The elegance of yesteryear’s garden party has evolved into the more casual backyard barbecue. In this guide, we’ll talk about how to throw the ultimate backyard barbecue with a touch of class.
Back in the day, barbecues were a family affair. When they were first introduced in the early 1960s, they were a weekend treat on a hot summer day. Dads would stand by the kettle grill and barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers for the family as the kids ran through the sprinkler or frolicked in the pool. Mom would make her homemade iced tea inside and come out to enjoy time with the family when dad called out that dinner was ready. Plaid plastic tablecloths covered the wooden picnic table and dinner was enjoyed by the family.
When it came to entertaining guests, parties were more formal and for the upper echelons of society, the food consisted of fresh seafood and the event was referred to as a garden party rather than a barbecue.
Then suburban life took over, and neighbours began to throw block parties. Streets were shut down, and fireworks set off. The kids on the block played baseball in the street while the moms sipped cocktails and the dads stood in front of the handful of grills cooking hamburgers for everyone on the street. Soon these barbecue-style events were regular occurrences in most cities. Local sports teams enjoyed fellowship over a team barbecue, companies got together for barbecues and soon people began to throw them for any reason at all, in an effort to spend quality time with friends or extended family. Today the tradition continues, and the backyard barbecue is something many of us look forward to each summer.
To host a barbecue, all you really need is a grill, a lighting source — like propane or charcoal, or the combination of both gas and charcoal. It can be as simple as hamburgers and hotdogs or as lovely as fresh lobster and oysters.
However, if you really want to throw a great barbecue, you may want to consider the following items, in addition to the food, plates, cups and cutlery:
Consider playing some good old-fashioned tunes over outdoor speakers. Anything from classic rock to southern blues and jazz works well for a barbecue. Get creative and even give up some control to your guests.
As the sun goes down, you may want to consider some mood lighting. Twinkle lights strung overhead offer a touch of elegance, but a good old-fashioned bonfire is a great way to enjoy the company of your guests while roasting s’mores or hotdogs.
Alcoholic Beverages & Mocktails for the Kids
Whether it’s cold beer, frozen margaritas or the preppy G&T, having a selection of alcoholic beverages is a great way to loosen up and enjoy the evening. If you have kids at the barbecue, consider a non-alcoholic specialty drink or fun punches they can enjoy.
Craft Breweries are all the rage lately and if you can find a good local brewery to enjoy a beverage from, then even better. We love the Town Square Brewing Co located in South East Edmonton. Their Growlers are a great option when hosting a large group and their rotating taps mean you'll always find a new variety to try out.
If counting calories is important to you, there are a number of low calorie beverages on the market. Some of the large brands out of the US have been marketing to fitness enthusiasts for years and their products are now becoming available in Canada. We like to support Canadian brands when possible and Nütrl Vodka Soda is a wildly light, easy drinking, totally refreshing, sugar free, additive free, 5% alcohol, ready to drink, premium craft vodka refresher. It’s the perfect change up from the usual sugary-sweet cooler.
Games for the Kids and Adults
Sometimes the best barbecues are just great conversations around the table, but other times it’s the games that are the most fun. This is especially useful if there are kids at the party. A piñata, ring toss game or just a few balls to throw and kick around are all you need. Even an impromptu game of touch football is a great way to bond with your friends and family.
Tips to Reduce Workload and Stress
Here are a few tips to reduce your workload so you can have fun and engage with your guests:
- Try to prep as much ahead of time so you can pull it out as needed.
- Consider batch cocktails or bottled drinks for your guests so you’re not stuck behind the bar and don’t have to worry about having different types of glassware.
- Often the main dishes that take the most effort are the easiest to step away from during the event. A brisket or suckling pig can be started in advance and as long as you check on it, you’ll be fine. Hamburgers, on the other hand, require your constant supervision at the grill during the event.
- Plastic and paper plates are the easiest for cleanup if you’re hosting an informal barbecue.
- Consider buying salads, sides and desserts rather than making them.
- If you need to rent extra tables and chairs, rent from a company that will set them up and remove them for you whenever possible.
