How to Host the Perfect Summer BBQ in the Park

Warmer days are here, meaning it’s the perfect time to gather friends and family for a summer barbecue at the local park! While these parties tend to be casual gatherings, it’s best to plan ahead and make the most of your outdoor fun. From choosing the perfect spot to planning your packing list, here’s everything you need to know for a fantastic barbecue!

Choosing the Perfect Park

Parks come in all shapes and sizes, with various features. Consider whether you want a park with a playground, water features, hills, or grassy fields. For groups with kids, choose somewhere without too many safety hazards (like open water) so that parents can enjoy the party without as much stress. 

For midday events, make sure your chosen park has plenty of shade or awnings to provide a respite from the heat—because you’re hosting a barbecue, the available amenities matter! A spot with grills and tables is best, and ample parking is vital if your party is large. Since you’ll be packing a lot of food, a park with paved walkways makes it easier to transport everything from your car to the picnic area.

Be sure to pack umbrellas, sunscreen, and hats along with the food!

Planning the Menu

Grilling Guidelines

Depending on your chosen park’s guidelines, grilling may or may not be allowed—don’t be deterred! You can serve barbecue-worthy food even if the grill is missing. Choose items that can be served cold instead, like pulled-pork sandwiches or chicken salad. If grilling is permitted, check guidelines for allowed equipment. Some parks have standalone grills near seating areas, while others allow you to bring a portable grill of your own. In these cases, choose items to grill that won’t take too long. Hamburgers and hot dogs are favorites, but don’t be afraid to branch out to chicken (marinate drumsticks in barbecue sauce overnight ahead of time!), bratwurst, and even grilled veggies!

If allowed, be sure to bring a portable grill, propane, charcoal, and grilling tools.

Coolers

A park barbecue is going to require at least two coolers. Have one filled with ice to hold drinks and keep them cold all afternoon. Others can hold the food for grilling and any side dishes. Make sure to bring some plastic storage containers for leftovers so that you can pop everything back into the cooler after everyone has eaten. Ice cubes are messy when they melt, so consider investing in cold packs instead. If you don’t have access to many coolers, plan side dishes that don’t require refrigeration, like chips, raw veggies (perfectly fine kept room temperature for a few hours!), whole fruit, and baked goods.

Overall, pack coolers with ice packs, drinks, grilling food, side dishes, containers for leftovers, and serving utensils.

Logistics of Eating

When planning the menu, consider where your guests can sit to eat. Not many tables? Serve items that don’t need knives since it’s challening to cut while standing up. Planning to have guests spread out playing games and enjoying activities while they’re eating? Consider lots of smaller bites rather than a big main course so that everyone can pop over to the food table in between rounds of bocce.

Pack extra folding tables, heavy-duty plates, forks, napkins (a roll of paper towels is easiest!), cups (with a Sharpie to write names for easy ID), and plastic tablecloths (and a roll of tape to attach some rocks to the corners for weight).

Fun and Games

Park Equipment

If you’re lucky, much of the entertainment for your summer barbecue can come from the park equipment! Playgrounds and splash pads are excellent options for kids, while waterfront parks provide fun for guests of all ages. If your park has great amenities, make sure to advertise these to your guests so that they can pack accordingly for the party!

You may want to pack swim gear, a first aid kit, towels, change of clothes.

Grassy Games

Planning some grassy field games for your barbecue is an excellent idea. If you don’t want to load up too many extra bags of toys and games, choose a few activities that require minimal preparation. Frisbees and soccer balls are perfect for casual playing while guests wait for the food. You can also easily set up a small croquet or bocce set and allow several people to compete for gold! If you’d like a true party atmosphere, bring some inexpensive burlap sacks for a traditional “potato sack race” and strips of fabric to tie legs for a three-legged race. If the weather cooperates, kite-flying is a unique party addition.

Overall, consider packing frisbee, soccer ball, softballs for tossing, sacks, ties, whistle, timer, croquet, bocce, small orange cones, and a kite.

Asphalt Activities

If your park doesn’t have a big grassy area, there are still games that everyone can enjoy. These ideas also complement the field games for those who want to stay closer to the tables. Bubble wands or an automatic bubble machine are great fun, especially on a slightly breezy day! Sidewalk chalk is also a classic for drawing pictures or playing hopscotch. You can set up a small beanbag toss game anywhere, so choose this activity for those who want to stay in the shade. And if your park allows it, bring a portable speaker to play your favorite summer tunes while guests enjoy the afternoon!

Overall, consider packing a speaker, bubbles, chalk, and beanbag toss.

Cleanup Crew

After all of the fun and games, make sure that you clean up your space properly. Bring plenty of trash bags yourself, and don’t count on the trashcans at the park for your cleanup. Often, they’re full or far away. Packing some disposable gloves can make cleaning up any messy food items easier. A package of disinfectant wipes helps clean up any spills on the ground or tables. Make sure you douse your grill with water and clean out ashes (dispose of these in a sealed bag). If your area recycles, have a separate bag for plastic and aluminum.

For cleanup, pack trash bags, gloves, wipes, and paper towels.

With these tips in mind, you’re sure to have a successful summer soiree at your local park!

 

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This content is brought to you by Metroparks. One of America’s premier metropolitan park systems, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks have served the people of Southeast Michigan since 1940. Managed by the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, the Metroparks are made up of 13 properties in Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties. The Metroparks are open 365 days a year and encompass 25,000 acres of nature and recreational facilities. Each year more than 1.5 million people engage with the Metroparks to enjoy amenities such as picnicking, fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, nature study, biking, golf, disc golf, cross country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and a diversity of outdoor programs and special events. The Metroparks also provide educational resources on science, nature, history and the environment. Learn more at Metroparks.com.

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