Planning a BBQ

Planning a BBQ doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you are planning a large cookout, such as a graduation party, engagement party or any other large celebration, my advice would be to plan. Put the pencil to the paper, well really iPencil to iPad in my case and start making a list. Planning alone can take the stress off of you, the host/hostess.

Where to Start

Here are a few simple questions to get you thinking in the right direction:
  • How many expected to attend? (10-25) (25-50) or (50+)
  • Will others be contributing to the meal?
  • Will this be a more casual event or upscale casual?
From these few questions, you can getting a plan of action together.


Once you’ve determined the answers to the questions above, the next would be invitations, if necessary. If it’s casual and you have a high number of invitees and just want to send something and have an easy way to track RSVPs, is a free, easy option. If you are doing custom invitations, allow processing time. Also, depending on where you live, determine the plan for inclimate weather. Here in Oklahoma, it can be VERY unpredictable!
Next, paper goods. If it’s casual, best bulk prices will be Sam’s or Costco. Remember your will need plates, napkins, utensils, and cups. Don’t forget dessert plates if dessert requires a plate or bowl. This is an item to check off your list early in the planning stages. If you are asking for guests to bring something, paper goods are always a great item to have available for those who do not enjoy cooking or are on a time crunch. Most guests will want to contribute when it is a casual gathering.

Ideas of What to Cook/Serve




  • Pulled Pork – Large group/all sizes (Adults & Children) (All events-Reunion)
  • Hamburgers – Small/Medium group (Adults & Children) (Block party)
  • Hot Dogs/Sausage – All sizes (Children) (birthday party or summer get together)
  • Chicken – Small/Medium group (Adults & Children) (graduation/baby shower)
  • Steaks/Pork Chops – Small group (Adults) (small engagement party or small group)
  • Brisket – All sizes (Adults & Children) (all events/rehearsal dinner)
  • Pork Tenderloin – All sizes (Adults & Children)
  • Kabobs (Small) (Adults) 
The number of attendees will help you determine what to cook. For a larger crowd (50+) such as a reunion, smoked pork butt is an easy choice. You can smoke several ahead of time and pull it for pulled pork sandwiches. However, if this is more of an upscale casual cookout (engagement party, rehearsal dinner, etc.), Sam’s Club sells pork tenderloins that grills and tastes surprisingly well. Through various sources it is suggested to roughly plan on a half pound of meat per person.
For the medium to large group (25-50), grilling/smoking a brisket and shredding it to put on baked potatoes make it an easy way to feed this size of gathering. You can baked the potatoes 3-4 hours before guests arrive and store them in a cooler lined with towels and cover the potatoes and shut the lid to keep them warm until serving time (trust me, this really works!). For a laid back get together, throw a bunch of hotdogs and sausages on the grill. Hot dogs cook quickly and keep your time at the grill to a minimum.
The smallest group really allows a lot of creative and fun ideas to be a reality. For the casual gathering hamburgers are much easier to handle with a small group. Grilling chicken breasts or kabobs are ideal options for your more upscale casual gathering.


If you are providing the full meal, making sides a couple days ahead of time will be a huge time saver. Some make-ahead suggestions:

  • Broccoli slaw
  • Potato salad
  • Coleslaw
  • Pasta salad
Most, if not all of these dishes are actually better after sitting for a day or two. Another option is to utilize your slow cooker for baked beans or our personal favorite cream corn.
Cream Corn
Fill your slow cooker with as much corn as your need or want
Add a stick or two of butter
1 package of cream cheese
½-full cup of some half-n-half or heavy cream
salt and pepper.
Let sit on low for several hours or high for a few, but stir often until everything is melted and mixed together.
A green salad is quick to assemble early on the day of your event. Remember not to dress it until close to serving time to prevent a soggy salad.
Watermelon wedges are a cookout staple! Plus, tell your guests to save their seeds and have a watermelon seed spitting contest! Having fruit available is something guests will munch on throughout the gathering.
Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring something to share. With a casual event, it’s not uncommon to ask guests to bring something to share. A free simple online tool called allows your guests to sign up for a side.  You can designate what is needed, it’s very flexible to tailor it to your needs.  This will help your planning if you are having a large gathering. If it’s casual, roll the dice and see what arrives!


Don’t forget the condiments! Whatever you are serving condiments will determine what will be needed. Here are some of the most used items:
  • Ketchup
  • Mayo
  • Mustard
  • BBQ sauce
  • Pickles
  • Onions
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Cheese
  • Jalapeños
  • Ranch Dressing 


Don’t let your desserts stump you! A cooler full of popsicles or individual ice cream cups are a handy way to let guests serve themselves. Remember, you can never go wrong on a large, store-bought sheet cake…because who doesn’t like sheet cake?!? But if homemade is more your style, cakes and cobblers go a long way as well. For a smaller casual event with kids, ice cream sundaes are a crowd pleaser….don’t forget the maraschino cherries!


Water bottles, canned drinks and juice boxes/pouches in a galvanized tub or ice chest is an easy way to avoid cups and ice. Iced tea and lemonade in a self serve pitcher or dispenser is simple, yet can dress up a table. Have an ice chest with ice and a couple of scoops available to prevent guests using their hands. Don’t hesitate to make it a BYOB, it’s a fun way to learn about a new beer/wine or cocktail, and it’s great conversation starter. If you are providing beer or cocktails, depending on the number of guests limit it to 2-4 different beers/wines and 2-4 different liquors with mixers. Don’t forget the bottle opener and corkscrew!


Of course, you can rely on the traditional corn hole, washers or horseshoes (see our Yard Games article). Though volleyball, is a great way to involve a lot of people at one time.  Grab that outdoor speaker and play some music and start dancing! For the kiddos, break out the hula hoops, potato sacks for races, or yard darts. And don’t forget those watermelon seeds and have a watermelon seed spitting contest.

Final Execution


More than 1 week out

  • Invites (if necessary…mail at least 2 weeks before event date)
  • Purchase paper goods
  • Menu plan
  • Purchase decorations
  • Games (yard games)
  • Get coolers out and clean them to use
  • Extra equipment necessary

1 Week or less

  • Grocery shop (4 days out would be sufficient)
  • Make ahead dishes (1-2 days ahead)
  • Desserts (night before)
  • Gather tables/chairs
  • Prepare activities
  • Marinate meat (1-2 days before)

Day of

  • Cook meat, if cooking ahead of time, maybe even night before
  • Same days sides (slow cooker sides)
  • Set up/Decorations
  • Enjoy your gathering and guests!


Some events to call for planning such as an engagement party, family reunion, rehearsal dinner or a surprise birthday party. These are ideas to help your begin your planning. We also want to emphasize that you don’t have to plan something elaborate to enjoy the fellowship of friends and family. I want to encourage you to grab meat at the store and call some friends for a last minute get together, sometimes those are the best! No decorations, no prep work, just enjoy the company. Too many times we put off what we want to do because we still have work to do in our backyard or the house needs painting. Things will never reach perfection, so have that backyard bbq anyway. I guarantee the time spent with friends and/or family will most definitely outshine what work needs to be done.
Happy Grilling!
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Brian Canada

Brian Canada

Founder and creator of Big Grillin. Since early adulthood, Brian has enjoyed grilling and smoking a variety of foods. Brian’s mission is to share his grilling knowledge and help others enjoy grilling as much as he does.

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