Southern style, all American, backyard barbeque. That's what we are looking for here - if you do this right, you will be able to hear the screen door slam and the cooling of the apple pie on the windowsill. This is probably one of the EASIEST parties to have - everything but the grilling is make ahead, your décor can be incredibly simple and fun, and it doesn't have to be a fancy party - it's one of the times that paper napkins and plastic silverware are okay! You can play a Theme into this party for some additional fun, or you can just have a barbeque for some friends and family and have some informal, stress-free fun.
What is your "Party Picture"? A backyard Bar-B-Q
- A backyard session with the grill is casual entertaining at its best. Typically, if you have an apron on and are firing up your favorite burgers or cuts of meat, you typically aren't holding fine stemware filled with champagne. Ice cold beer, sweet tea, mojitos, mint juleps… informal conversation and the low beat of Jimmy Buffet in the background… The elements of a party are all still here, it's all just a little slower and a little easier. Here are some inspirations:
- A grill and meat! You can be traditional and have burgers and hot dogs, you can upscale it with steaks, you can toss in some ethnic with a Mojo infused pork or tandoori marinated chicken. The flavor of the food is dependent only on the tastes of you and your guests, and your pocketbook!
- Red and white checked tablecloths and napkins or butcher paper and crayons
- Sunflowers, daisies, black-eyed susans
- Sweet Tea with a sprig of mint or lemonade in mason jars
- Ice cold beer, mint juleps, mojitos, Long Island Iced Tea, Dirty Lemonade (lemonade splashed with Sprite and Vodka)
- Terracotta flower pots to hold napkins and silverware.
- Watermelon A backyard Bar-B-Q
- Coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, macaroni salad, fresh veggies and fruit
- Apple pie with vanilla ice cream and caramel
- Fun colors that are vibrant and energetic
- Volleyball, badminton, croquet, horseshoes, beach balls, frisbee, football, bubbles - just wander the outdoor toys section of your local toy store. Chances are, if it's available to your guests, they'll have a little fun playing with it!
- This is a great party to make a potluck! You supply the meat and drinks, and let your guests fill in with sides and deserts! If they don't cook they can bring some chips and store bought dip, and if they do cook, well you'll end up with a fun variety of food. If you have a big family or a big group of friends and like to get together this is a great way to allow routine entertaining without breaking anyone's bank.
- Have a flower pot or sand bucket filled with outdoor supplies - bug repellant, suntan lotions with varying SPFs, hand sanitizer, etc.
- Pre-spray your yard with a mosquito repellant or have other mosquito/bug repelling mechanisms in place so that your guests are comfortable.
- Consider a misting system if you are in warm months - they significantly increase the comfort level and are not very expensive!
- Double check your grill the day before. Do you have enough propane? Charcoal? Is it clean? No matter how great the steaks you've bought, they won't be enjoyed if you run out of grill fuel or your guests see you toss them onto a rusty, crusted over grate!
- Create a plan for serving food - because so much of this is serve ahead, and you have additional issues when presenting food outside - be well organized so that you minimize the opportunity for food to begin to spoil or bugs to invade.
- If your party will last into the evening, have fun with lighting. Tiki torches, white christmas lights wrapped around railings and trees, candles on the tables, japanese lanterns strung above - there are a ton of fun options that keep the lighting soft and informal.
- Now, if you REALLY want to dress up this barbeque, there are a number of Themes that are a perfect match. You can have a luau, a Spanish fiesta, a traditional Americana feel, a Hoe Down, a beach theme, or give it a Southern feel. These themes can be informal and work with an outdoor setting involving a grill. These are only a few examples. Consider what you would like to serve, the music you'd like listen to, and consider whether you can incorporate a theme that would work!Have space indoors and out - so that guests can flow between both. Make sure your outdoor space has shading during daylight hours.
