Summer Cookout Ideas

Great summer cookout ideas with recipes and tips for a last minute party. You really CAN pull together a stylish and delicious gathering with minimal notice! Get ready for summer entertaining!

Summer cookout with recipes

Easy Summer Cookout Ideas

Over the years I’ve hosted a lot of parties from casual to formal to themed, and they usually take weeks or even months to plan. The thing I’ve noticed though, is that some of the most fun parties have been the ones we pulled together at the last minute with a few close friends.

Everyone pitches in and brings food for a potluck party, and everyone is in the mood to have a good time. And Memorial day weekend is ideal for hosting a hamburgers and hot dogs cookout to welcome summer.

You can do this on 24 hours notice like we did. As last minute hosts we provided the grilling meats, potato salad, and a simple dessert, while friends filled in with other side dishes and sweets. Here are the details and recipes that are great for a summer cookout. 

outdoor table setting
Cookout centerpieces

Outdoor Table Setting

  • Setting up a table for 6 or 8 is pretty easy. Use a piece of fabric right off the bolt and layer it onto the table.
  • Use white melamine plates with colorful napkins. Red and white makes a wonderful color combination for Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day.
  • Bamboo forks are kinder to the environment than plastic. And you can actually wash them by hand and reuse them a few of times.
  • Create an easy and inexpensive summer centerpiece with clean cans and white spray paint. This is another way to recycle or “up-cycle” household goods. They make fantastic diy flower vases.
summer cookout buffet

Set up a Buffet Table

Place the food on a large serving table so guests can help themselves.

  • Find a creative way to serve the main dish. Here we used a 2-tiered wire stand to hold burgers on the top tier and sausage dogs on the bottom. It adds height and interest to a simple display of food.
  • Serve gourmet mustard like chipotle or dill flavored for an updated twist, along with ketchup and mayonnaise. Serve them inside glass votive containers and line them up on a wooden paddle or cheese board.
  • You can use popsicle sticks from the craft store to label each condiment. And the sticks double as spreaders! Use a stamp set or a Sharpie pen to write on the stick.
summer cookout food display, burgers and hot dogs

Easy Main Dishes

If you want easy menu ideas for your outdoor party, then classic dishes are the way to go. They’re universally loved which is why they’re “classic.”

  • Grill up one of my favorite appetizers of all time. These bacon wrapped chicken bites are a family recipe that everyone loves.
  • For the main entrée grill the best juicy burgers and top them with all the fixings.
  • My Asian-style burgers are incredibly flavorful and can be made with ground chicken, turkey or beef. Top with sweet chili sauce for the perfect bite.
  • My sun dried tomato burgers have feta cheese for a rich depth of flavor. They’re like a combination between Mediterranean and Italian, and taste great on ciabatta rolls with lettuce and red onion.
  • Not to be overlooked, these Greek burgers with tzatziki sauce are so good with lettuce and tomato on pita bread. Use ground lamb or beef to make them.
  • Include a fun hot dog roast because nothing goes together quite like hamburgers and hot dogs.
  • Of course you can get creative with new food trends and special diets too. Consider adding veggie burgers or Impossible Burgers to the menu.
summer beverages

Use scrapbook paper to make toppers for canning jars. This will help keep any flying insects at bay. I punched a hole in the top and pushed a straw through for the perfectly sized drinking glasses.

PARTY TIP: Make yummy fizzy sherbet sodas by adding 2 scoops of sherbet to a glass and topping with ginger ale. Kids love them and adults can add a splash of vodka.

What to Bring to a Cookout Last Minute

Although this party plan is focused on a 24-hour timeline, sometimes you have even less notice. In that case here are some easy last minute foods you can bring to a cookout.

  • Watermelon – Fresh sliced watermelon is a summer favorite and can act as a snack or a dessert.
  • You can make easy baked beans with ground beef in less than 2 hours, making it a terrific hot dish idea.
  • Crudites Platter – Bring fresh, sliced vegetables and Ranch dip. People love to nibble on a veggie platter, and it suits all diets.
  • Chips – You can never have too many chips at a backyard party. Bring interesting flavors of potato chips, or tortilla chips with salsa. People can snack on them before the meal and eat them with their burgers and hot dogs. You can elevate them with this blue cheese & balsamic kettle chips recipe.
  • Caprese Salad – Slice some tomatoes and combine it with fresh basil, mozzarella, and a little balsamic vinaigrette for a simple caprese salad everyone will love.
  • Brownies or Cookies – Stop at the bakery and pick up a box of cookies or brownies. No matter how many homemade desserts there are, people will always go for those.
  • Fresh fruit – Another easy food is fresh fruit. Just as watermelon is great on its own, a fruit salad, a bowl full of berries, or sliced fruit with caramel dip are easy and delicious.
  • Family Friendly Drinks – Bring a gallon of iced tea or lemonade for everyone to drink. Pour them into your own pitchers or bottles for prettier display.

