Let’s celebrate the arrival of summer! It’s that time of the year when we can enjoy the outdoors, relish longer days and pleasant nights, and, of course, indulge in delicious food. Having great cookout food can make or break your summer get-together. We have compiled a list of 13 suntastic summer cookout ideas to make your menu pop and your party stand out above the rest. Whether you’re into classic grilled goods, cool and creamy sides, or delicious desserts, this list is full of inspiration for your next cookout.
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13 Suntastic Summer Cookout Ideas
Whether you’re looking for Memorial Day menus or Fourth of July potluck ideas to satisfy a crowd, we’ve got you covered. Oh, and let’s not forget about Father’s Day! Show appreciation for your favorite guy with plates of grilled meat piled high. From sizzling brats and burgers on the grill to refreshing salads, delightful summer side dishes, fruity desserts, and enjoyable beverages, these suntastic summer cookout ideas will elevate any picnic or backyard barbecue into something extraordinary.
1. All-American Cookout
Celebrate the spirit of patriotism and honor the Fourth of July or Memorial Day with an epic cookout that showcases the pride of America! Embrace the red, white, and blue color palette, and adorn your party space with decorations that exude stars and stripes. To add an extra touch of creativity, explore Pinterest for inspiring ideas on how to create a truly patriotic atmosphere.
When it comes to the cookout menu, pay homage to American culinary classics. Serve up juicy burgers with that signature smoky flavor, sizzling hot dogs, and succulent steaks. Don’t forget to grill some fresh corn on the cob to add a touch of sweetness and serve up a hearty helping of traditional potato salad, complete with a creamy dressing and crunchy bits of celery and red onion. Crisp salads adorned with plump cherry tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers provided a refreshing respite from the smoky meats.
To satisfy your guests’ sweet tooth, indulge in desserts that showcase the patriotic color scheme. Consider serving a stunning red, white, and blue-themed cake or cupcakes that embody the spirit of the holiday. For a healthier option have bowls of colorful fruit salad or watermelon. Whether it’s adorned with fresh berries, layered with whipped cream, or creatively decorated to resemble the American flag, fruit is not only tasty but will be a colorful centerpiece for your celebration.
Games and activities can add a playful twist to the celebration. Friendly competitions of cornhole, boccie ball, and horseshoes are a great way to enjoy a traditional cookout. For the kids, bubbles are always a hit with the littles, and for the bigs water guns and balloons are perfect for a wet adventure.
2. By the Sea Party Theme
Dive into the depths of flavor with a “By the Sea” grill party that will make waves this summer! Break away from the traditional red meat and chicken and unleash your seafood side. Delight your guests with tantalizing grilled shrimp, succulent scallops, flaky salmon, mouthwatering seafood skewers, kabobs, or grilled halibut. Let’s not forget the perfect sides—a grilled corn feast and a variety of pasta dishes like lobster mac n’ cheese or seafood linguine. Don’t forget the grilled peaches and pineapples for a healthy summer dessert.
Transport your backyard into a beachfront bungalow. Sprinkle sand and seashells along the bar area and adorn your space with a refreshing sea-blue palette to create an airy and breezy atmosphere. Set the tropical mood with island-inspired music and quench your guests’ thirst with refreshing Mai Tais. This one obviously lends itself to a pool party, but if an inground is not in your budget this year, set up several small plastic pools for the littles (or your more uninhibited friends).
3. Traditional Southern-Style BBQ
When it comes to throwing a BBQ, nobody does it quite like the Southerners. They have mastered the art of simplicity and irresistible flavors. The food is slow-cooked to perfection, tender, and packed with mouthwatering juices. Think pulled pork sandwiches, smoky ribs, zesty hot links, tangy baked beans, creamy coleslaw, crispy fried chicken or bbq chicken, satisfying macaroni salad, grilled sweet potatoes, and refreshing fruits like juicy watermelon, plump strawberries, and of course ice cream. Let’s not forget about the quintessential Southern beverage – ice-cold sweet tea! Fill up some big tin tubs filled with chilled beers, sodas, and lemonades that will quench your thirst on those hot summer days.
When planning your party’s design, embrace classic picnic-inspired décor like checkered tablecloths, daisy flowers, mason jars, basket centerpieces, and enchanting lanterns. Sprinkle small cozy areas around your backyard or park venue with plush pillows and soft blankets to create a welcoming atmosphere.
Gather your loved ones, crank up the country tunes, and do a little line dancing. Embrace the timeless joy of a traditional country BBQ. With delectable food, charming décor, and warm company, this summer celebration will be etched in everyone’s memories for years to come.
4. Mexican Fiesta Theme
Spice up your BBQ with a south-of-the-border flair! Embrace the vibrant and intense flavors of Mexican cuisine, bringing a fiesta atmosphere to your backyard gathering. Start by decking out your space with decorations that reflect the lively spirit of Mexico. Incorporate the iconic colors of the Mexican flag—red, white, and green—in your table settings. Add a festive touch with sombreros, hang up a few piñatas, and don’t forget the maracas and brightly colored tablecloths to complete the fiesta ambiance.