A backyard Bar-B-Q
Typically a backyard barbeque is an informal event. Your invitations should reflect that. You may just call your friends/family and follow-up with a fun electronic invitation, or you can have a little fun and send something that creates a little buzz. You can send a note card, or get a little silly - it's really up to you! Because this is probably an afternoon/evening weekend event, try to give guests a couple weeks notice. You will be asking them to pencil in a weekend day and evening which most of us really have to plan for! Follow up with a reminder a week before the event.
A backyard Bar-B-Q invites
Note, if you are making this a potluck, let your guests know what you will be providing for the meat and drinks. This will allow them to get creative with their sides and help keep everything cohesive. If your main entrée s inspired by a specific ethnicity or region, let your guests know so that they can continue the theme.
- A red and white checked napkin with a white card with a whimsical border reading "We're grilling ribs - bring your appetite and a napkin!"
- A picture of you or your spouse with a beer and spatula in front of the grill - "Meat. Fire. Good!"
Decorations - A couple of balloons or the whole enchilada, it's up to you! A backyard Bar-B-Q
Because the typical backyard barbeque is informal, there's really no rules about how much, or how little you have to dress up your space. If this is a routine get together during the hot summer months, chances are, besides your normal lighting and table you may not add much to the décor. Or, if this is your annual summer bash, you may have a lot of fun dressing everything up. There are a few constants that can be helpful for outdoor spaces - however, from there you can have fun with themes, or just stay traditional Americana/Southern charm!
- Take care of lawn maintenance a few days BEFORE your event. Fresh cut grass and plants may leave guests with allergies uncomfortable and ill. If you need to water, do it first thing in the morning so that everything is dry before guests walk through your grass or over surfaces that may be slippery when wet. If you are going to treat your yard in any way - bug repellant, fertilizer, etc., do it well in advance so that you don't have chemicals that could contact sensitive skin of adults and kids. Mosquito treatment should be done at least 4 days in advance and lawn pesticide/fertilizer at least a week in advance, and ensure it's well watered in before your party.
- Consider your lighting. If your event will go past sunset, have a plan to light up your outdoor space. Wrap white christmas lights or rope lights around railings, patio umbrellas, trees, etc. Light some tiki torches around your perimeter (keep kids and safety in mind!) Hang some colorful paper lanterns over your party space. Have candles on the surfaces, and try to kill two birds with one stone by having your candles also be mosquito repelling! If you are going to incorporate a couple of brighter lights, try to place them a little ways from guests and foods as those bright lights will probably attract the bug life that inhabits your yard.
- Seating - this isn't a cocktail party so guests will need to sit. If you don't have enough patio furniture then get creative. Have blankets and towels available for picnic space on your lawn (have a few pillows that you can clean later for added comfort). Have portable chairs available, and have kids sized seats available so that your small guests don't take up adult sized chairs. If you will still not have enough ask to borrow some! Set up seating throughout your space so that guest movement flows as people mingle. Have space indoors for guests who aren't comfortable outside for long periods of time.
- There are very few places that don't have some sort of bug that likes to visit a barbeque. If you will be serving food outside, consider setting up a screen room to minimize uninvited guests!
- Incorporate items into your décor that can also be fun. For example, line your tables with butcher paper and add small tins of crayons will have even adult guests having fun - doodling or playing tic tac toe with another guest. Or have a couple of inexpensive containers of bubbles at each sitting area.
- Use your food as part of the setting. A wonderful watermelon fruit boat is both colorful and tasty! Also, consider fun condiment servers - old fashioned containers or whimsical figures!
Tablescapes - Your tables are your prime real estate, maximize the effect! A backyard Bar-B-Q
- The Table: The informal setting of a backyard barbeque, and the limitations of requiring hot meat off the grill make this type of party perfect for a buffet. This also allows your party to last longer without the need to constantly attend to appetizers or entrees. However, plan to keep hot stuff hot and cool stuff cool - here are some tips:
- Cold stuff - Purchase an under-the-bed plastic storage bin - seem less hard plastic, tupperware type material. Take a plastic disposable tablecloth and line the inside, wrapping around and tucking under the bin - so it's completely covered and goes with the décor. Line the bottom with ice and sprinkle with salt (about 1 cup of coarse salt). Set in bowls of items that need to be chilled. Fill with more ice, ensuring that the ice level is not higher than the rim of the bowl. Add about one gallon of water. Note, a ice holding container can be used for smaller or fewer items.
