You sigh, tap your feet a little bit, and then make the mistake of glancing at the clock. All the signs of Pre-Memorial Day Madness are present at your 9-to-5. Memorial Day is the official kick-off weekend for adult summer fun, and if you’re not one of those #blessed few with a beach cottage or sailboat to open for the season, you should plan to celebrate the way most regular blue-blooded young adult Americans do — with a good, old-fashioned backyard barbecue!
If you’ve been to plenty of cookouts but have never actually hosted one yourself, don’t worry. It’s not that hard to do. Just follow these tips to plan the perfect casual event that’s fun for you and your friends.
1. Fire up the Grill
There’s simply no other way to do it: Memorial Day weekend calls for an outdoor barbecue cooked over an open fire. If you’ve never actually grilled outside over an open flame before, or more precisely, have only mastered microwaved Cup ‘o Noodles, burgers and dogs are your best bet — they’re really not that hard. If you’re an experienced fire chef, consider upping your game to include barbecued chicken and veggies like asparagus or zucchini. For recipes that will tell you exactly when to flip things over, try the Weber Grills app which you can pull up to reference when you’re marinating and flipping.
2. Select Your Sides
True fact: It’s perfectly ok to head to the deli for a smorgasbord of prepared sides like pasta salad or a selection of marinated olives. It’s also fine to make your own if you really love to cook — just don’t feel like you have to slave away over a hot stove while everyone else is outside having fun and playing Flip Cup. Prepare or purchase your dishes the night before and keep them cold until it’s time to eat. This is especially true of any mayonnaise-based dishes — looking at you, potato salad — since they tend to go bad quickly.
3. Keep the Cold Ones Ready
Warmer weather means your guests are going to be mighty thirsty, so be prepared with twice as many drinks as you think you might need. The easiest way to serve them up is just to keep beers and sodas in their original bottles or cans. Have a cooler or ice chest filled with alcoholic beverages and a separate one with non-alcoholic drinks — this is especially useful if anyone is a designated driver or has a bun in the oven that doesn’t need a little extra fermentation. To add a little homemade flair to the proceedings, you could set up a twisted lemonade station and let your friends add in different kinds mixers. Need a basic recipe? Here’s how you can make an easy cup of lemonade.
4. Add Some Lawn Games
Who said that just because we’re young adults, we don’t like to play like kids? Sidewalk chalk, bubble wands and squirt guns are all classic favorites. You can keep mature adults entertained with more structured games like a Wiffleball tournament, classic croquet or badminton. If you’re really ambitious and don’t mind a semi-permanent lawn ornament, use spray paint to create a Twister board right on the grass. If you don’t have a spinner, just let other — mostly sober — guests call out whatever color and body part they feel like.
5. Remember the Reason for the Holiday
By the way, you know what Memorial Day is all about, right? In addition to enjoying the first days of summer and having a great time reconnecting with family and friends, it’s also a national day of remembrance for soldiers who were killed in service to their country. Take a moment to honor the slain by doing something nice for a current soldier. Consider putting together a care package for the troops by asking friends to bring items to donate instead of a six-pack or tray of deviled eggs. Let kids help box them up, and get them overseas via the Attn: Any Soldier program.
6. Don’t Forget Dessert
Though you’ll probably be pretty full after a third helping of macaroni salad, dessert is a must-have. Help your guests work up an appetite for it by clearing away the main dishes and encouraging everyone to take part in a game between dinner and dessert. Ice cream is an easy, crowd-pleasing choice, especially if you’re not much of a baker. Set up a build-your-own sundae buffet for maximum fun. You can also use the residual heat from your grill to roast marshmallows for s’mores — which is a classic summer treat!
With a little creativity and planning, you can host the perfect Memorial Day weekend event. But don’t stress about perfection: The charm of an old-school cookout is that you get to relax and enjoy yourself — no need to get too fancy. After all, your best childhood memories of summer outside probably aren’t of the décor or napkins, or even the food. It’s of a warm night and time well spent with people you care about.