Mexican food is known for its delicious complexity, and it’s time to infuse your cookout with the same excitement. When it comes to the menu, prepare your taste buds for a flavorful feast. Offer an array of Mexican classic appetizers like crispy chips served with zesty salsa and creamy guacamole. Serve up mouthwatering street tacos filled with your choice of meat, cheese, and cilantro or vegetarian options. Offer tantalizing enchiladas bursting with savory fillings, and don’t forget to include corn salad, jalapenos, grilled bell peppers, black beans, and sriracha to add a burst of spice to your spread. Top it all off with a fresh vat of ice-cold margaritas. Don’t forget to salt your glasses with a mix of chili powder, salt, and lime!
For entertainment, dancing is a must, so make sure your playlist is filled with festive tunes. Bust the piñatas, play pin the tail on the donkey, or break out the dominos. Mexican families are known to party well into the night, so invite the crew to stay late and soak up the long nights of summer!
5. S’mores Camping Theme Party
BBQs provide the perfect occasion to indulge in another beloved summer delight: s’mores! Take your cookout to the next level by planning it for later in the evening at a location that’s safe for a cozy fire pit gathering. Once the main course is complete and appetites are satisfied, bring out the s’more supplies and gather everyone around the inviting warmth of the fire pit.
As the flames flicker and the conversations flow, enjoy the nostalgic pleasure of toasting marshmallows, layering them with chocolate, and sandwiching them between graham crackers. This is the perfect time for some ghost stories, dad jokes, or a rousing game of “Would you rather?”
6. Western-Themed BBQ Party.
Host a thrilling Western BBQ party that’ll transport your guests to the wild, wild West! This theme is inspired by the legendary Texas BBQ, allowing you to showcase your skills with slow-cooked meats like tender brisket. Take your traditional hamburgers and hot dogs to the next level by infusing them with the tantalizing flavors of apple or hickory BBQ smoking chips on the grill. And to add a fiery kick to your spread, create a special BBQ sauce table, featuring an array of flavors for guests to enhance their favorite dishes.
While the food will be similar to a Southern BBQ, you can go crazy with this theme! Transform your party space into a Western oasis. Set the scene with rustic party signs, bales of hay, potted cactus plants, and barn-inspired décor. For an extra touch, build a custom “Watering Hole” bar where guests can enjoy traditional drinks like the famous Texas Tea. Your Western-themed invitations should feature colors like red, brown, or beige and have cowboy motifs. Greet your guests with complimentary cowboy hats and bandanas, instantly making them feel like part of the crew. Horseshoes, calf roping (a fake one please), and BB gun target shooting would be fun games, and you can end the night with a backyard showing of Yellowstone or an old western.
7. Backyard Upscale Dinner Party
Indulge in an intimate and sophisticated ambiance by hosting a delightful backyard dinner party as the sun begins to fall. Set the tone for a stylish dinner party by alerting your guest to dress their best. Keep the menu simple like the best friend restaurants. Focus on juicy salmon and tender steak and pair it with a basic olive oil and herb pasta salad or grilled zucchini. Create a family-sized salad with a combo of lettuce, fresh herbs, chickpeas, Feta cheese, blue cheese, balsamic, vinaigrette, and lemon juice.
When it comes to creating the perfect atmosphere, pay special attention to your tablescape and backyard decorations. Hang string lights from the trees or your arbor, and fill the night air with jazz. Serve up some chilled vinos and finish the dinner with a citrus digestivo! For entertainment, focus on conversational games that can be done around the table. Partake in an adult Truth or Dare Game or a traditional card game.
8. Beer Tasting Party
This one focuses on beverages. Create your own ale trail by setting up beer-tasting stations around your yard. Stock up on your favorite brews or curate a collection of diverse craft beers to savor throughout the event (don’t forget the proper barware and glassware!) To add some excitement, provide rating cards for guests to rate their favorites and offer an array of beer-friendly bar snacks to complement the drink menu. Think corn nuts, pig in a blanket, mini-sandwiches, chips and salsa, spinach or artichoke dips, pizza rolls, etc.
For activities, obviously, beer pong comes to mind, but if you are past those days of mass consumption, a few washer pits will do just fine. Crank up the classic rock tunes, put a game on the outdoor TV, and end the evening with some s’mores around the firepit!
9. Farm-to-Table Spread
Throw a cookout with a healthy, sustainable twist! Showcase meats and cheeses sourced from local farms and ranches, supporting your community while indulging in delectable flavors. Elevate the freshness factor by incorporating vegetables, fruits, and herbs harvested straight from your own garden or from a nearby farmer’s market. To make it even more interactive and diverse, invite guests to contribute dishes made from ingredients from their own gardens, turning the cookout into a delightful potluck affair. This guilt-free BBQ isn’t just about nourishing your body—it’s also an excellent opportunity to educate your kids about sustainable food practices and the importance of making healthy meal choices.
