As summer approaches, my mind starts to drift toward lazy afternoons with neighborhood friends, the smell of charred burgers on the grill, kids throwing water balloons in the yard, and a cool drink in my hand. But while I love the idea of summer BBQs, the reality of planning and hosting a BBQ can be a little bit stressful.
Does this sound familiar?
Me: “Hey, we should have some people over to BBQ this weekend.
Husband: “Sure. We’ll keep it really simple, right? Just toss some burgers and hotdogs on the grill?”
Me: “Yes, I definitely want to keep things simple. Can’t wait!”
Me: “OMG, why did we think this would be a good idea? Quick — you need to power wash the patio and repaint the house, and I need to go to the store for some more decorations. Do you think five side dishes is enough? Should I buy special color-coordinated straws for the lemonade? We’re out of ketchup?!! Let’s cancel it and tell everyone we’re sick!!”
Husband: “You’re crazy.”
The thing is, a summer BBQ can be relaxing and super easy to put together if you PLAN AHEAD and you KEEP IT SIMPLE! I’ve put together a guide to planning a BBQ that will be completely delicious and guest-worthy, and also stress-free for you.
The first part of planning a great BBQ menu is making sure that the various dishes you serve are going to complement each other and be well balanced. You want to avoid overloading on one ingredient (ie: fruit or cheese in multiple dishes) or serving conflicting cuisines (ie: Greek chicken skewers with a Mexican taco salad). I like to have a balance of light and hearty dishes so that everyone can be satisfied without feeling overstuffed.
A simple summer BBQ menu should have about 6 elements:
- main protein
- veggie-based side
- starchy side
- special drink
You don’t need to offer four or five side dishes to go with whatever you’re throwing on the grill, nor do you need eight varieties of chips and three desserts. It’s one thing if you’re hosting a huge potluck with tons of people, but if you’re having a basic BBQ with a handful of friends or family members, there’s no need for everyone to have a ton of different things on their plates.
When I refer to a “special drink,” it just means something other than water that’s a little bit fun and festive. It could be a signature adult beverage, or a kid-friendly homemade lemonade or fruit punch. It’s an easy way to make your BBQ feel special without going overboard and spending tons of money on a huge assortment of beverages.
It’s also important to make sure that you’re not biting off more than you can chew, or in this case, cook. On Wednesday night it might seem like a fantastic idea to make custom salmon burgers, homemade potato salad, from-scratch brownies, a signature cocktail, a 7-layer dip, and fruit kabobs, but if you commit to all of that that, you can guarantee you’ll be regretting it when BBQ day rolls around.
Make sure that only TWO of the things in your menu require any major effort on your part. That means everything else should either be pre-made (store bought) or outsourced to one of your guests. For instance, if your main course is going to be hotdogs and hamburgers, it’s OK to make a homemade potato salad and a dessert, but if you want to actually enjoy your BBQ, don’t try to “do it all.”
And don’t be afraid to pass some of the work onto others! Planning your menu ahead makes outsourcing MUCH easier to do. In the past, I’ve been notorious for telling people not to bring anything over when I’m making a meal. But it was NOT because I didn’t want or need any help; it was because I didn’t have a menu plan in place and so I had no clue what to tell them to bring.
Here are some sample menus I put together to help you guys out with your summer BBQ needs. And, since everybody’s tastes are different, I’ve also created a PRINTABLE MENU PLANNER which will help you to plan your menu, create a shopping list of the ingredients you’ll need, and make sure you don’t forget some of the most commonly needed extras for your BBQ, such as condiments, napkins, and ice. (We ALWAYS forget the ice).
Summer BBQ Menu #1:
- 7-layer dip
- hotdogs & hamburgers
- orzo salad
- hand-held guacamole
- *tropical iced tea (for adults, my special iced tea with peach vodka)
- chocolate peanut butter heaven
Summer BBQ Menu #2:
Summer BBQ Menu #3:
- deviled eggs
- mesquite grilled chicken
- foil-packet potatoes
- spicy cucumber salad
- basil lemonade
- strawberry shortcake kabobs
*My favorite way to make tropical iced tea is to combine unsweetened tea with tropical fruit juice. It’s so easy, and everybody loves it!
I hope this can help take some of the stress out of BBQ planning. If you’re looking for more menu ideas or BBQ recipes, you can visit my Summer BBQ Recipes board on Pinterest for more inspiration.
Remember, the whole point of entertaining is to gather together and enjoy good company, so don’t worry about every little detail. Just make some plans, light up the grill, and enjoy your people!