Happy July 4th! Nothing says Independence Day like a good old fashioned BBQ! Barbecues are a great way to get together with friends and family in a more relaxed and informal setting without any real reason, just to have a BBQ! Years ago we had to go down rickety stairs to our backyard to make a BBQ which made it a lot less fun. When we had an opportunity to do a small something to the house, deck was the very first thing we chose and it’s been the most amazing thing for us all year long, especially in regard to hosting BBQs which our friends and family all love! My husband takes BBQing very seriously and through a lot of trial and error, we’ve come up with some really great techniques that work great for our BBQs and I’m happy to share them with you!
Ideally you want people to carve out the date so if you want something more established, try to let people know at least a week in advance, especially on a Sunday. Though we’ve planned some last minute BBQs and have had some nice turnouts even with just a few hours of prior notice.
Who to invite?
You know your space and how many you can host. We try to get at least 3 families for our BBQs and often host more; once we are doing the work, we would rather have more people come than less and it adds to a nice dynamic when there’s a small crowd. One of my friends invites two families to each BBQ she does but if you are only inviting two families, it’s important you know that they will get along and preferably already know each other. We often try to invite friends that may live too far to walk over for a Shabbos meal but are happy to drive for a bit to join.
Rain Backup plan:
I think it’s important to have enough space INSIDE for your guests in case of rain, unless you are throwing the BBQ together last minute and can be certain that the weather will cooperate. Many of the pictures from this post are from my husband’s 40th birthday party when it rained! But we still managed to host 30 guests comfortably.
Unless it’s going to be comfortable (upper 70s or lower) or you have amazing shade and water activities, I’d advise against making a BBQ in the midday heat. We’ve had one or two with a lot of squinting and people vying for shading or escaping inside to escape the heat. We generally call our BBQs for 4/5 as an early dinner which is just when they hot sun has started to make it’s way down.
Pot-luck / Food From Guests:
When people ask what they can bring – don’t say nothing! People are happy to help and it’ll give you a bit less to focus on. But also don’t give them someting too important. Let them bring a side dish, chips / salasa, salad or desert. You take care of main things. Its always awkward when the person stuck in traffic is the one with the hot dogs!
Ordering items in advance:
There are a few things that you could use at multiple BBQs, but you need to order them in advance. Those items will be listed in the setting up section below.
Our Basic BBQs consists of
- The Snacks – usually taco / potato chips on their own or with salsa / guacamole.
- The Meats and buns – usually hot dogs and hamburgers, sometimes marinated chicken and occasionally, for very special occasions, steak. I have found shish kebab to be too much work and not really worth it. We get slightly less buns than hot dogs and burgers since not everyone likes buns with their meat. If you are grilling chicken, consider this delicious super-easy, 2-ingredient recipe from Rena Tuchinsky
- Condiments – the basics; ketchup and mustard but we also make sure to have BBQ sauce, saurkraut, sometimes offer relish and sautee sweet onions to go on hot dogs when there’s time.
- Grilled Veggies – Instead of shish kebobs, we would rather cut up a whole bunch of onions, mushrooms, peppers and zuchinni and throw them onto a tray like these to grill (and make sure none fall through the cracks!) We’ve done corn in the past but they take up a lot of space on the grill and are not usually super popular so make them a maybe depending on who comes.
- The Salads – besides for lettuce and corn based salad, make sure to check out these three fabulous salad recipes our food editor, Julie Thomas has shared. (Sweet Pasta and Pepper Salad, Lemony Potato Salad, Sesame Maple Cruciferous Slaw)
- French Fries (sometimes we do seasoned as well as regular fries)
- Watermelon / ices / dessert.
- Extras – Occasionally we’ll make a chili with rice our new favorite, pareve Mac n Cheese by Judith Gutman!
