have a variety of yard games and activities for your guests to enjoy as they mingle with one another.

Here are some ideas:

  • Corn Hole
  • Washers
  • Kan Jam
  • Croquet
  • Badminton
  • Ladder Toss
  • Kubb
  • Giant Jenga
  • Horseshoes
  • Glow in the dark ring toss
  • Lawn Twister
  • Giant Bubble Station
  • Photobooth station

It’s also a fun idea to have a small take-home favor for your guests. Pick something simple that fits your theme like personalized candy, a small plant, a make your own s’mores kit, a coaster or koozie, a special wrapped cookie, or a small toy or game.


Helpful Tips & Resources

  • The Ultimate Cookout Shopping List – Once you’ve come up with your cookout menu and list of supplies, it can be nearly impossible to keep track of what items you already have and what you still need to purchase. Download our handy Ultimate Cookout Shopping List (shown below) for an easy and convenient way to plan for your party! Simply check off each item as you go.
  • The Ultimate Cookout Party Planning Checklist – Another pain point for many party planners is budgeting our time wisely, or even just remembering everything we need to do! Our Ultimate Cookout – Party Planning Checklist can help with that! Download this resource as a guideline to help you make the most of your time; taking care of as many things as possible ahead of time can help you enjoy your party with as little stress as possible.
  • Make sure your grill is ready to go – Try these tips:
    • Rub half an onion on your grill grates to make it nonstick.
    • Make sure you have enough charcoal or gas.
    • Put your charcoal in an egg carton, then light the carton for a safe and easy way to start your fire.
    • Make sure to start your grill a little before your guests arrive to give it time to heat up.
    • Don’t spend all day at the grill: pick only 1-2 items to grill.
    • Not a grill-master? Don’t be afraid to delegate this job to someone else.
  • Remember Food Safety – Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold! Try some of these ideas:
    • Cook corn on the cob in a cooler! Just add boiling water and let sit with the lid closed for about 30 minutes – it cooks completely, and also keeps warm until ready to serve!
    • Fill a Kiddie Pool or bin with ice for all the cold dishes.
    • Freeze water balloons to keep your drinks cool!
  • Be Prepared for Anything/Everything!
    • Prepare for the bugs – Have citronella candles, a bug spray station, cup and food covers, place sage on the fire after cooking.
    • Beat the heat – Have water balloon piñata and water games.
    • Protect your skin – Have a sunscreen station and areas with shade.
    • Stay Dry! – Do you have enough space indoors for everyone if it starts to rain? If not, consider renting a pop-up tent.
    • Don’t let everything blow away – Velcro/adhere table cloths, weigh down paper products.
    • Kids just wanna have fun – Create a special “kid’s corner” or space for them with a kid’s table, games, toys, a chaperone, etc.
  • Plan for the trash – Set up a convenient trash/recycling station. Be mindful of how much tear-down of items and washing of dishes/utensils will be required.
  • Plan for your pet – If you have pets, consider that some guests may be allergic or afraid of certain animals. Think about keeping them in a reserved area, or finding a sitter to watch them for the day.
  • Plan for your neighbors – Make sure to let your neighbors know you are planning a party so they’re not caught off-guard. Or better yet, invite them to join!
  • Be sure to have adequate seating – You may need to rent or borrow more tables and chairs, or maybe try restoring some old chairs or a picnic table.

Looking for even more grilling tips? Head over to our Grilling Resource Page for tips on grilling and BBQ, plus delicious recipes and printable grilling infographics!

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