Best Backyard BBQ Party Ideas for Summer

The best backyard bbq party ideas take you from Memorial Day all the way to Labor Day. Here are my favorite tips for setting up a summer barbecue with outside decorations, buffets and tablescapes, fun activities, and food and grilling ideas. Use this guide for summer birthday celebrations and graduation parties too!

red and blue summer tablescape outside.

Backyard Barbecue Ideas for Summer

It’s hard to believe it’s almost summer. That means it’s time to dust off the grill for backyard entertaining and summer party ideas.

Whether you’re hosting a 4th of July party, a casual cookout, or you’ve been planning for weeks, these tips will help to insure your party goes off without a hitch.

This is a great reference for seasoned hosts, novice entertainers, or those who want to host but don’t know where to start.

Top BBQ Party Tips at a Glance

  1. Assign a Co-Captain to man the grill or help prepare food.
  2. Decorate the space and provide comfort for your guests.
  3. Make simple recipes that can be prepared ahead.
  4. Provide easy drinks that are self-serve.
  5. Serve food buffet-style and keep dessert simple.

Share Tasks with a Co-Captain

After preparing everything beforehand, I like to take the opportunity to turn things over to the Co-Captain (the husband in my case) and let him man the grill during the party.

It’s actually not as self-serving as it sounds. I’ve found that most men like having an activity to focus on, and it becomes a conversation gathering spot.

lady holding a stack of potluck dishes.

Let Guests Bring a Dish

People always ask, “what can I bring?” and a backyard bbq is the perfect time to have a potluck party. Each guest or couple can bring a side dish to share, drinks, dessert, or their own protein.

As the host we typically provide the main course like steak, kabobs, burgers or hotdogs. But for very large gatherings, like a neighborhood block party, it’s perfectly reasonable for guests to bring their own protein.

red white and blue place settings for summer party.

Set the Table

Set up folding tables around the yard or patio and set a festive tablescape. Bring everyday dishes outside or use melamine for a non-breakable option.

Keep the settings simple and choose a color scheme that works for the occasion. Add small favors to each plate by filling small sacks with salt water taffy.

kabobs, salad, and toast on tin pan dish.

An easy way to serve a large group is to use tin pie pans as plates instead of traditional dishware. You can find them anywhere kitchen supplies are sold, but I like to go to the dollar store for inexpensive ones.

They’re more sturdy than disposable, and they add style to the rustic outdoor atmosphere. Line them with parchment paper for even easier cleanup!

outdoor food buffet for a cookout.

Set Up Buffet-Style

Place long tables with easy access to put food on and guests can help themselves. Place the tables in a shaded area or under cover, like a tent or porch overhang.

Add some style with an ultimate hot dog bar or buffet table ideas from this summer cookout.

PARTY TIP: Keep cold salads chilled by serving them over ice. Fill a large bowl or urn with ice, water, and rock salt. Nestle the serving bowl into the ice bath to keep the food cool.

Choose a Theme for Your Outdoor Party

Set up food buffet tables, seated table settings, and outdoor décor to reflect a theme. Here are some creative ideas to consider.

outdoor seating area on patio.

Set Up the Party Space

Create outdoor rooms with furniture arrangements. Set up two or three different zones where people can gather and have conversations.

Use flowers and plants as boarders or “walls” in order to define the spaces.

Use market umbrellas and easy-up tents to add shade in the midst of a sunny afternoon.

pergola with string lights lit up at night.

Hang Outside Lights

Add some decorative lighting so when the sun goes down you’ll have a beautiful glow and you can still see. Lighting is a great way to add ambiance and define a space. These are some of my favorites.

  • String lights
  • Umbrella lights
  • Paper lanterns
  • Hanging lanterns
  • Candle chandeliers
printed backyard bbq sign in frame.

Print and Frame Signs

Print these FREE backyard bbq signs and add them to inexpensive frames. Set them on tables to greet your guests.

woven fans hanging from garden hook.
silver bucket filled with sunscreen and bug spray.

Provide Comfort

Offer paper or woven hand held fans for guests to use to help stay cool. Place them in a basket or hang them from a garden stake for easy access.

Provide sunscreen, bug spray, and hand wipes. Bonus points if you put them in a bucket of ice so when guests use them they’ll be cool and refreshing!

corn on the cop on a platter with food tent on top.

Avoid Pesky Bugs

Mesh food tents are fantastic to cover food and keep the bugs at bay. There are a variety of sizes and shapes to fit different platters and bowls.

potted flowers on patio.

Plants and Flowers

Try adding certain grasses, herbs and flowers that naturally repel insects. Include them in your garden or in potted plants. Here are some that fend off flies, ants, and mosquitos.

  • Mint, Rosemary, Thyme
  • Basil (give the leaves a rub to release their fragrance)
  • Citronella grass and Lemongrass
  • Lavender, Marigolds, Chrysanthemums

Prep Food Ahead

The older I get the less time I want to spend prepping, and the more time I want to spend with family and friends and enjoying the party my self. The way I do that is by planning and prepping ahead.

  • Make side dishes and salads early and keep them in the refrigerator until party time.
  • Cut or measure food and ingredients that you’ll need later.
  • Marinate or prepare meats for grilling recipes.
broccoli and tomato salad.

Sides for a Backyard BBQ

Serve make-ahead sides like these easy summer side dish recipes.

red and blue fruit cut up on round platter.

Party Snacks

Bowls of chips are always welcome, but you can add some healthy options too, like veggie sticks and a cut fruit platter.

Use the grill to cook bacon-wrapped chicken bites. It’s one of our favorite appetizers!

