Hey everyone!

Summer is finally here!  Am I the only one excited?

Not only is May our first taste of summer, but it’s also National Barbecue Month, so I’m bustin’ out my tongs and heatin’ up the grill.  However, a barbecue can sometimes end up being more stressful than it is fun, at least for the host.  Here are some quick and easy tips to make your barbecues this month special and stress-less.

1) First thing’s first, pick a date and compile a guest list for your big cookout.  Whether you’re hosting a barbecue for a big event, like a birthday, or just a small family or neighborhood get together, knowing how many attendees you will have will streamline your planning process.

2) One way to set your barbecue apart from the pack is to pick a theme.  Stick to the classic All-American BBQ, or try out something new.  Hawaiian Luau, Surf & Turf, or Mexican Fiesta are all great ideas for a theme.  Once you’ve picked a theme, run wild!  You can pick out themed invitations and decorations, plan an appropriate menu, and even dress the part by finding an apron to match your theme.  Picking a theme will push your barbecue to the next level, making your one-of-a-kind barbecue a truly memorable experience for your guests.

3) Create atmosphere.  Believe it or not, it isn’t as hard as it may seem.  You’re halfway there already with your themed decorations.  To add the finishing touches, string up some garden lights for after-dark lighting.  Another great idea is to put some rosemary or bay leaves on the grill as it heats up–natural perfume.

4) Arranging outdoor seating can be a challenge in itself, but there’s no reason to stick with traditional outdoor plastic chairs and tables.  Bring out some of your indoor furniture.  It will create a homey and eclectic feel.  The important thing is to ensure that there will be enough seating for everyone.  You’ll also want to setup tables for food, drinks, and party supplies.

5) It’s all about the food!  Set out snack trays for your guests to eat while awaiting the main menu.  They don’t have to be fancy or filling. As for the main course, even though it is also National Hamburger Month, that doesn’t mean you have to stick to classic burgers.  Chicken, fish, hot dogs, bratwursts, shrimp and steaks are all great seared up on the grill.  To add some zest to your cookout, try marinating your meats before cooking, but keep it simple, there’s no need to overcomplicate it.  Marinating your entree will also keep it from drying out on the grill.  Kabobs are another great menu item.  Try spicing these up by incorporating fruit instead of the classic veggie and protein pairings.  If you are sticking with the classics and serving burgers, why not setup a table of different toppings to offer your guests options?  You could include the classics, but then get a little crazy!  Set out bacon, mushrooms, tomato chutney, jalapeños, chimichurri or barbecue sauce, avocado, and an array of cheeses.  Don’t forget veggie burgers for those vegetarians on your list.

6) To truly simplify your gathering, consider organizing a potluck.  That way your guests can pitch in and each bring their favorite barbecue dish.  Your menu will fill up as guests arrive with appetizers, sides, and desserts!

7) Now that your guests have their food, you’ll want to make sure they have something to wash it down with.  Make sure you have plenty of water and soda available for refreshments.  You could also come up with a creative cocktail that fits in with your theme (or a mocktail if you choose not to serve alcohol at your barbecue).  Flavored lemonades are a great place to start.

8) Finally, make sure you have some entertainment for your guests.  Ideas span from a good playlist to garden games like bocce ball, badminton, and beanbag toss.

Remember, the most important part of any barbecue is to have fun and spend quality time with the people you care about.  I can’t wait to start planning my first barbecue of the season!  I better get started!