The Ultimate Cook-Out Menu and Party Checklist

Hamburgers and vegetable skewers on barbecue grill

Caiaimage / Sam Edwards / Getty Images

What better way to enjoy summer than to plan a cook-out party with friends, family, and food? This year, we've pulled together everything you need to host your most memorable barbecue party ever, in our Ultimate Cook-Out Menu and Party Checklist. We've taken the guesswork out of party planning, with an easy-to-follow party timeline that will keep you organized and on track right up through the day of the party. When it comes to menu planning, this is also your one-stop spot for hosting a fabulous summer gathering, with tasty, seasonal recipes that will delight and satisfy meat-lovers and vegetarians alike. Not only will you feel less stressed about throwing a party after you read this checklist, but you'll also have everything you need to throw a winning summer party that your family and friends will ask you to repeat next year!

The Timeline: Your Cook-Out Party Preparation List

This handy party plan will help you stay organized and get everything done that's needed to throw a successful cook-out party. We've created this party planning timeline based on the cook-out menu that follows, so do be sure to update the checklist if you change any menu items. Wherever we've indicated make-ahead food items that can be prepared before the party (such as marinades or salads), you'll find links to all the recipes in our Ultimate Cook-out Menu section, below.

About a week before the cook-out:

  • Send out email invitations (or just call people up)
  • Check that you have enough propane (or coals) for the grill
  • If friends and family will attend, see if they can help out (for instance, with party prep, serving drinks, or bringing dessert)

A few days before the cook-out party:

  • Check your cupboards for serving platters and utensils
  • Make a shopping list for groceries and party supplies*
  • Clean the grill, if needed

*A few things you'll want to have on hand for your party include paper/plastic plates and cutlery, cups, a bottle opener/corkscrew, napkins, paper towels, plastic wrap, tinfoil, toothpicks, and garbage bags.

The day before the cook-out:

  • Do the grocery shopping
  • Stock up on ice for drinks
  • Prepare marinades for the beef and veggie kebabs, and sauce for chicken thighs
  • Bake brownies

The day of the party:

  • Decorate party areas
  • Set up a buffet/drinks table (to let guests help themselves)
  • Set out your BBQ tools
  • Prepare the taco dip, potato salad, cole slaw, and salsa
  • Add meats to marinades and refrigerate for a few hours before the party
  • Make last-minute food preparations
Jennifer Levy

The Appetizers and Snacks

Snacks are a must at every cook-out party, but they don't have to be complicated to make your guests happy. A classic, colorful layered Mexican dip and some store-bought tortilla chips, plus an easy platter of cut-up vegetables, crackers, and cheeses, are perfect choices for both adults and kids who want to graze on snacks at your cook-out party.

Layered Taco Dip from The Spruce Eats

This mouth-watering, Mexican-inspired party recipe is a welcome appetizer at any cook-out party, accompanied by crunchy tortilla chips for dipping. All your favorite taco ingredients combine to create a scrumptious and filling party dip, that looks great on a buffet table. For an enticing presentation, overlap the layers of the different ingredients (shredded cheese, bright green lettuce, smooth re-fried beans, chunky salsa, juicy red tomato, creamy avocado and sour cream), to show off all of the different colors and textures.

Lauri Patterson

The Meat

What would a cook-out party be without meat dishes that fill the air with the delicious aroma of their cooking and satisfy hungry guests? Here are our favorite meat dishes to serve at your BBQ party.

All-American Burgers from The Spruce Eats

We're of the mind that you can't throw the ultimate cook-out party without a truly great, all-American burger, and this moist, tender hamburger recipe fits the bill perfectly. It doesn't get any better than juicy, lightly seasoned ground beef, cooked on the grill and served on toasted sandwich buns with melted American cheese and other traditional burger toppings.

Hawaiian Beef Teriyaki Kebabs from The Spruce Eats

This super-tasty Hawaiian Beef Teriyaki Kebabs recipe is a fairly inexpensive way to serve steak to cook-out party guests, that makes a flavorful and satisfying meal. Fruity pineapple adds extra zing to hearty chunks of beef that are marinated before grilling in a delicious, homemade teriyaki sauce made from pineapple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, sesame oil, black pepper, and ginger.

BBQ Chicken Thighs from The Spruce Eats

Chicken is a great menu option to have at a BBQ, and this simplified chicken recipe, inspired by the best of grilling competitions, is sure to wow your cook-out party guests. Juicy, flavorful chicken thighs are smothered in an easy, homemade BBQ sauce that's prepared in advance, for a smoky, tender grilled chicken dish that pairs perfectly with potato salad and coleslaw.