- To set the mood and prevent awkward introductions, consider playing music over loudspeakers such as reggae, West Coast jazz, country, rock or the blues. This way you aren’t stuck trying to get people talking as they arrive and there won’t be any awkward silences where the only sound is the crickets.
- Using candles and torches will help to keep insects and animals away.
- Weather permitting; consider setting up the yard the day before or early that morning so you have time to rest before the party begins.
- Try to get all the food prepped and plated in advance. Even if it has to be cooked last minute, cutting and measuring ingredients in advance will save you time.
- Considering hiring a yard service to mow, rake and prepare your yard so you don’t have to.
Types of Food to Serve
The options are endless. If it can go on the grill, you can make it. From hamburgers and hot dogs to steaks, lobster, brisket and even pizza, there are no limits.
Try to source local products and the services provides by businesses in your own back yard. Not only are you supporting a small business in your community, but often the choices will be fresher having travelled less distance to make it to your plate. Also consider time saving options like meal prep services who create amazing meals or provide all the ingredients for you including recipes to make the dishes.
For an event we hosted for the YEG Fitness team for our Canada Day BBQ, we worked with Chef's Plate. Chefs Plate is the #1 meal kit delivery company in Canada and since their launch in 2014, they have been on a mission to create meaningful human connections through food. We had an easy to prepare turkey burger and vegetable skewers that were both healthy and great tasting.
How Much to Make
People enjoy eating at barbecues, so it’s a good plan to offer numerous sides and snacks. Even a few bags of potato chips go a long way, as do salads and appetizers. Ice cream, popsicles, and cookies for kids are great ways to keep their energy up and fill them up after dinner so they’re not begging for snacks.
Typically, if you’re serving one main dish that’s slightly pricier, you want to ensure there is one full serving for each person plus a few extras. This applies to steaks, seafood, fish and meat sandwiches.
If you’re serving casual fare, two servings are best, and it never hurts to make extra. Since hot dogs and hamburgers take such little time to grill, you can even ask what each person wants when they arrive.
Then, simply give them extra sides like potato salad, coleslaw, other salads, baked beans, potato chips, or more elegant sides like oysters, crab or shrimp cocktails.
When it comes time to hosting a barbecue, having a list of menu items is something worth taking the time to create. Not only does it help keep you more organized, but once you determine which recipes you want to use, it will help save money grocery shopping by giving you a complete list of ingredients you’ll need. That way, you won’t be running through the aisles at your grocery store like a mad man without a map.
Like any meal, it helps to offer a range of items from the various food groups. If you have kids at the BBQ, make sure the food is kid friendly. As always, try to incorporate healthy organic food options in the menu when possible. We like working with Blush Lane Organic Market for our BBQ's and always make sure to include their all beef organic hot dogs and burgers.
Traditional Barbecue Menu
- Potato Chips
- Kettle Corn
- Fruit and Vegetable Tray
- Hamburgers (consider regular or stuffed burgers)
- Smokies, Hotdogs or Sausages
- Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- Suckling Pig
- Diced onions & condiments
- Cheeses (cheddar, swiss, mozzarella)
- Pickled hot peppers
- BBQ Sauce
- Hot Sauce
- Buns (hot dog, hamburger, kaiser, brioche)
- Potato Salad
- Macaroni Salad
- Caesar Salad
- Grill-fired Peppers
- Baked Beans
- Louisiana Corn on the Cob
- Ice Cream Sundaes
- Cotton Candy
- Apple Pie
- Iced Tea
- Cold Beer
- Ice Water
- Soft Drinks
This is a fairly standard menu for any barbecue. It’s inexpensive to create and gives the host many options to add or delete items as needed. It’s important to remember that any items containing dairy or eggs should be kept on ice or refrigerated until they’re ready to be used.
Although the main dishes should ideally be cooked on the grill, sides like salads, baked beans and even desserts can be bought at the store to save time and money which allows you to engage with your guests rather than be stuck in the kitchen. A simple scoop of the salad into a bowl is all it takes to give your guests a great backyard barbecue experience.