How to Plan a Cookout

hot dogsYou don't need to have a reason for a cookout but summer holidays and social get-togethers top the list for firing up the grill. Cooking out is perfect for Memorial Day, Father's Day, the 4th of July, Labor Day, graduations, birthdays, and family reunions taking place in the warm summer months.

This page will give you ideas and handy tips for planning a cookout for small groups and large crowds. The great thing about outdoor parties is that everyone gets to enjoy nature and there's plenty of room for games and activities. Whatever your event, careful planning and organization will ensure that your cookout successful and fun.


Before you plan anything else, you will need to decide where to have your cookout. Your own backyard is probably the first option that comes to mind but if you don't have the space or accommodations, there are other alternative locations to consider. Think about parks, campgrounds, or even on the street if you're having a block party.

You should keep in mind other factors as well. What are the park or facility hours? Are large groups allowed? Can you serve alcohol? Is there shelter nearby? Can you set up a large tent or canopy? Is there a barbeque pit available or can grills be hauled in? Once all of your questions are answered, you'll be able to make a decision that's practical and favorable for your cookout.


First, you will need to create the guest list for your cookout. This is necessary for determining how many invitations and how much food to buy. Whether homemade or store bought, your invitations should compliment the theme of your party and provide all pertinent information, such as who, what, where, when, and why. Also include any alternate locations (if it rains) and if guests need to bring their own food or beer. Add in a R.S.V.P. card (with a return date) if you need to know in advance just who will be able to attend.

Food for Grilling Out

Take into consideration the facilities when planning your menu. Keep it as simple as possible if you're on a limited budget. Let friends and family members bring side dishes or chips. Borrow bowls, coolers, and slow cookers if necessary. Some appliances, tents, and canopies can be rented. Remember to handle food safely to avoid illness. The last thing you want is anyone getting sick!

Meat - Burgers and hot dogs are always popular and cost less than steak, bbq ribs, pork chops, chicken, and fish. Of course, for sandwiches you will need to provide buns and steaks will require knives for cutting. Don't put barbeque sauce on everything. Some adults and many children don't care for the flavor. Don't forget condiments. Ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise, and pickles are all important for a complete meal.

Side dishes - Choose picnic foods to compliment the meal. If you ask every family to bring something, you will have a good variety of side dishes and lots to eat. Salads with potatoes and pasta are common and easy to transport. Additional ideas for side dishes are beans, chips, dip, vegetables, stuffed mushrooms, scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, and corn on the cob.

Remember that you will need to keep the hot food hot and the cold food cold. You can do this with crock pots, food warmers, coolers, and large bowls filled with ice (to put smaller bowls in.) A food thermometer will help you monitor the temperatures.

Desserts - Fresh fruit such as watermelon, cantaloupe, and strawberries can double as side dishes and dessert. Pie, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, popsicles, Jello, and patriotic cake are sweet desserts that can be served after the main meal but should be available right away for those who finish eating first. A real treat is homemade ice cream if you have the ingredients and plenty of ice.

Beverages - Keep cans and bottles in coolers. Punch and kool-aid can be mixed in advance and kept cool in milk jugs or pitchers. If you make them on the spot, add ice to cool instantly. Using a punch bowl is not recommended for remote areas because sweet beverages will attract bugs quickly. Drinks will need to be contained and cool.

Cookout Tips

  • Keep grills away from the tables and children away from the grills. Check the wind to make sure that smoke will not blow towards guests.
  • Check the fuel in the grill(s) long before you begin cooking to avoid delays.
  • Start cooking the meat before guests arrive and keep it warm to get a head start.
  • Prepare all possible food in advance to avoid being overwhelmed at the last minute. marinate meat overnight or hours before cooking for flavor and tenderness.
  • Remember that cookies, pie, and cake can be frozen -- either in advance or after the party for tasty leftovers.
  • Bring plenty of trash bags and have all garbage cans lined for easy cleanup. Label them if you need to keep paper, aluminum, glass, and plastics separate.
  • Plan some outdoor games to keep your party active. Designate areas for kids and make sure there is adult supervision.
  • Ice sells out quickly on hot summer weekends and holidays. If you have the freezer space, buy it in advance. If not, then reserve it or check with store owners to see how much they think will be available. To avoid a crisis, you may need to assign one or two persons for "ice" duty.
  • Leave all park areas and campgrounds just as you found them. This means a complete cleanup afterwards.