Summer Cookout Tips & Recipes for a Last Minute Party

Host a backyard summer cookout 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

If you sometimes end up being a last minute hostess, then you’re going to love this summer cookout with recipes. 

Over the years I’ve hosted a lot of parties – casual, formal, themed – and they usually take weeks or even months to pull together. 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, 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. We provided the meats, potato salad, and a quick and easy 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

How to host a Last Minute Cookout 

  1. Make a quick trip to the store for groceries and pick up the meat to make our favorite juicy burger recipe. Instead of the usual hot dogs, I chose sausages so we could have mini versions of sausage, peppers, and onions. I made the burgers smaller too, so people could have a burger and a sausage dog without getting too full.
  2. Get the ingredients for my classic potato salad and make the recipe the morning of the party so the flavors can mingle all day.
  3. Get a watermelon and chill it if you have room. Otherwise, place it in a cold water bath about an hour before you’re ready to serve it.
  4. Mini berry cobblers are easy to make for dessert, and the crumble topping MAKES them.  Get the recipe below.
  5. Purchase containers of iced tea or lemonade and serve it from milk bottles, pitchers, or flip top bottles. 
  6. Add the ingredients for making some yummy sherbet fizzy sodas {raspberry sherbet + ginger ale}. The kids can drink these while the grown ups make an adult version by adding an ounce or two of vodka.
  7. Pick up a bouquet or two of mixed flowers so you can make simple flower centerpieces.
Cookout centerpieces

Outdoor Table Setting

  • Setting up a table for 6 is pretty easy. Use a piece of fabric right off the bolt and layer it onto the table.
  • Use white melamine plates with red napkins. Red and white makes a wonderful color theme for any summer party. The combination is perfect 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 couple 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.
  • 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.
summer cookout buffet

Set up a Buffet Table

Place the food on a large serving table so guests can help themselves. For more details check out everything you need to know to host a potluck party.

  • 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 {chipotle and 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 Menu

If you want easy dinner party menu ideas for your outdoor party, then classic dishes are a great choice. They’re universally loved which is why they’re “classic.” You’ll find a list of side dish recipes below.

For the main entree grill the best juicy burgers, and add a hot dog roast. You can find more casual cookout party ideas for hot dogs, including some delicious topping ideas. 

Of course you can also get creative with new food trends and special diets too.

summer beverages

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.

NOTE: I don’t recommend bringing combined salad-style dishes (ie: potato or pasta salad) for an impromptu party, unless you have several hours to let the flavors blend together.

  • Watermelon – Fresh sliced watermelon is a summer favorite and can act as a snack or a dessert.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
watermelon slices in a white bowl

Side dishes for burgers and hot dogs

I’m sharing a list of recipes for side dishes below. Keep in mind that people love variety at a summer cookout, so the more the better. These are some of the best sides for burgers and hot dogs.

  • Corn on the cob
  • Baked Beans
  • Potato Salad
  • Pasta Salad
  • Veggie Salads like Cucumber, Broccoli, or Corn
  • Slaw – can double as a hot dog topper
  • Caprese Salad
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Fresh Cut Vegetables or Crudités
  • Chips

Summer Cookout Recipes

Add one or more of these recipes to round out a backyard cookout of burgers and hot dogs. The classic flavors will compliment any party.

Easy Desserts

Remember that summer 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.

easy cookout dessert, crumble topping recipe

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?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

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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