30 Tips for the Perfect Labor Day BBQ

familyhandyman.com | Aug. 25, 2023

Gather everyone around for one more cookout of the summer this Labor Day, and keep these tips in mind to ensure that it goes smoothly.

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grill on deck


Start with a Thorough Cleanup

If you don’t set aside time to clean and prep your grill, it can be easy to “forget,” and then your grill won’t be at its best for the barbecue (and may even ruin foods with smells, grease smoke, and other problems). In addition to cleaning your grill, take a walk around your yard and clean up any toys or junk that you’ve been meaning to get rid of — this helps avoid stress on party day. Plus, check out these 12 tips for planning the ultimate backyard barbecue.

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Grill Basket


Get Yourself a Grill Basket

grill basket is the perfect tool for grilling more delicate foods, especially veggies, fruit and kebabs.

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pergola patio cover

Use Nets, Canopies and Umbrellas for Shade

If you don’t have a table umbrella or built-in shade from canopies or a pergola, consider using light netting or simple white bed sheets for quick DIY shade (check out these Labor Day sales on all things DIY). You’d be surprised how much your guests will appreciate the shade. For a more ambitious project, consider a grill gazebo instead.

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Signature Drink alcohol mint leaf


Choose a Signature Drink

To make your party stand out, pick out a special drink (cocktails or mocktails work well) and one unique food item that you are especially proud of. Play up these specialties in your party invitations and make sure you have enough ingredients for a steady supply. Keep food plans simple so you have time to enjoy the party along with your guests.

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Portable Foods chicken kebabs grill


Choose Portable Foods

Holding onto a plate of food at an outdoor party can be awkward. If you set it down, you may forget where it is and bugs can get at it, or someone might think you’re finished with it and throw it away.

As the host, focus on foods that don’t need plates. You can skewer a variety of veggies, meats, appetizers, fruit and sweets. Or let guests make their own. Provide bowls or platters of bite-sized items along with plenty of skewers.

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grill hot dogs and vegetables


Grill Everything

With your grill out, why not use it as much as possible, like this grilling shelter? Grilling can improve a wide variety of dishes. Most breads and veggies can be lightly grilled, including lettuce and angel food cake.

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Protect Your Food tupperware fresh vegetables


Protect Your Food

While that smorgasbord of food may look great in a photo, it’s not great for the food to sit out all afternoon. Flies will get into the fruit, coleslaw will quickly wilt, and kids (with grubby hands) will find it tempting to grab and go. So it’s best to keep food under some kind of cover.

If you are doing a potluck, keep plastic wrap handy to wrap open bowls and platters. And for your food, make sure it’s covered with a lid or in a cooler until you’re ready to serve. You can also set up the food table just inside the house instead of outside. Remember, this food needs to endure hours of summer heat and bugs — it needs all the help it can get.

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Multiple Food Stations plate full of barbecued foods


Multiple Food Stations

You don’t want people waiting in line for food or drinks, if possible. Set up several food tables if you have a lot of guests. Likewise, you may want to spread out ice chests and coolers filled with drinks so they aren’t all in the same location. Not sure if you have enough tables? Build a couple more for your deck or patio.

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Lights and Torches outdoor patio string lights deck


Lights and Torches

Besides traditional outdoor lighting, consider installing string lights around your patio or deck for the right touch of ambiance and visibility as night falls. Setting up a few torches is also a good idea — not necessarily for visibility, but to help drive away mosquitoes with smoke and citrus oil blends. Be sure to watch young children around the torches.

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reader adirondack chairs

Plenty of Seating

Eventually, people will want to sit down. Have plenty of chairs and benches around and fill in with picnic blankets. If you are feeling ambitious, build your patio chairs.

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Signs and Chalk hotdog barbecue party outdoor


Signs and Chalk

Make it easy for your guests to know what’s in coolers and where different food items and drinks are. Setting up signs or propping up a chalkboard allows you to give directions (where’s the bathroom?) and identify everything. Speaking of identification, you may also want to include a bowl of tags or clips for drink glasses or a marker for disposable glasses and cups.

Use chalk to write a welcoming greeting on the sidewalk and steps in front of your house. No sidewalk? Draw arrows on the path to your backyard to guide your guests. And leave the chalk out so kids (and adults) can doodle during the party.

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citronella candles


Ban Bugs

Bugs can ruin a perfectly good outdoor party, forcing everyone indoors. If you don’t want to use a chemical spray bug repellent, try citronella candles or torches with citronella oil.

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glasses on patio deck


Clear Your Dishes

Even if you limit plates and silverware, you’ll still have dishes to take care of. To prevent chaos, set aside trays for bussing used non-disposable dishes. That way you (and your helpers) can take the dishes back to the kitchen in bunches throughout the party, making final cleanup easier.

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Firepit campfire on deck patio


Prep a Fire Pit

Ending your party with a cozy fire is fun, but you need to be ready. Prepare your fire pit for the big day by clearing out debris, stacking in firewood and making sure you have more wood on hand. If you don’t have a fire pit, there are lots of patio-friendly fire pit tables and similar designs that you can choose from. Or, believe it or not, you can build a fire table.

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Don’t Forget Music and Games

Create one last summer playlist and use a Bluetooth-enabled speaker to broadcast the tunes for your party. Of course, music isn’t the only entertainment people will be looking for. Set up games like croquet, bocce, and cornhole on the healthiest parts of your lawn for the kids of all ages.

