Nothing says summertime like a barbecue, and the best barbecues combine everything that’s wonderful about summer: great food, cool drinks, relaxed attitudes and the feeling of satisfaction that comes from dominating at cornhole or simply being outdoors long enough to get tan—or at least pink. So, below, you’ll find ways to take your barbecue out of the ordinary—out of the backyard, even—and into the extraordinary. With 25 ideas, you can mix and match to create an endless number of unique barbecues. Your friends will never stop talking about the time they ate alcohol-infused popsicles at your swim-up barbecue after beating your dad in a three-legged race.
FOOD & DRINK
This is one category you’re probably not scratching your head over, so we’ll keep it brief, with just a handful of suggestions for those who’ve grown tired of the predictable steaks, burgers and beers. But as some will argue that food—specifically, grilled meats—is the No. 1 requirement of barbecue success, be sure to check out our handy sidebar to get the skinny on the best local sauces and the art of grilling.
While there isn’t really a simpler, more satisfying summertime libation than a gin & tonic, if you really want to impress your friends, you’ll have to either dust off the bartender’s bible you were gifted when you turned 21 or take cues from local beverage scientists. At the Bitters & Bites event hosted by SLC Bites in May, two drinks reigned supreme and are perfect for warm weather and barbecuing. Jimmy Santangelo (sommelier at The Copper Onion) scored a salty sensation with Pickles & Pimm’s, which features Hendrick’s Gin, Pimm’s No. 1 Liquor, dill simple syrup and lemon juice. And for a bourbon-filled afternoon, try Amy Eldredge’s (of Bar-X) Kentucky Roselle, which consists of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, hibiscus-infused simple syrup, fresh lemon, Angostura bitters and sparkling water.
It’s no shocker of a beverage choice, but take this as a challenge to expand the offerings you pack into the cooler.
One of the best summer beers around comes straight outta Midvale: Bohemian Brewery’s Czech Pilsener. Unlike most light-gold brews, this pils has more substantial flavor and bite than hoppiness, and pairs nicely with a fat burger, a bowl of chili, a pile of nachos or pretty much anything hot and meaty. Aside from the great taste, the Czech Pilsener’s griffin-emblazoned silver can is a tough accessory to distract from those Bermuda shorts.
Going the cheaper brew route, Olympia Beer is a decent summer alternative for four reasons: 1. It’s not Pabst; 2. If you’re a PBR purist, you can remind yourself that it’s now manufactured by Pabst Brewing; 3. The bright-orange can is easy to locate at a picnic or backyard wrestling event; 4. Olympia is currently offering a $1 million bounty for the capture of Bigfoot—top that, Bud.
Booze is satisfying in any physical state: liquid, ice and, if it existed, even gas would be sweet. But in the summer, it’s all about popsicle form. Any combination of fruit pieces or puree, juice, ice cream and liquor will make a yummy, slurp-able frozen treat. Experiment with ingredients, but keep the amount of alcohol relatively low so that the popsicles will freeze all the way. You don’t even need a fancy popsicle mold—paper cups and wooden craft sticks work perfectly. Combine fresh mint, lime juice, rum, club soda and simple syrup for a mojito pop.
To transform boring corn on the cob into a zesty treat, try this Mexican street-vendor food, called elote, at your next barbecue. Grill unshucked ears of corn (silk removed) until the husks are blackened and the kernels are bright yellow. Shuck, slather hot corn with mayonnaise or Mexican crema, roll in cotija cheese, sprinkle with chili powder and finish with a squirt of fresh lime juice—then stick it in your face.
Impress your guests with a pre-barbecue visit to Tony Caputo’s, where butcher Frody Volgger creates things like chicken skewers that get an extra flavor kick from the fancy rosemary-branch skewer. Caputo’s marketing director Matt Caputo recommends the Wagyu short ribs, which are marbled like Kobe beef and elevate your meal from standard barbecue grub to gourmet. If going exotic is more your style, grab a whole rabbit, or some goat sausages: Christensen Family Farms goat meat flavored with a northern Greek blend of spices like mint, orange zest, garlic and cumin.
Secondary in importance to the food (and guests, but we can’t tell you who to be friends with) is your barbecue’s location. The backyard is the obvious choice, but can be predictable—so we’ve got suggestions for how to change up your space. If you haven’t had a chance to weed your lawn, we’ve got tips on how to plan a destination barbecue.
You managed to shed those winter pounds over the springtime, but look out—it’s barbecue season, which means booze, fried foods and a tight-again swimsuit. Earn your burgers and potato salad and enjoy some fantastic scenery at the same time by strapping all of your fixin’s to a touring bike, which you can find at Saturday Cycles (605 N. 300 West, 801-935-4605), and setting up your barbecue somewhere remote like Moon Lake, in the high Uintas, where you’ll be surrounded by pine trees, fresh air and mountaintop vistas. Built for long-distance rides, touring bikes are especially sturdy and are longer than most bikes, so you can hook gear (in this case, coolers and fold-up grills) to the bike’s many mounting points and not get the pedals tangled in your backpack straps. So, saddle up with some friends and head to the hills—last one to the trailhead rides with the briquettes.
