How to Host the Best Summer Grilling Get-Together

Gather up the crew—it’s time to grill!

Nothing says welcome, summer quite like a backyard barbecue. An outdoor bash is the perfect excuse to eat fresh-from-the-grill food, spend quality time with loved ones and relish the magic of a warm summer’s night. And the best part? These get-togethers are completely casual—no stressing about table linens here. Follow along as we show you how to plan a fun afternoon for family and friends.

Plan the Menu

Since food is the main focus of your get-together, you’ll want to spend some time planning the menu. Get started with our best summer grilling recipes.

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  • Pick one to three grilled mains, then fill in the gaps with sides, desserts and beverages. A classic BBQ, for example, might feature burgers, brats and hot dogs from the grill, with potato salad, coleslaw and watermelon on the side.
  • If you plan to serve a few different proteins, make it easy on yourself and use the same marinade for each meat. We especially love a zippy Key West marinade of blended red onion, cilantro, white wine vinegar, Key lime juice and olive oil. It’s designed for steak but tastes just as delicious on chicken, pork and fish. Here’s how to swap it in:
    • Chicken—Marinate 4 hours and grill until temperature reaches 165°, 5-7 minutes per side. For a detailed breakdown, check out our guide on how to grill chicken breasts.
    • Pork tenderloin—Marinate 4 to 8 hours and grill until temp reaches 145°, 12-15 minutes, turning occasionally.
    • Fish fillets—Marinate 30 minutes and grill until fish begins to flake easily with a fork. If you prefer shellfish, learn how to grill scallops.
  • And if you have guests with dietary restrictions, don’t fret. It’s easy to accommodate everyone at a BBQ.
    • For vegetarians or vegans, pick up a pack of frozen veggie burgers at the store. They’re easy to toss on the grill—just make sure you use a separate spatula to flip them.
    • For anyone watching their carb intake or with a gluten intolerance, set out oversized lettuce leaves to use as “buns.” (Psst! Here are more clever bun substitutes.)
    • For anyone avoiding dairy, skip the cheese on burgers and use olive oil in place of butter whenever you can.

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Man the Grill

You can’t have a summer BBQ without, well, a BBQ. Whether you use charcoal or gas—get ready to grill!

Cleaning outdoor gas grill before next grilling.Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

  • Before the party begins, decide who will be grill master. Just like you don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen, you don’t want too many people manning the grill. Only one (or if you’re cooking for a crowd, two) people should touch the tongs. Need to get your grill ready for summer? Here’s how.
  • Make sure you have plenty of charcoal, propane, lighter fluid and grilling tools ready to go. We recommend these grilling gadgets—especially a meat thermometer.
  • Set up your grill in a central location so the grill master isn’t isolated from the rest of the group.
  • If you’re cooking marinated meats, make sure you take into account how long they need to rest (and how long your grill takes to heat up) when establishing a time for dinner. You don’t want to remove anything from the grill before it’s done! Check out other grilling mistakes you might be making.

Set the Table

For a backyard BBQ, keep it casual. No one wants to spend hours cleaning up the kitchen after a fun afternoon!

  • Opt for disposable items—like plastic tablecloths, paper plates and cutlery—to make cleanup a breeze. We’re partial to these biodegradable bamboo utensils.
  • Avoid using any super-heavy serving dishes. Not only are they a pain to lug outside, but you’ll be heartbroken if your favorite cake stand gets destroyed by a poorly thrown football. Instead, choose disposable servingware or head to the dollar store for a cheap plastic set.
  • It’s unlikely that you have a table large enough to seat all of your guests. So instead of one area, set up a few different dining spots for people to enjoy their meal. If it’s particularly hot outside, set up one station indoors.

Keep it Cool

If we had to pick one downside to outdoor eating (other than those pesky mosquitoes!), it would have to be battling to keep your food the right temperature. Cold and hot foods alike need to be properly stored to avoid the risk of foodborne illness.

  • Make sure you have plenty of ice. Cold foods need to be packed at 40°F or colder, so keep that in mind when stocking the freezer.
  • Don’t bring out cold foods until you’re ready to eat. Communicate with the grill master so you know when items are going to start coming off the grill, then enlist a few helpers to bring out salads, condiments and other chilled foods.
  • If it’s really hot outside, consider setting up your buffet inside. On a 100° day it will be almost impossible to keep your meal food safe. If possible, set up your spread inside. Or at the very least, pick a shady spot that’s out of direct sunlight.
  • Remember that hot items need to be stored properly, too. Keep an eye on how long your grilled items have been sitting out—they need to be refrigerated after an hour or two, depending on how hot it is outside.

Have Fun

Sure, the food is the main attraction. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have other party activities!

  • We love to set out yard games for guests of all ages to play. Cornhole, Bocce ball, croquet, ladder ball—whatever games you have on hand. Consider setting up a net for badminton or volleyball. And if the day is particularly hot, a water balloon fight isn’t out of the question. For the less athletically inclined, board games and cards make for relaxed entertainment.
  • Set your party’s mood with a laid-back playlist. A set of outdoor speakers is ideal for spreading the sound, but portable Bluetooth speakers also get the job done (and for way less!). Our top song picks? “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” by the Beach Boys and “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles.

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Katie Bandurski
Katie is an Associate Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in writing and email newsletters. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and combing through antique shops.