Drinks, Decorations, Dessert, and More Ideas to Make Your Next Cookout Your Best Ever

People barbecuing food outside
Photo: Stígur Már Karlsson / Heimsmyndir via Getty Images

Cookouts, backyard barbecues, grilling sessions, or whatever you prefer to call them, require a few essentials—icy cold beverages like lemonade for the little ones and cold beers for obliging adults, burgers and hot dogs and perhaps some grilled portobello mushrooms for the plant-based crowd, a Slip 'N Slide, sprinkler, or other kid-friendly games for cooling off; and something cool and sweet for dessert that everyone will love. These are the makings of a great summer party, but to really make a splash, you should opt for a few upgrades using our cookout ideas.

Hosting a cookout is a mix of planning logistics, those details that keep everyone safe, and planning a menu. We've got a savvy mix of both menu ideas and hosting practicalities to help you take your outdoor entertaining to the next level; creating a special spot in your backyard or on your deck and keeping your guests thirsts quenched, stomachs filled, and sweet tooths satiated.

01 of 10

Stir Up a Summer Punch,

Fizzy Fruit Punch
Nico Schinco

Which one of these punch flavor combinations will be your drink of the summer? Our versatile recipe features three fizzy flavor combinations: cherries and oranges; strawberry, lemon, and guava; or blackberry, lime, and passion fruit. It's the non-alcoholic formula that makes this punch so pleasing and refreshing for everyone; and you can add a splash of white rum or tequila for an adults-only version. Another reason we'll be making this recipe all summer long? It's easy on the host—you can mix the fruit and juices together up to 12 hours ahead of toast time, says recipe developer Riley Wofford.

02 of 10

Use Compostable Tableware

compostable tableware
Angelika Mostova / Getty Images

If you're hosting a casual summer cookout, you're probably not going to bring out your wedding china. So paper plates and disposable flatware it is, right? Not so fast. Stock up on more eco-friendly tableware like compostable paper plates and cutlery, and use linen or cotton napkins and tablecloths, which you can pop in the wash as soon as the party is over.

03 of 10

Grill Something Different...Like Pizza


Forget the hot dogs, who doesn't love a pizza party? Regardless of age or dietary choices, everyone (and we mean everyone!) will get in on the fun of making their own grilled pizzas for dinner. Lay out an assortment of toppings—red sauce, of course; cured meats like pepperoni or prosciutto; assorted cheeses like fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and burrata; plenty of vegetables and fresh herbs galore. Let each guest build their own pizza and then have your grill master cook them until charred.

04 of 10

Keep Mosquitos at Bay…In Style

citronella coil
Courtesy of Crate & Barrel

Anyone who has hosted a summer party knows the power that citronella candles have for deterring bugs like mosquitos, nats, and more. While not unattractive, there are far more stylish options on the market now, like these hanging citronella coils ($18, crateandbarrel.com). As the wood coil burns, it releases a fresh, citrusy fragrance that lets mosquitos know that they're not on the guest list.

05 of 10

Take Your Toppings to the Top

Linda Pugliese

For better burgers, prep homemade roasted red peppers, Instant Pot caramelized onions, relish, and crispy bacon strips in advance. You can make these toppings a few days before the party to reduce time spent in the kitchen day-of and maximize time with your guests.

When it comes to assembling burgers at the cookout, Martha has a stellar tip for serving a crowd: place toasted buns on a baking sheet, then add each layer to build the burgers quickly and easily.

06 of 10

Protect Your Food

Hearth & Hand with Magnolia Mesh & Wood Food Dome
Courtesy of Target

You've made a delicious spread, don't share it with insects and others not on the guest list. To keep flies from your freshly mashed guacamole, grilled chicken, and fruit salad, cover platters and serving bowls with mesh food nets or covers.

07 of 10

Serve Salads, Salads, and More Salads

Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Chickpeas
Ren Fuller

The options are endless and can be overwhelming. When it comes to cookout sides, you can't go wrong with serving the essential summer trio, by which we mean pasta salad, potato salad, and a crunchy green salad.

08 of 10

Soak Melon in Booze, It Just Might Be the Ultimate Summer Refresher

boozy melon fruit in glass bowls
Bryan Gardner

Everyone knows they should eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, so make that easier for your guests by serving watermelon with tequila, cantaloupe with vodka, or honeydew with gin—or all three! They're a decadent, refreshing cocktail-dessert hybrid that's sure to be the talking point of your cookout.

09 of 10

Create a Magical Mood by Draping String Lights

string lights in backyard during dinner
South_agency / Getty Images

Set the scene and illuminate your backyard with Edison string lights draped from shepherd's hooks staked into the grass, creating a pathway to help family and friends navigate their way through your yard.

10 of 10

Stay Cool with a No-Bake Dessert

no-bake ricotta blueberry cheesecake
Alpha Smoot

If you can't bear the thought of turning on your oven on an already hot day, plan ahead for dessert and prep popsicles, no-bake cheesecake, ice cream, or fruity trifles in advance for dessert—in addition to s'mores, which are a cookout must.

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