Summer is the time to have cookouts with family and friends but it can be stressful for many when planning. The key is planning ahead and setting up beforehand. The menu is obviously the biggest part to plan and whether you will be having others bring parts of the menu.
A small gathering can be invited by phone while a larger group may need invitations by mail or e-mail and dates for the RSVP. Make sure you have plenty of time if an RSVP is required. The last thing you want is to have the reply date 2 days before the event. If your cookout includes others bringing some of the food, make sure you know what they are bringing so you do not get 5 potato salads. Once the menu has been decided, start the planning of set up. What will you need to put outside? Make sure you include a trash receptacle for your guests and if your cookout includes kids, have a separate cooler of drinks for them. A great idea for kids is to also have a marker so they can put their initials on their drink. More drinks get opened and not consumed because they forget which one is theirs. It also helps prevent germs to be spread. Check your gas or charcoal supply the week before the event. Nothing could be worse than having that go out while you are preparing the food.
The shopping list should include all the items needed, but you can shop for many of the items in advance such as paper products, soft drinks, bottled water, and other drinks not requiring refrigeration as soon as you get them home. Shop for the food you will need 2 days before your event. This gives you time to make sure you have everything and time to go back for those things forgotten. Prepare anything you can the day before the event. Many deserts and salads can be made a day ahead. IF your dinner includes hamburgers, hot dogs, or sausages, make the patties and take the links out of their packaging the morning of and place on a platter. Cover the platter and it is ready for your cook.
Set up the items that can be set up early in the morning such as a tent, chairs, tables, and the placement of the coolers. Put your condiments in a basket in the fridge so you can quickly grab them when it is time. Pick out all the baskets or serving pieces for your cookout. Place the bag in the basket and then right before your guests arrive your just open the bag and dump. Cut any vegetables for serving in the morning so they are easy to place on their serving dish. Put out the plates, napkins, and silverware before guests arrive. 4 hours before guest arrival place ice and drinks in the coolers. Make sure the coolers are in a shaded area.
As your guests are arriving, put out the appetizers. Have your oven ready for anyone bringing a dish which needs to be kept warm. Have extra serving pieces in case someone needs them for their dish. Now it is time to have a relaxing cookout. Set a timer for when you want to start cooking the main course. Many of us can get caught up in the conversation and forget to start the grill. Enjoy your guests.