PARTY TIP: If you’re bringing a bound salad (ie: potato or pasta salad) for an impromptu party, make sure you have at least 2 hours to let the flavors blend together.

watermelon slices in a white bowl

Side Dishes for a Cookout

Keep in mind that people love variety at a cookout, so the more you have, the better. These are some of the best summer party side dishes for burgers and hot dogs.

easy cookout dessert, crumble topping recipe

Easy Desserts

Remember that cookout parties are likely outside in the heat. Therefore you want to have dessert options that can stand up to that environment for short periods of time while they’re being served.

I don’t suggest anything too fancy. Save that for an elegant dinner party. Here are some of the best ideas for desserts at a backyard party.

Timeline for a Last Minute Cookout 

24 Hours Ahead

  • Make a quick trip to the store for groceries and pick up the meat to make burgers. Grab some hot dogs or sausages to serve with sautéed peppers and onions. TIP: You can make the burgers smaller like sliders so people can have a burger and a sausage dog without getting too full.
  • Purchase jugs of iced tea or lemonade and serve it from your own bottles, pitchers, or drink dispenser. 
  • Pick up a bouquet or two of mixed flowers so you can make simple flower centerpieces.

Morning of Party

  • Make any creamy bound salads so the flavors can mingle and develop all day.
  • Get a watermelon and chill it if you have room. Otherwise, place it in an ice water bath about an hour before you’re ready to serve it.

3-4 Hours Ahead

  • Prepare hamburger patties and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Mix together the crumble topping and assemble easy berry cobblers. Get the recipe below.
  • Set up the outdoor party space with folding tables, chairs, grill, ice tubs and coolers.

Fruit Crumble Dessert

Here’s the recipe for my all-purpose crumb topping for any fruit crumble or cobbler dessert. Just sprinkle it over canned fruit pie filling and bake, for the easiest dessert for a last minute party.

You can make six mini desserts, or a 9 x 9 pan. Double the recipe as needed.

easy cookout dessert, crumble topping recipe

All-Purpose Dessert Crumble Topping

Yield: 6 individual desserts or one 9x9 dish

Use this all purpose crumble mix on top of fruit cobblers, pies, or ice cream.


  • 1/4 cup All purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 Tablespoons quick cooking /old fashioned oats
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted


  1. Mix all dry ingredients together, and combine well.
  2. Add melted butter and mix until moistened through.
  3. Sprinkle topping over cobbler or canned pie fruit filling, and bake until filling is bubbly and topping is browned.


You can easily double this recipe as needed.

Did you make this recipe?

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summer cookout

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  1. Love last minute parties as sometimes those are the ones that turn out best! You did a great job on this one and lobe the colors you used. Loving the flowers and the little details like the stamps on the utensils.

  2. Soo cute!! Did you make the mini burger/ hotdog rolls or buy them? Thinking about doing this for a baby bbq shower next month and would like to be able to buy them possibly? Thanks!

    1. Thanks Melinda. I bought the rolls in the bakery section. Not traditional “hot dog” or “hamburger” rolls but work just the same, and even tastier!

  3. Those white cans are perfect! Love recycling things and making them new again for dinner parties.

  4. Love this! Wondering where to buy the bamboo forks or some sort of wood flatware…ever since my first visit to Sprinkles Cupcakes, I’m dying to use the cute wood flatware instead of plastic at parties. Help! Please? Thank you!

    1. Shelly these are available at Party City. They have an “eco friendly” section of bamboo plates with these utensils, etc.

  5. I love a last minute get-together. No pressure to have the house look perfect. Just some easy to make food and fun beverages. Great ideas for quick decor, too. It’s amazing what a little spray paint can do. Thanks again for the inspiration!

  6. Awesome party look! I literally salivated 😛 I love how everything is put together, the red is ideal for a summer party, and maybe you could use the same theme for the party invitations too. Thanks for the crumble recipe, will give it a go one of these weekends!

  7. You are so amazingly talented, Chris! I agree with you on last minute get togethers – sometimes they are the best (also because the host/hostess doesn’t stress so much in advance 🙂 I adore the sandwich display and the condiment set! I have the same Target beer paddles and can’t wait to host a beer tasting to use them 🙂 We’re finally moving to the new house in 2 weeks!!

    1. Thank you Flavia. Congrats on the move. I know you’ll be so happy to get in and get settled. All the best on the move!

  8. I love this – what a festive cookout. I would love to be attending a cookout like this. Such fun and I love all the details.

  9. Love this!! So pretty and everything looks delish!!

  10. I love the brown paper under the burgers and condiments. Everything else looks great as well. Thanks for the inspiration.

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