Focus your decor on recyclable goods. Utilize bamboo or silver table wear, real glasses, and glass-bottled cokes. Checkered table clothes, pots of fresh-cut flowers, and a playlist of easy acoustics will round out the day.
10. Outdoor Movie Marathon
For a memorable night of relaxation, laughter, and movie magic with your loved ones, treat them to an outdoor movie marathon paired with a delicious menu. For food, think vintage movie theater or drive-in. Rent a popcorn machine. Set up a snack area that resembles a concession stand. A cotton candy machine is great too.
Transform your outdoor space into a cozy cinema with thoughtful decorations. Hang up movie posters, set out movie theater-style popcorn bags with electric candles inside, and set blankets out in the viewing area with a bucket of snacks at each station. Immerse your guests in the enchantment of the big screen right in your own backyard.
To make the evening even more interactive and engaging challenge your guests to movie trivia between screenings. Test their knowledge and spark friendly competition!
As the sun sets and the first movie begins, snuggle up with blankets and cushions, relishing in the shared experience of laughter, suspense, and heartfelt moments. To make it more inclusive, you could ask a few guests to bring their favorite movies!
11. Blast from the Past Theme
Step into the era of your choice and transform your party into a nostalgic blast from the past! Embrace the unique charm of your selected time period to create a delightful atmosphere. Set the stage with era-appropriate decorations, whether it’s vintage posters, retro tableware, or iconic 80’s outfits. Encourage guests to join in the fun by dressing up in costumes that reflect the style of the time, guaranteeing a memorable photo session.
To truly transport your guests back in time, curate a menu that features dishes inspired by the era you’ve chosen. Dust off those cherished family cookout recipes or explore traditional cuisine from that specific time period. Whether it’s hearty comfort food from the 70’s, elegant dishes from the 20’s, or creative treats from the 80’s, these era-specific favorites will add a touch of nostalgia to your cookout.
Set up a photo booth with era-appropriate props, and utilize an era-appropriate camera to take the pics. You can really go all out with this one. Have some fun on Pinterest with popular games from the time period and really transport your guests back to your chosen era!
12. Sports-Themed BBQ
Indulge in a sport-tastic celebration that caters to athletic passions! Whether you have a favorite sport or want to incorporate multiple ones, this theme guarantees a winning experience. Decorate your party space with a variety of sports-related memorabilia to create an energetic atmosphere. Hang baseballs, basketballs, footballs, and soccer ball-shaped decorations, and adorn the tables with sports-themed plates, napkins, and table mats. Amp up the excitement with streamers and banners in vibrant colors.
Now, let’s talk about the game day menu. Offer a lineup of finger-licking delights and tantalizing dipping sauces that will keep your guests stay fueled throughout the event. Add a touch of heat with buffalo wings, and make sure to have an assortment of chips and dips for everyone to enjoy. Don’t forget a refreshing veggie platter to balance out the flavors. Chili should have a place of honor on this sport’s menu. Chili dogs, Frito chili pies, and chili-cheese fries are a must on game day!
Lawn games are a great way to keep the sports theme going. Think horseshoes, ladder toss, cornhole, ultimate frisbee, badminton, or spike ball. Play freely, or organize a few tournaments. Keep the tunes cranking, and the cold drinks flowing!
13. Cajun Cookout Theme
Having a Cajun cookout is an experience that tantalizes the taste buds and brings the vibrant spirit of Louisiana to life. From the moment you catch a whiff of the smoky aroma, you know you’re in for a treat. Cajun cuisine is renowned for its bold flavors and rich heritage, and a cookout is the perfect way to celebrate this culinary tradition.
Cajun cookouts are all about indulging in hearty dishes bursting with spice and flavor. From juicy Boudin sausages to tender marinated chicken, every bite is a celebration of Cajun seasoning. Seafood lovers are treated to platters of crawfish, shrimp, and crab, perfectly seasoned and served with a side of zesty remoulade sauce. Accompany these delectable meats and seafood with cornbread, dirty rice, jambalaya, and pecan pie!
To cool off the palate, refreshing drinks like sweet tea and ice-cold beer are served alongside the feast, providing a delightful contrast to the fiery Cajun flavors. No Cajun cookout is complete without desserts like beignets and bread pudding adding a sweet finale to the meal. Finish off the evening around the campfire with your best Boudro and Thibodeaux jokes!
Take advantage of the beautiful summer weather and seize the opportunity to host the ultimate BBQ of the year with one of these awesome summer cookout ideas. With good food, great company, and a fantastic atmosphere, your BBQ party is bound to be a memorable and enjoyable experience for all. So fire up the grill, gather your loved ones, and impress your crew with a sizzling summer celebration that will leave everyone wanting more.
If you are needing fun outdoor games for your cookout take a look at our “25+ Classic Outdoor Games That Are Making a Comeback.”
For more warm-weather party fun this year, take a look at “20+ Sizzling Summer Party Themes” to amp up your birthday, anniversary, or just a boring weekend!
Frequently Asked Questions
A classic All-American cookout features a summer theme, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, traditional sides like potato salad and corn on the cob, and fun yard games!