BBQ Party Planning Checklist

After a rough year, there’s one thing on everyone’s mind: can it just be summer already?

The first day of summer might be officially marked on the calendar, but the true kickoff happens on the day that you host your first barbecue party and invite all your family and friends.

You’ve pulled out all your short shorts, you’ve dipped into the self-tanner, and you’re ready to go, but all that BBQ equipment has been collecting dust for many months – so have your skills at the grill and your general party-planning abilities.

Thankfully, you’re in the right place, because we’re about to embark on the ultimate BBQ party planning checklist, with everything from setup and safety necessities to all the food, drinks, and extras you could ever possibly need. It’s time to get lit, y’all (the barbecue or the crowd—your preference). 

We aren’t in any position to tell you how (or how not) to run your own BBQ, and everyone puts a unique personal twist on things. The only goal of this guide is to refresh your memory and maybe give you a boost of inspiration to get in the groove for barbecue season. Here we go!

Setup and Supply Basics

If you’re going from zero to 100 on your BBQ goals, you’ll need more supplies than you expect. Here is a list of stuff that will be key to a poppin’ party.

Apparel and Equipment

Whoever is working the grill will need an apron, some gloves, and all the grill equipment necessary to flip, adjust, and serve food. And if that apron just so happens to say “kiss the cook” on it, then so be it. 

Make sure you’ve got a couple of spatulas, tongs, a grill fork, and plenty of fuel for your grill, whether it’s gas, propane, charcoal, wood pellets, or oil.

There are also some storage and safety items you’ll need to check all the boxes. Invest in a quality, high-volume cooler to fill with meat, veggies, condiments, and more. Also, be sure to have a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher, some bug spray, and sunscreen.

It’s better to feel like you’ve prepared for the zombie apocalypse than to be missing out on the essentials—trust us. 

Utensils and Cleanup

Estimate how many plates, bowls, forks, spoons, and knives you need for your party and stock up in advance. You’ll also want a tablecloth, serving spoons, napkins, and plastic cups to complete your set. Red solo cups are not required, but they do give a BBQ a certain je ne sais quoi, if you know what we mean.  

Eventually, the party will come to an end, and you’ll need to clean up efficiently. Have plenty of trash bags ready to be filled and quickly disposed of when the time comes.

Fun Stuff and Extras

The food, the drinks, and the friends are the main reasons why we have barbecue parties, but some of us like to go the extra mile and add the vibes that any BBQ deserves. Here are some ideas.

Themes and Décor

With just a trip to the dollar store and a few minutes of setup, you can create a themed BBQ party with fun decorations and a festive spirit.

Generic streamers and lanterns are fine, but you can level up with a tropical, nautical, or throwback theme that gets everyone excited for the event. Match up your playlist, and you’re sure to have an all-around rager. After all, who doesn’t get hype to the sweet, sweet sounds of luau music or TLC? 

Themed party packs can be easily found online or at local shops, so browse around and see what catches your attention. Many of these items can be stored and reused in the future – it’s an investment for parties yet to come.

Lawn Games and Card Games

Some of the most fun lawn games are also the simplest, so don’t worry about making things too elaborate or complicated—especially if you’re planning on serving some *ahem* adult beverages.

Grab some paddles and balls for lawn tennis, pick up a cheap wooden set for a cornhole tournament, and make sure you’ve got plenty of footballs and frisbees to toss around all day.

For those who need a break from the physical activities, bring along some card games or board games that can be easily understood and played outside. This isn’t the time for super complex activities, since food and drinks will be flowing!

Nighttime Entertainment

When the sun sets and everyone is running low on energy, it’s time to take it down a notch with some chill activities like a campfire (with s’mores, of course), impression games like charades, or even a round of sing-along with karaoke or someone leading on the guitar.

Food, Beverages, and Snacks

The sun, the breeze, the company – these are all great reasons to have a barbecue, but the main attraction is clearly the food. Here is what you’ll need to keep everyone’s plates and cups full.

Classic Main Courses

Depending on the theme you’ve chosen, you can pick main courses that match the vibe. A Mediterranean-style BBQ will feature grilled chicken (or tofu), fresh fish, and plenty of citrus and spices. For a Cinco de Mayo celebration, you’ll want taco stations and enough hot sauce to go around—and plenty of margs.