If you’ve ever been to a ritzy beach resort, you know that swim-up bars are the eighth wonder of the world. But short of shelling out thousands for a pool remodel or the 10-passenger motorized barbecue boat from Hammacher Schlemmer, it’s not an experience one can easily re-create on your home turf. But when it’s hot out and you’re craving the pool and beef in equal measure, improvisation is necessary. Public pools most likely won’t allow you to bring in your mini grill, even if you strap on some floaties, so pick up a few $10 kiddie pools at Harmons (multiple locations, HarmonsGrocery.com) and circle the wagons around a small, low-to-the-ground grill, like a $39 Weber “Smokey Joe” from Leisure Living (2208 S. 900 East, 801-487-3289).
No yard? No grill? No problem—in some cases, so much the better, as your backyard probably can’t compete with the multitude of barbecue options in the city and county. At Murray City Park (296 E. Murray Park Lane), you can fire up a grill right next to the sand-volleyball courts and outdoor pool. Liberty Park (600 E. 900 South) offers an idyllic city park experience, plus attractions like Tracy Aviary and a merry-go-round. For a short jaunt into the great outdoors, hit up Washington Park (Interstate 80 East, Exit 134) for some picturesque grilling in Parley’s Canyon. There’s probably a nearby park to suit your party style—check out SLCGov.com/Parks and Parks.SLCO.org for more options, and for information on reserving and restrictions.
There are a few things to keep in mind for public barbecuing, says Salt Lake City public-services director Rick Graham. Leave behind briquettes or coals that haven’t cooled down. City employees will clean them up later—a preferable alternative to melting garbage cans by dropping hot coals in them.
Graham also says that large gatherings of up to 100 people will definitely want to reserve a pavilion and avoid the risk that they won’t have anywhere to set up in the park. “They can’t set up next to the concession stand or in a field, or next to a playground,” Graham says. “So for our bigger groups, we recommend they reserve [a pavilion] and not have the hassle.”
Smokin’ the Suburbs
A suburban summer cookout may be as quintessentially post-war America as post-war America quintessentially gets, with Dad in his grill apron and the aromas wafting through the adjacent backyards. Ample yard space allows room for the little ones to scramble around without getting dangerously close to hot metal and burning coals—although somehow, they always manage to do so, anyway. And it can be a wonderful excuse/opportunity to get just a little friendlier with neighbors you might not know quite as well, since you can entertain without having to pretend you ever clean the inside of your house. Sure, you might need to spend a little prep time mowing that lawn or scooping up after the dog, but otherwise, you can just throw a sheet over that picnic table and enjoy a simple, satisfying summer evening under the stars.
Besides the obvious backyard game of trying to figure out the name of that one guy who came with your friend, there are plenty of ways to pass the time before, during and after you stuff your face with food and drink. Vintage games can elevate a simple barbecue to garden-party status, activities normally associated with people whose ages are in the single digits keep things fun, and feats of strength and other competitions will bring out sides of your co-workers you’ve never seen before. Try one or more to ensure your party keeps going long after the last patty comes off the grill.
It’s an Olympic sport, but badminton was meant for backyard barbecues. The game is vaguely similar to tennis but played in a smaller space, with a higher net, lighter rackets and a plastic shuttlecock—which, unlike in tennis, can’t touch the ground during play—instead of a ball. The rules are simple, plastic sets are inexpensive and easy to assemble, and the word “shuttlecock” can add hilarity, depending on your guests’ maturity level.
Bocce is a game of skill and minor strength derived from the same game family as shuffleboard and curling—except you do bocce on the lawn and, if you’re cheap, you could probably do it with an old croquet set and a couple of spare golf balls. The game starts when a small marker ball called a “pallino” (or your spare golf ball) is thrown onto a mowed grass field (length can vary depending on lawn size). After the pallino is thrown, teams take turn seeing how close they can get their bocce balls (or your croquet balls) to the mark. The balls that land closest score points, and the first team to 16 wins.
The Bottle Game
First, mark out a starting line on a hard surface like a deck or concrete driveway. Keeping both feet behind the line, crouch down, holding two bottles—coke bottles, beer bottles, wine bottles—by the necks, then slide the bottles on the ground in front of you, stretching your body perpendicular to the ground. Once you stretch as far as you can while still keeping your feet behind the line, leave one bottle to mark how far you went and then, supporting all your weight on the remaining bottle, drag yourself back to a standing position. Whoever can push their marker bottle the farthest is the winner. It’s a killer core workout, a cheap game and makes good use of your glass empties.
Grab a few folding tables, chairs and decks of cards, and before you know it, your guests will be embroiled in a high-stakes crazy eights tournament. Card games bring guests of all ages together for hours of low-energy competition, and can even bring out Aunt Martha’s ruthless, we’re-pretty-sure-she’s-cheating side.