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Use an Online Calculator for Food

Food is always one of the first considerations and thorniest problems for a big grill-out. Fortunately we live in an incredible digital age with online barbecue planners that allow you to see just how much food — and what kind of food — you need. The linked planner lets you calculate meals based on adults, children, number of vegetarians and favored meats. It’s a great way to get some basic numbers to work with.

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Plan Menus Early and Make a List of Ingredients

Plan your full menu based on the information for the online planner. For every dish and cocktail, make a precise list of ingredients that you need purchase and double-check it before you shop. You don’t want to start the party and realize you forgot that one ingredient that you assumed was in the kitchen.

Many experienced grillers like to focus on a signature dish or drink to show off a little, but this is up to you. Also, whenever possible, try to take guests food allergies into account by providing alternatives, if necessary. For more backyard fun ideas, check out these seven outdoor games you can make with stuff you already have.

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Plan for Outside Refrigeration

Not every grill setup can have an outdoor refrigerator (although it makes a great addition), but you do need some way to keep things cold. Whether it’s a mini-fridge you can plug in outside or a couple of coolers, be sure to have this figured out before grill-out day.

Always refrigerate meats separately from other foods and try to reserve a section or cooler for the drinks. Remember that it’s important to keep some foods cool, while drinks can always be stored inside until you want to bring them out. You need a good cooler for proper camping — check out the best camping supplies you don’t have.

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Create a Menu for Guests

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but for larger grill-outs it’s useful to have a printed or written menu that shows what you will be serving, especially if you are proud of it. Paper printouts, chalkboard stands and whiteboards all work. Skip this step if it’s a potluck-style gathering. Love the look of chalk? Make chalk paint at home.

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Organize Meat By Temperature

The easiest way to do this is to create three platters — rare, medium and well-done. Label them and serve your cooked meats on the appropriate platters. Keep an eye on them, and adjust for the general tastes of the crowd. This is a great way to please guests and save a lot of time asking or answering questions about which steak is well-done.

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How 'Bout Them Apples


How ‘Bout Them Apples

After that trip to the apple orchard, grill up some apples with your dinner. Apples stand up well to the heat and can be a tasty addition to the main dish or dessert. Just slice cored apples in half, brush them with a little oil or melted butter and cook them over medium heat until they’re tender.

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dfh17sep049_633352091 _03 fall grilling marinade chicken


Try a Fall Grilling Marinade

Try fall flavors in your homemade fall grilling marinades. Maple, rosemary and bourbon are all flavors of the season. The Spruce offers this fall-inspired marinade featuring bourbon.


•  One cup bourbon;
•  One cup brown sugar;
•  One cup oil;
•  One cup mustard;
•  One cup Worcestershire sauce.


1. Combine all ingredients and mix until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Marinate meats for four to 12 hours before grilling.

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dfh17sep049_226222594_04 squash


Squash Skewers

Try fall grilling butternut squash. Peel it, remove the seeds and cut into one-inch pieces. Coat the pieces in some olive oil and place them on skewers. Cook them over medium high for five to seven minutes.

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dfh17sep049_313246001_05 chilli


Grill Your Chili

Use a large cast iron pan or Dutch oven to cook your chili on the grill. Plus, Weber offers tips such as using a charcoal grill to cook a pot of chili in just over an hour. And using your grill will add a smoky richness you just can’t get inside.

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dfh17sep049_524195713_11 leeks vegetables


Try Some Leeks

Instead of throwing your fall-harvest leeks into a soup, try this simple recipe and serve them up as a side dish. Clean and trim the leeks. Next, split them in half lengthwise and coat with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Finally, grill them about five minutes per side, or until they are tender.

Fall grilling with gas? Learn how to determine propane tank levels.

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dfh17sep049_267658736_08 grilled pumpkin


Try Grilling a Pumpkin

Try grilling a pumpkin for your next fall dessert. Just clean off the outside of a sugar (pie) pumpkin and poke some holes in the shell to allow for ventilation. And place the pumpkin in a 8×8-in. glass dish and cook on a grill at 350-375 degrees for 45-60 minutes, or until tender.

When it’s cool enough to handle, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Finally, use the cooked pumpkin for pie, or toss with some cinnamon and sugar and eat with ice cream.

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dfh17sep049_648443653_09 salsa and ingredients


Grilled Salsa

Instead of making your regular go-to salsa recipe, try grilling your peppers, onions and tomatoes. For peppers and onions, cut and place on skewers. But for tomatoes, grill them whole over indirect heat until tender. Then chop and combine with the rest of your salsa ingredients.

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dfh17sep049_108033407_10 lasagna


Grill a Lasagna

You can grill lasagna or any other casserole. Just heat a grill to medium and place the prepared lasagna or casserole over indirect heat. Then cover and grill for 45 minutes to one hour.

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dfh17sep049_279308702_11 fall grilling chicken wings


Grill Wings For the Game

Wings don’t have to be fried. When making wings for a crowd, try grilling them. After marinating the wings, place them on medium, direct heat and grill for 25-30 minutes. Or you can also skip the marinade and toss them with sauce after grilling. Here’s how to fit everyone in front of the TV if you move things inside.

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dfh17sep049_164421674-13 grilled vegetables


Make a Charred Vegetable Salad

Get the most out of the end-of-season produce and grill up vegetables for a chopped salad. Try peppers, Brussels sprouts, onions, eggplant and even romaine. Next, coat vegetables with a little oil, salt and pepper and grill over direct heat a couple of minutes on each side until tender. Then chop and toss together with your favorite dressing.


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