However, you can’t fail with a classic Americana spread of burgers, dogs, sausages, ribs, and big chunks of veggies blasting on the grill. These are the classic BBQ mains we all know and love, so why mess with perfection?

The beauty of these dishes is that they’re easy to cook, made to order, and quickly customized with slices of cheese and a condiment station. It’s a classic for a reason, people! 

This is the best way to make sure everyone gets exactly what they want, even the pickiest eaters of the bunch.

For your first barbecue of the year, start with a simple layout and stick to what you know. It’s basically like a warmup. As the season progresses and you get more familiar with your grill, you can start taking risks and trying different things. Maybe that massive slow-cooked brisket or that jackfruit pulled pork can wait until later in the year, and you might want to start with some simple barbecue chicken, burgers, and dogs.

Toppings and Key Condiments

What’s one way to pull the brakes on an otherwise awesome BBQ party? Forget the condiments!

All those burgers and dogs will be looking pretty lonely without ketchup, mustard, relish, mayo, and any other tasty sauce that can be squeezed from a bottle or spread with a spoon. Choking down dry sausages? We’re going to have to pass. 

As far as barbecue sauce goes, you’ll be using plenty on the grill if you’re making chicken or ribs, but make sure to keep some extra on the table for those who want more (they will).

This is also the time to put your knife skills to the test, because you’ll be doing plenty of chopping to prepare all those fresh veggie toppings. Thin slices of tomato, onion in diced and ring form, and piles of lettuce cut down to the ideal size.

You never know what people might want to put on their food, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and offer a wide range of condiments and toppings, even if they aren’t your personal favorites. We’re all about being a crowd-pleaser. 

Side Dishes and Drinks

You’ve got all the grilled meats and condiments you could ever need, but that’s just the tip of the BBQ iceberg. Side dishes and snacks are the real show stoppers at a summer BBQ bash, so make sure you whip up a few stellar sides, or encourage guests to bring sides of their own to share.

Here’s a quick list of some classic side dishes we know and love from our own BBQ experience:

  • Green Salads (fresh lettuce, greens, veggies, dressing)
  • Mayo-Based Salads (potato, pasta, bean, coleslaw, etc.)
  • Baked Beans
  • Sweet Potato Fries
  • Buffalo Chicken Dip
  • Guacamole and Chips

Just remember that you’ll be cooking for a lot of people, even if your barbecue party is on the smaller side. Plus, at social events, people tend to congregate towards the food (don’t lie; you’ve done it too), which means you’ll probably end up going through more of it. 

Plan ahead and cook in multiple batches to make things easy on yourself and have more than enough to go around. Worst-case scenario, you’ve got leftovers galore! Send everyone home with a little doggy bag.

Let’s also talk drinks here, because all that BBQ is seriously salty. Load up several coolers with cans of soda, sparkling water, juice for the kids, plus beers and hard seltzers for the grown-ups.

In the summer heat, also keep a ton of cold water on tap or in bottles so that everyone stays cool and hydrated.

Crispy Crunchy Snacks

In between bites of burgers and sips of lemonade, you’ll want some crunchy snacks to please the hungry masses. Potato chips, tortilla chips (with guac or salsa, no less), and pretzels are just a few classics you must include.

For a healthy change of pace, however, check out our Outstanding Puffs, which puts a nutritious and flavor-packed spin on the classic cheese puff form. Take a look at the nutrition panel and you’ll discover that it might just be the healthiest snack at the party!

If you’re craving some pork rinds at your next BBQ, why not try a more accessible vegan alternative like our PigOut Pigless Pork Rinds? They’re loaded with crunch and flavor that everyone can enjoy, and you won’t even have to feel guilty when you “accidentally” ate the whole bag before anyone showed up.


We consider ourselves to be barbecue masters at Outstanding Foods, even though our snacks are totally free of animal products. Enjoy our suggestions and do BBQ season your own way, as it should be.



BBQ Party Planning Checklist | The Spruce Eats

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Ultimate Checklist for Planning Summer BBQ | NatureFresh Farms