How to Throw the Perfect 4th of July Cookout

Over 200 million people plan to celebrate Independence Day with a picnic or cookout this year — that’s over 80 times the total amount of U.S. citizens on July 4, 1776. If you’ve decided to toss on your hosting hat for the celebrations, make sure you’re throwing the best patriotic party possible. To do so, we’re here to help with some 4th of July cookout ideas.

Create an Entertaining Space

Shift your outdoor set-up to make sure your invitees are cool and comfortable. It’s hard for guests to enjoy your cookout if they’re stuck balancing a plate on one hand while trying to bee-line food into their mouth as quickly as possible with the other. Don’t leave your friends hanging on tablespace — make sure there’s plenty of room for everyone to eat comfortably.

backyard dinner cookout fireworks

Seating is also crucial for a successful party, so have plenty available and arrange it so guests can eat and socialize comfortably. Line a large table with chairs for a wide-open dining set-up, or create more intimate spaces with a few seats circled around smaller surfaces. Outdoor umbrellas will be everyone’s best friend during the high afternoon heat. Spending a summer day outdoors makes for a great celebration, but it can have its downsides — help party-goers stay protected by having some extra insect repellent and sunscreen on hand.

A fireworks display may be the piéce de résistance of your cookout, but you don’t want to wait until dark to get the party started, so plan entertainment throughout the day. Set up outdoor Bluetooth speakers and create an entertainment focal point for the day. Binge on some of your favorite patriotic films by setting up an outdoor screening area, convert the dining area to a gaming table after your meal, or set up lawn games for those pre-dusk hours.

You need:

  • Plenty of seating and tablespace.
  • Extra shade.
  • Insect repellant and sunscreen.
  • Entertainment like music, outdoor film screenings, or lawn games.

Make Sure Your Menu Has Variety

When you’re looking to throw the perfect party, the last faux pas you want to commit is leaving guests in the lurch due to a lack of food options. You don’t need to travel the all over the state looking for mystical ingredients that seem to exist only on the Internet, but you do need to earnestly consider your guests’ tastes and dietary preferences. You’ve probably already got big plans for brats and burgers, so even out your menu with vegetarian-friendly options and sides that everyone will be thrilled to indulge in, like grilled baked potatoes and impeccably-seasoned corn on the cob. Fill out your toppings station with plenty of options, too. Complement reliable staples like ketchup and mustard with stand-out choices like grilled pineapple slices and artisan pickled vegetables. If you’re planning to tend your own bar, give your guests a shot of freedom by mixing up holiday cocktails alongside those brewskies.

backyard cookout bbq grilling

The good old American cookout has become almost as quintessentially 4th of July as fireworks and flags, so don’t hesitate to think outside the box and keep that grill going past the main course. For dessert, sprinkle your favorite fruits with sugar, wrap them in foil with a pat of butter, and toss them on the grill. After a few minutes, peel open the foil and enjoy the sweet treat within. (Pro tip: Drizzle the fruit over a scoop of ice cream right after you take it off the grill). For something even simpler, cook up an American favorite in a new way by making s’mores on the grill.

Don’t forget about simple essentials that will make everyone’s experience smoother. When it comes to disposable plates and cups, it’s better to overbuy than to end up having to haul the good china out into the backyard. Speaking of disposable cups, it can be hard for guests to keep track of theirs when they all look the same. Have some colorful straws on hand or pass around a Sharpie so people can make their cups easily identifiable. And, please, do yourself a favor and don’t even bother trying to rely on your refrigerator’s ice maker to cover a crowd. Stock up on lots of bagged ice so no one has to endure warm beer or cocktails.

You need:

  • A well-rounded menu.
  • A variety of condiments.
  • Disposable plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Something to help guests keep track of cups.
  • Extra ice.
  • Don’t forget dessert!

Consider the Cleanup

It may not be as fun as planning the cookout itself, but doing some post-party prep will make sure that future you isn’t stuck rehabbing your backyard for the rest of the week. The best thing you can do to save on clean-up time is making sure you have plenty of obvious trash cans. It’s frustrating for both you and your guests if they have to keep asking you where the nearest bin is (not to mention if they don’t bother asking at all and leave their grimy dishes all over the place like monsters). Haul out some big barrel trash cans and put them where most of the day’s action will take place. Don’t have any of those big trash cans? Improvise by tossing trash bags into cardboard boxes so you can just cinch them up and take them to the curb when the party’s over.

backyard party grill fire

Make sure your bathrooms are guest-ready, too. Stock them with clean towels, plenty of soap, and lots of toilet paper. The last thing your guests want to do is spend their Independence Day shouting through the door for emergency supplies.

You need:

  • Well-placed trash cans.
  • A stocked bathroom.

Practice Firework Safety

If you’re planning to set off some sparks during your barbecue, follow a few simple guidelines to keep the night safe and enjoyable for everyone. Before you go shopping for your haul, read up on local laws to find out what types of fireworks are permitted and where you can set them off. A nasty citation (or arrest) can take the wind out of your “hardworking host” sails fast. Find an open outdoor area to stage the show, wear safety glasses while lighting fireworks, and keep a connected hose nearby to handle any errant flames.

Remember that, while the loud flash-bang of fireworks may fill your guests’ hearts with patriotic joy, your pets will mostly just be confused and terrified by giant demon flames exploding from above. Do them a favor and keep them away from the sights and sounds. Don’t forget to soak used fireworks before disposing of them in a metal trash can outdoors. Oh, and we know you’re probably going to toss back a few during the festivities, so keep it safe and wait until after the fireworks show to break into the booze.