Some bars around town choose to play this game however they want. But cornhole isn’t just an amateur tailgating activity anymore—it’s a real game, with real rules! So, if you’re gonna partake in this highly competitive variation of bean bag toss, do your homework at AmericanCornhole.org and use regulation cornhole equipment.
Give the croquet set that’s been moldering in your parents’ shed—or at the D.I.—a few whacks. The point of the game is to hit your colored ball through the course and back again, with opportunities to strike opponents’ balls into poor positions along the way. Play is somewhat complicated and can get competitive, so you’ll want to brush up on the rules before too many cocktails have been served.
Just when you thought the age-old tradition of throwing things at targets couldn’t get more exciting, a duo in Buffalo, N.Y., figured out a way—combine horseshoes and Frisbee. The goal of KanJam is to throw a flying disc into the trademark trash can, while your partner stands next to it, for points: one point if your teammate smacks the disc into the side of the can before it hits the ground; two points for hitting the can with your throw; three points if your teammate aids you in getting the disc into the can’s front slot. If you make it into the front slot without your teammate, it’s an instant win—otherwise you play to 21 points. You can find KanJam with other college-life necessities at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
If you’ve never tried the Swedish game Kubb, you’re missing out on an old-timey tradition of classic stick-on-stick action. Pronounced “koob,” the game was once known as Viking chess because, essentially, you chuck sticks at your opposing team’s stack of blocks to knock over their king. Local company Kubb Craft (KubbCraft.com) makes high-quality handcrafted Kubb sets and even offers customization like painting and engraving so your Kubb set can stay in your clan for generations to come.
The tailgating standby Ladder Golf is a great way to chuck bolas and not kill anything. You can buy a kit for fairly cheap, or assemble one yourself out of PVC pipe if you’re feeling handy. Points are awarded for each bola that you’re able to land on a rung—knocking down an opponent’s bola deducts points from their score.
Who needs name-brand playthings or bruise-free legs? Get 20 or so feet of painters plastic and use large rocks or sandbags to keep the slide in position on the lawn. Place your garden hose at one end—and maybe a couple of tablespoons of baby shampoo for extra lubrication—and let the sliding commence.
The Table Climb
A long, four-legged, kitchen-type table works best for this game—nothing with a support running underneath, so you might have to raid the dining room. Start the climb lying face-down on top of the table, with your head hanging down over the short end. Then, clutch the sides of the table and lower yourself under the table. If you’ve got what it takes, you’ll find yourself underneath the table, clinging bat-like to the bottom. But your challenge is only halfway over—now, climb to the other end of the table and pull yourself up and back on top.
The game that was the bane of uncoordinated kids everywhere is less menacing in adulthood—especially once you level the playing field with a few rounds of drinks. Barbecue hosts with matchmaking skills can pair up your friend Tyson with Sarah from spin class. So long as chipped teeth and trips to the hospital aren’t involved, taking a tumble while attached to an attractive person is something right out of a romantic comedy.
Borrow the neighbor’s trampoline, attach a revolving sprinkler head to your garden hose and turn it on under the trampoline. Guests can bounce, cool off without getting soaked and burn off—or work up an appetite for—your grilled goods.
Put your guests to work filling up water balloons while you tend to the grill, then grab two old sheets and split into teams. Your team holds your sheet and uses it to toss one water balloon to the other team, who uses their sheet to catch it—without letting it break. Play until all the balloons are broken or until an actual water-balloon fight inevitably breaks out.
For when food, friends and fun activities aren’t enough to make your barbecue the best it can be.
A Rockin’ Sound System
What’s a barbecue without your favorite classic rock and ’80s hair bands? Sucky, that’s what. And those iPod docks just won’t do justice to the classic songs of summer. So, head over to Sound Warehouse (multiple locations, SoundWarehouseUtah.com) and pick up a pair of Boss MR30s, a weather-resistant speaker equipped with brackets for easy hang-ability. Or, if you don’t mind a little exhaust (it tastes kinda like mesquite chips, anyway), you can use your ride as your sound system. Sound Warehouse can also upgrade your car speakers with some rockin’ Rockford Fosgates—they’ll get the bass loud enough to cook a steak.
The way you set up for your barbecue can set the tone for the whole shindig. Leaving your backyard as-is—weeds, dog poop, rusty lawn equipment and all—might give the place a charmingly rustic feel, especially in the low light of sundown, but could also give guests tacit permission to leave their half-eaten burger in the grass or relieve themselves on the side of your shed. As in all things, decoration moderation is key. So, by all means, throw a cheery plastic cover on your beer-pong table and arrange your liquor bottles and cups onto one convenient and visually pleasing surface. But your friends don’t need their beers served from a child’s red wagon that’s been converted into an ice chest and hand-painted with lettering that reads “Super Fun Friends Party 2013.” Promise.