After an uneventful summer 2020, we’re beyond eager to host our friends and family for a backyard bash. So, this year, we’re pulling out all the stops, from the tastiest grilled grub to an enchanting backyard tablescape. Read on for décor, menu and activity inspo to make your next BBQ party one for the books.

RELATED: Introducing the Revenge Dinner Party: Here’s How to Dress, Decorate and Cook for the Occasion

What to Buy

1. Destination Summer 50-Count Café String Lights

Lighting is the easiest way to turn your basic backyard into an outdoor oasis. Whether you’re hosting an intimate dinner party or a boisterous family reunion, these string lights create a charming atmosphere.

Buy it ($25; $15)

2. Crowd Cow Summer Line-Up

Forget a frantic trip to the grocery store the night before your BBQ party. Instead, order eight pounds and change of steak, ground beef, hot dogs, chicken thighs and trout fillets to be delivered straight to your door. Crowd Cow sources its grass-fed meat from independent, sustainable family farms and co-ops and boasts a wide range of options (including American and Japanese Wagyu).

Buy it ($132)

3. Ultimate Textile Gingham Oblong Tablecloth

Hear us out: We totally get the appeal of sprucing up a neutral table runner with fresh flowers, candles and pretty dinnerware. But we’re suckers for classic gingham because it will give your table a retro, casual look. Price varies by size and shape.

Buy it ($35+)

4. SuckerPunch Gourmet Pickles

You’d never forget buns, potato chips, ketchup or napkins, but pickles are an essential that often gets lost in the shuffle. Beef up your burger bar with some next-level cukes that boast big flavor and an irresistible crunch. We’re big fans of SuckerPunch’s sweet onion spears and three pepper pickle chips.

Buy it ($8/jar)

5. Antique Copper Finish Beverage Tub on Wheels

Never trudge all the way from the pool to the deck for a refill again. With this handy mobile cooler—complete with an ice bucket and a glassware tray—on deck, the drinks will come to you instead.

Buy it ($50)

6. Threshold 10-Inch Round Outdoor Tabletop Fire Pit

You don’t need to totally redo your backyard to accommodate a fire pit. This tiny tabletop version will get the job done, whether your guests are warming up on a cool evening or toasting marshmallows for s’mores.

Buy it ($79)

What to Cook

1. Grilled Watermelon-Feta Skewers

Once it’s officially grilling season, we’ll throw *anything* on those searing-hot grates—including everyone’s favorite summer fruit. Smoky, sweet watermelon is just the match for tangy cheese and fresh herbs, but the combo is unexpected enough that your guests will be totally impressed. (BTW, this is the easiest way to slice and dice a watermelon.)

Get the recipe

2. Cauliflower ‘Potato’ Salad

Potato salad: It’s as essential to any BBQ party as coleslaw, mac and cheese, baked beans and veggie skewers. But if you buy it at the store, odds are it’s mostly mayo…and pretty darn bland. Here, we swap starchy spuds for cauliflower florets and mayo for Greek yogurt, sour cream and Dijon mustard.

Get the recipe

3. 15-Minute Cucumber-Avocado Blender Soup

Hot weather is no match for this refreshing no-cook wonder. This cold soup is as simple as pulsing fresh produce, herbs and Greek yogurt in the blender until smooth. Go the extra mile by baking a cheesy Asiago baguette for dipping.

Get the recipe

4. Shrimp Boil Skewers with Corn, Sausage and Potatoes

Seafood boils are equal parts delicious and messy. Threading all the essentials on skewers and popping them on the grill makes the dish a million times simpler to prepare and clean up. Did we mention they’re slathered in spicy Cajun butter?

Get the recipe

5. Grilled Flank Steak with Lemon-Herb Sauce

Say it with us: I can cook a steak at home. Don’t let the meat intimidate you—it only requires about seven minutes per side on the grill. All the flavor rests in the zippy marinade, made with Worcestershire, herbs, vinegar and garlic. Be sure to let the steak rest for about 15 minutes before slicing into it.

Get the recipe

6. Mini Strawberry Ice Cream Pies

Meet the laziest summer dessert ever invented. The crust only calls for four basic ingredients, while the fruit filling is nothing but strawberries, sugar and store-bought vanilla ice cream. If you don’t want to splurge on mini pie pans or single-serve ramekins, go ahead and use disposable paper bowls.

Get the recipe

What to Do

bbq party water park
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

1. Transform Your Yard into a Water Park

’Tis the season for running through sprinklers, soaring down slip-and-slides and getting into water gun fights. Help your guests stay cool and have fun at the same time by equipping your space with everything from double water slides for racing to a light-up sprinkler. If you’re lucky enough to have your own pool, spruce it up with a few over-the-top floats. If not, there are a ton of affordable blow-up pools out there that can accommodate a few kids at once.

bbq party field day
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2. Host Family Field Day

We’re talking tug of war, wheelbarrow and potato sack races, an egg toss—you name it. Split everyone up into teams and rack up points all day long with different activities. At the end, award the winners with a summery prize, like a beach tote filled with towels, beach toys and a portable cooler or a s’mores goody bag with skewers, graham crackers, chocolate bars and fancy marshmallows.

bbq party sundae bar
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

3. Make an Epic DIY Sundae Bar

The easiest dessert to serve at a party? One you don’t have to make yourself, of course. Simply buy a variety of ice cream flavors at the store, fill bowls in advance with a couple scoops each and let your guests go wild with toppings like hot fudge, sprinkles, whipped cream or even homemade strawberry shell. If you want to be the hostess with the mostest, grill some pineapple slices, halved strawberries or even mango skewers to up the summer ante.

bbq party carnival
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4. Throw a Mini Carnival

There are two ways to tackle this party theme. The expensive way is to rent a mini Ferris wheel, carousel and other rides for the kids at your BBQ to enjoy. The more affordable way is to set up DIY booths with classic games (like a bean bag toss, balloon darts or horseshoes) and offer prizes. That way, you can spend a little more on the fare and spring for a snow cone maker and cotton candy machine.

bbq party hot dog eating contest
Jamie Grill/Getty Images

5. Have a Hot Dog (or Pie) Eating Contest

Just like they do on Coney Island. It offers the grown-ups a chance to get in on the nostalgic fun while the little ones cheer them on. Since a hot dog-eating contest could pose a choking hazard for the kids at your BBQ party, set up a pie-eating contest for them instead. Just fill store-bought pie crusts with chocolate pudding and whipped cream, then let them dig in face-first. (This goes without saying, but you’ll want to have your camera ready.)

bbq party movie marathon
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6. Watch Movies Under the Stars

It’s likely been a while since you were in a movie theater. But there’s no need to leave your comfort zone to watch a few flicks. Set up a projector in your backyard and gather for a socially distant movie marathon. Have all your guests bring lawn chairs and blankets to sit on while you take care of the snacks (we’re thinking homemade ice pops for the kids and fancy popcorn or charcuterie for the adults.) If you want the party to last until morning, pitch a few tents or roll out some sleeping bags for a campout in the yard.

RELATED: 82 Easy Summer Desserts to Devour from Now Until Labor Day

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