From the sizzle of a hot grill to a glass of icy lemonade, nothing says summer like a backyard barbecue. Whether you go all out or keep it simple, these 10 tips are just what you need to hold a barbecue that's fun for the whole family.

  1. Give Guests a Heads Up. Backyard barbecues are casual, but you want everyone to have at least a week to check their calendars and make room if necessary. This way, you'll also have a chance to plan your barbecue, decide on recipes, and pick up any supplies you need.
  2. Keep an Eye on the Weather. It's just common sense to check the weather forecast, but you really don't want your barbecue to coincide with a major thunderstorm! Check the weather three days before the barbecue. If there's rain on the horizon, you can rent a canopy or move the grill to the porch. Even the garage -- door open, of course -- might work in a pinch.
  3. Sort out Special Diets. Ask your guests in advance if they have any dietary restrictions. With a little planning, it's easy to come up with tasty options for special diets, and your guests will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Need some ideas?
    • Gluten-free: Stock up on corn tortillas and gluten-free buns. Also, check all your condiments and marinades: some brands of mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise contain wheat ingredients.
    • Diabetic: Provide at least a few beverage and dessert options that are sweetened with stevia or another sugar substitute. You can also offer fresh alternatives to sugary prepared condiments, like roasted tomatoes instead of ketchup and caramelized onions instead of relish.
    • Vegetarian/Vegan: Stock up on vegetables for the grill such as eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and portabella mushrooms. Veggie burgers and veggie dogs are also an option. Before the big day, clean off your grill and designate one area for vegetarian foods only. Many vegetarians would prefer that their grilled eggplant didn't share space with your juicy steak.
  4. Plan for Playtime. Kids especially can get restless if there's nothing to do but eat and talk. Why not come up with a few easy, fun games that don't require a lot of setup? A few suggestions: glow stick tag, balloon burst, and beach ball volleyball.
  5. Let There Be Light. Towards the end of your barbecue, you might want a little extra illumination. Candles, strings of party lights, and citronella torches can all help to provide it. If you live in an area with lots of mosquitoes, the citronella candles might come in handy for more than just light! Want to get the kids involved? Check out this fun candle making activity.
  6. Make a List, Check it Twice. Don't assume that you have enough charcoal, lighter fluid, skewers, utensils, plates, or anything else. Double check and pick up a little more than you think you need. No one wants to run out to the store in the middle of the barbecue.
  7. Something Old, Something New. Your tried-and-true recipes are great, but why not also strike out in a new direction? A quick browse online will turn up all sorts of enticing new recipes, from fiery mango marinades to a tangy potato salads. A ratio of about 70% old favorites to 30% new recipes allows you to experiment without giving up your safety net. If you decide you don't care for the Guinness marinated barbecue tofu after all, you can always fall back on your old favorites.
  8. Cultivate Your Inner Early Bird. Waiting until the last minute guarantees stress, especially when a barbecue involves lots of different dishes. Here are some general guidelines to help you know when to prepare what so it all comes together at the right time.
    • Morning: Make the marinades and start marinating beef, lamb, and pork. It will take at least 6-8 hours for the flavor to penetrate. In the morning, you can also boil potatoes for potato salad and make desserts that need to be chilled.
    • Noon: Start marinating the chicken. Skinless chicken takes 4-6 hours to marinate fully. At this time, you can also make and refrigerate potato and macaroni salad, as well as any salsas, sauces, or dips you plan to serve.
    • 2 hours before guests arrive: Chop fruit and vegetables for salads and grilling. Prepare any warm desserts. (Check out our summer blackberry pie recipe!)
    • 1 hour before: Marinate the seafood. Use a low-acid marinade and be careful not to let delicate shrimp, scallops, or fish sit in the marinade for more than an hour. Next, start up the grill and start grilling thicker cuts of meat like tri tip and bone-in chicken. They can take 30 minutes or more to grill. For maximum flavor and juiciness, let the grilled meat 'rest' 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
    • A few minutes before the party starts: Dress the salads, put out the snacks and beverages, and set out plates, cups, and utensils for your guests.
  9. Snack Food Central. Before the goodies start rolling off the grill -- and after they stop -- be sure to have snacks out for your hungry guests. Kid-friendly classics include Chex mix, nuts, pretzels, and guacamole. For a healthier twist, try pairing pita chips with hummus, making bruschetta on the grill, or setting out bowls of perfectly ripe summer fruit.
  10. Don't Fear the Leftovers. If your prolific grill leaves you with a lot of leftovers, grilled chicken and steak are delicious sliced into salads, wraps, burritos, and sandwiches. Grilled vegetables are equally versatile. Use your leftovers throughout the week to add a smoky sweet flavor to all your meals.

Don't forget that kids can help pick out the menu, put up decorations, and even make some of the salads and snacks. They'll love being a part of the process, and your barbecue will be a blast for everyone lucky enough to be invited.