- Cold stuff - For items that are larger - such as a large bowl of macaroni or potato salad, try and chill from WITHIN as well as below. Depending on the size of your bowl, grab a plastic beverage bottle that will reach nearly to the top and remove any labels and clean the outside with hot sudsy water. Rinse and fill the water leaving about 2 inches at the top. Tightly seal the cap and freeze. Place upright in the bowl you will be filling and then add your food item around the water bottle. This will provide a chilling source within the food item as well as below.
- Hot stuff - purchase inexpensive disposable chafing dish, or a reusable one that will cost a little more but can be used every time you entertain! You can also have a dish on a warming plate, just watch were you put the cord so you don't have guests tripping! Having a heating source allows you to set out food from the grill and keep it warm until it's eaten.
Refreshments - The heart of the party, amusingly, is the stomach! A backyard Bar-B-Q
Backyard barbeque… um well, let's serve fire cooked meat! Depending on where you live, what you like, what your friends like, the possibilities are endless. Have at least two items just in case there are preferences - and if there are going to be kids, always toss on some all beef hot dogs. My family likes burgers, brats and an upstate New York dish called "Speedies". When we lived in California the standard barbecue fair was a cut of meat called "Tri-Tip". Now that we live in the south, we've discovered the amazing world of ribs and barbeque chicken… You can add an ethnic spin as well - it's really up to you. There are wonderful cookbooks and even television shows dedicated to the art of the grill. NOTE - if you are going to get adventurous, TRY IT IN ADVANCE. Never practice on your guests!
Sides and deserts - keep it simple, and plan to have items that are made in advance. For a backyard barbeque, with the exception of the grill - if YOU are cooking during your party - well, you simply aren't the brightest citronella candle on the table! There are so many sides that can be made ahead and are served cold, are need nothing more than a quick turn in the oven - there's no need for any cooking except grilling!
Try to incorporate fresh veggies and fruit where possible. One of the great things about summer is that virtually everything is in season!
Fresh Fruit and Dip: Take a LARGE container of marshmallow fluff and whip together with one package of light cream cheese. I know, it sounds strange, but it's WONDERFUL. Place in the center of a large serving tray and surround with bit sized chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, berries, and marshmallows. This is, to put it simply, like liquid cheesecake on top of fresh sweet fruit!
When you are entertaining informally in your backyard, the typical "entertainment" may not fit your event. If it's your once a year summer bash, then adding some entertainment may be just what you are looking for. Either way, consider the following:
- If you want to hire an entertainer, consider something that will appeal to all of your guests. If there are kids, include them in your planning. Would a caricature artist be fun? What about renting a bounce house or inflatable slide? Would a clown or magician spice up your event? Peruse the vendors in your area and see what may spark your curiosity and fit your event.
- If you are in your backyard, remember, although it's informal, it's still a good idea to have activities in place that will energize and entertain your guests. Can you set up a net for badminton or volleyball? What about a horseshoe ring? Even frisbee or bubbles can be fun. Then there are the games you played when you were young - hide and seek, blind mans bluff, kick the can… I was amazed to discover that adults like to play too! A few years ago my husband and I agreed to play a game of hide and seek with our young children while our guests were enjoying the sunshine and lemonade. Well, within a few minutes the adults were all playing, and when we finally stopped, we discovered the kids inside watching TV!
- Even though your event is outside, don't forget music! Select something that will appeal to a majority of your guests and won't compete with conversation. Plug in your MP3 player to some speakers and have your system set up to play music that will have guests toe tapping and singing along. The Big Chill and the Big Chill 2, as well as the Dirty Dancing soundtracks (1 & 2 ) or Jimmy Buffets greatest hits are good choices when you have a mixture of age groups and generations.
A backyard Bar-B-Q