Lauri Patterson

The Side Dishes

These side dishes can be mixed and matched with the grilled meats on the menu. Let guests serve themselves from a buffet table set-up, to create their own, customized cook-out party plates.

Grilled Vegetable Kebabs from The Spruce Eats

Vegetarians at your cook-out party, and any guests who enjoy the fresh, flavorful taste of grilled veggie skewers will enjoy this tasty side dish that's prepared and cooked on skewers. Marinated in an easy, homemade Dijon-herb mixture, these colorful vegetable kebabs are bursting with flavor. Use as a side dish for grilled burgers and chicken, or simply serve by themselves.

Fresh Grilled Corn on the Cob from The Spruce Eats

Fresh, grilled corn on the cob is an all-American cook-out party favorite and a wonderful way to bring out the sweetness and flavor of this vegetable. It only takes about 15 minutes to grill fresh cobs of corn in their husks on the BBQ.

Dockside Potato Salad With Bacon from The Spruce Eats

A great potato salad is a must at any summer BBQ party. This nicely seasoned potato salad uses colorful red potatoes, for a great look on your buffet table. Traditional potato salad recipe gets a huge flavor boost with the addition of savory bacon, chopped, tangy dill pickle, onion, celery, and parsley. It all mixes together beautifully in a creamy, tangy mayonnaise dressing that's super easy to prepare.​

Coleslaw Salad from The Spruce Eats

Coleslaw is a traditional cook-out party salad that develops its flavors over time, making it an ideal make-ahead side dish. This yummy, attractive coleslaw recipe, made with a combination of colorful purple and green cabbage, can be prepared the day before your party and pulled out of the fridge at serving time. A great, simple side dish that adds texture and freshness to your BBQ meals.

Paul Poplis

The Condiments

You'll want to have a good supply of traditional cook-out condiments and hamburger toppings on hand at your party for guests to enjoy. Stock your party tables with the basics- ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise, pickles, onions, tomato slices, American cheese slices, and lettuce. Then, give your guests something to rave about by preparing a big bowl of homemade salsa. We've got an incredible peach-based version for you to try below, that tastes delicious and adds that extra-special something to your grilled beef and chicken dishes.

Peach Salsa With Lime and Honey from The Spruce Eats

You could easily whip up this tasty, savory-sweet peach salsa the day of your party, but we suggest preparing it a day ahead of time, to give the flavors of the chopped fruit and vegetables time to mingle and develop. Flavored with red onion, fresh cilantro, crunchy peppers, and a little garlic, this tasty salsa recipe makes an excellent complement to grilled chicken and vegetables. You could also serve it on top of grilled bread slices for a sweet, tangy bruschetta appetizer.

The Picture Pantry

The Desserts

Cook-out party desserts don't have to be fancy to please. You could easily get away with serving ice cream and fresh fruit platters bought from the store. For the ultimate cook-out party menu, though, consider making grilled fruit like brown sugar peaches or these simple, crowd-pleasing fudge brownies, which are delicious on their own, or served alongside a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Easy Homemade Chocolate Fudge Brownies from The Spruce Eats

Rich, creamy and decadent, these perfect, chocolaty homemade brownies are made with just a handful of ingredients. You'll get a reputation as a great baker when you serve these deceptively easy chocolate treats at your cook-out party.

Nikos Panidis / EyeEm

The Drinks

You know your party guests best, so you can tailor the drinks to their tastes. As a general rule, it's always a good idea to have a selection of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverage choices at a cook-out. You can choose to keep your drinks table basic with bottled soft drinks, plus beer and wine coolers. (Simply put out a cooler or bucket with ice, and let guests serve themselves during the party). Or, if you want a pretty presentation for your buffet table, why not mix up a pitcher of delicious, fruity, refreshing wine-based sangria? We've got a great, easy white wine sangria recipe that you can serve as a delicious, cooling beverage for your guests who enjoy drinking wine.

White Wine Sangria Recipe from The Spruce Eats

Sangria is easy to prepare and drink, and makes a pretty display for your buffet table, in a clear pitcher. White wine lovers will enjoy this simple-to-make sangria recipe, infused with the fresh, zippy summer flavors of citrus, apple, and tropical fruits.

Jamie Grill

The Final Word

On the day of your get-together, keep in mind the advice of the best party planners--if you're relaxed and happy as the host/hostess, your guests will follow your lead. That means, if something feels too complicated or difficult to pull off, we recommend scratching it entirely and substituting something simpler. Your family and friends won't care if the desserts are store-bought or homemade, for instance, as long as you're serving them with a smile (and there's plenty to go around). Happy summer, and have a wonderful party!