- Drinks – Forget big bulky soda bottles; we recommend buying soda cans and water bottles (and beer!) and dumping them in a cooler with ice about half hour before your BBQ is called for. So much more effecient and you don’t have cups flying around the yard and huge bottles of soda spilling. It’s great to have straws nearby and if you want to leave a towel, blank labels and a permanent marker nearby so people can label that’s also a good idea but not necessary. Depending on how many you are expecting, we usually overestimate and buy about a soda bottle and water bottle per person coming.
If you want to keep it super simple:
Hot dog and buns (and ketchup), a salad or vegetables of some sort, french fries and watermelon are just fine especially if there are mostly kids!
If you want to be creative, you can add these cute labels to different salads, condiments and mains. Different color napkins and sashes over the tablecloths are also nice.
Decorative lights are also a nice touch especially for when it starts getting dark.
We start setting up an hour or so before. Since it’s often windy, we use items like a napkin holder that holds napkins down and tablecloth clips to keep it pinned down. We put out one or two cutlery holders as well. These are all useful items that can be used for BBQs or around the house and are a worthwhile investment. We usually put stacks of plates in the middle near the napkin and cutlery.
A couple of hours before our BBQ is scheduled to start, we buy buns and ice to keep the drinks cool. We put out the buns in baskets like these, with one package of buns opened and a closed one right behind for when it’s finished. We also put the drinks in ice a half hour or so before so that it gets the drinks nice and cold even before guests arrive.
Tables and Chairs:
Make a decision if you want to have people sitting nicely around the table or you prefer to have it more relaxed and with seats moving around. Unless we have just one or two families, we generally keep the seating very casual and set chairs up all around the deck and yard, not around the table. We set up some kids chairs and people end up eating all over; some end up on our swing; some on the steps, etc.
Serving Bowls and Spoons:
I hope you live near an Amazing Savings, since it’s the very best pace to buy those items. I feel bad even including an amazon link. We buy different size plastic bowls and spoons for $2-5 and most of them can be washable and used again and again until they crack. We also buy a few clear platters for watermelon and other desserts. Have a lot of 9×13’s on hand for putting the hot food into, also Amazing Savings best.
Adults are happy to just sit and eat, kids need a little more to keep them happy and – frankly – not on top of us :D. I always say, Happy Kids means Happy Parents.
Water activities are a lot of fun to have ready, just make sure to let parents know to have their little ones in bathing suits and have towels ready. Here are 75 water ideas, not all will be appropriate for backyard BBQs but many will and they are great to read through either way! You could also just have things like chalk, balls, jump-rope and some outdoor climbing things ready! Occasionally we will put the fire pit on and make some s’mores – always a big hit with adults AND kids!
We also like to put some music on which I stream from my phone or Amazon Echo. They even have a huge selection of Jewish music or you can play A Capella for the 3 weeks!
You are going to have trash around your yard or BBQ space, it’s inevitable. But a clear garbage can or two will encourage people to throw out their garbage in the right place.
People are going to ask for sunscreen and you may want to spray for bugs to keep them away, so it’s a good idea to have them handy and in a place that people can see it. Avon makes a product that is bug repellent and sunscreen in one!
Start Preparing Food:
We always start with hot dogs first and keep them on the top tray to get indirect heat so they don’t burn. Have sliders or burgers already ready and chicken marinading so you can throw it on when it’s the best time. Also have tongs, a brush cleaner and a couple of tins ready for when the food is all ready to be served.
Everything is set up and you are ready to entertain! We are big believers in having food ready when guests arrive and we anticipate some people coming when we call the BBQ for, especially if we invited a small crowd. Try to have chips (with salsa if interested) and salads on the table for when people arrive hungry and we also recommend having hot dogs ready right away so that people can wash and start the meal right away. Bring out the salads as the first people come so they don’t spend TOO much time outdoors. You are now ready to serve your guests and enjoy the time together!
Please feel free to share YOUR best BBQ tips and I’ll be happy to add them! Happy BBQing!