Serve drinks and snacks away from the cooking area so it doesn’t get too crowded.

three pitchers of lemonade on white table.

Set Up a Self-Serve Beverage Bar

Make drinks easy and self-serve. Set up a drink station and encourage guests to help themselves to adult cocktails or family-friendly beverages.

jars filled with colorful punch sitting in ice bucket.

Pre-Mix Pitcher Drinks

If you don’t want to set up a full bar, serve pitchers of delicious summer cocktails or mocktails that are ready for guests to pour.

Pre-fill canning jars with lemonade or punch, and put the jars on ice. Guests can grab one as soon as they walk in to the party space.

Other go-to pitcher recipes for a party are easy beer margaritas and white peach sangria.

man playing ladder ball in back yard.

Set up Yard Games

Include some fun lawn games at your backyard BBQ party so that everyone is entertained. Make sure you have plenty of space to set up away from the food area.

And if you want to continue the activities after dark, make sure you have lighting accordingly. Here are some of our favorite outdoor activities.

  • bocce ball
  • croquet
  • cornhole
  • horseshoes
  • ladder toss
  • giant jenga
  • frisbee
  • badminton
  • spikeball or tether ball
hand brushing sauce on salmon on planks on grill.

Check the Grill

Make sure you have enough propane, charcoal, or wood. There’s nothing worse than running out of fuel while the chicken is still raw!

Whether you’re using a gas grill, charcoal grill, smoker, or fire pit for roasting over an open fire, make sure you’ve got plenty of fuel.

grilled beef kabobs on white platter.
grilled burger on bun for backyard cookout.

Tasty Grilling Recipes

Easy, prep-ahead dishes are a must when it comes to outdoor entertaining. You don’t want to be in the kitchen while everyone else is outside!

Some of my favorite grilling recipes are plank grilled salmon and the best juicy burgers.

You can never go wrong with a good old fashioned hot dog roast.

Turn the backyard bbq into a pizza party. Pizza is fantastic cooked on the grill!

The super easy beef kabobs recipe below is a crowd pleaser and you can even substitute chicken if you want.

PARTY TIP: Place buttered baguette slices on the grill to toast them and give those nice grill marks.

homemade ice cream sandwiches with m&m's.

BBQ Party Dessert Ideas

Keep it simple! Serve simple treats like “homemade” ice cream sandwiches made with ice cream and a variety of soft cookies from the bakery.

And, did you know you can grill fruit too! Grilling fruits like pineapple, peaches, watermelon and bananas brings out the sweetness and natural juices. Serve with a big dollop of whipped cream or ice cream, on pound cake or angle food cake.

Other favorite make-ahead desserts are my oatmeal chocolate chip bars and the best glazed lemon bars.

ingredients for smores on silver tray.

Make-Your-Own Dessert 

The best part of a barbecue party is that you don’t have to worry about baking or making dessert ahead of time. You have everything you need for a fun, interactive dessert with just three ingredients: graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows.

Set up a diy dessert bar centered around the fire pit. Make s’mores over an open flame using food safe grilling logs or untreated dry wood.

Make them more interesting with a variety of chocolates and cookies to choose from.

Set up a make-your-own shortcakes dessert bar with a variety of berries, individual shortcakes, and whipped cream.

HOSTESS TIP: We love using our fire pit to roast marshmallows to perfection, but did you know you can also use the grill? The grill can help make the process even easier, especially if it’s already hot from cooking your meal.

Have fun!

The most important thing to remember is to have fun at your own party. Save these ideas and tips to help guide you through.

With these easy backyard bbq party ideas, you can host summer celebrations all season long, stress free. It makes the planning so much easier for Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and summer birthdays. Get more pro grilling tips here.

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grilled beef kabobs with peppers and purple onion recipe.

Backyard BBQ Party Beef Kabobs

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Host a backyard bbq party and serve these easy beef kabobs. Ranch seasoning gives sirloin cubes, peppers and onions lots of delicious flavor right on the grill.

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 2 (1-ounce) packets Ranch dry seasoning mix
  • 2 Tablespoon Vegetable oil
  • 4 Tablespoons water

Kabobs

  • 2 pounds Beef Sirloin chunks for grilling
  • 1 each, red, green and yellow bell peppers cut into squares
  • 1 purple onion separated and cut into squares

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl combine the three marinade ingredients until well combined.
  2. Thread beef, peppers, and onions on to metal or wood skewers, alternating ingredients.
  3. Brush kabobs with dressing mix and place them on the grill over medium heat.
  4. Grill uncovered about 10-12 minutes for medium-rare, turning occasionally.
  5. You can also continue to brush more marinade on kabobs as they cook, for more flavor.

Notes

For more intense flavor put all the ingredients in a large ziplock bag and marinate in the refrigerator for several hours. Then thread the ingredients onto skewers and grill.

Try the marinade for chicken or pork kabobs too!

Did you make this recipe?

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11 Comments

  1. Such great tips! You had me at the perfect summer party themes.
    As always your photos are phenomenal and easily showcase how to entertain in style.

  2. S’mores are THE BEST summer dessert – and I love that everyone makes their own. Great post!

  3. We are grilling tonight. We have no kids. I’m thinking I now have to run out and get these things and make s’mores for dessert. S’mores…the ageless YUM.

  4. What a great backyard party! We try to host a few times each summer, but seeing how you put it all together makes me want to do it more. It just looks effortless and easy!

  5. Love this idea (and not having to make a dessert ahead of time!). Buffets are so interactive too, which keeps things fun!

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