To create a cookout checklist, think in terms of no longer having access to the inside of your home. You don't want everyone running in and out of the house all day, so make sure your party is self-sufficient from the get-go, and you won't feel exhausted when the party is over.
1. Location: Every cookout should be given ample planning time. Think long and hard about where you and your guests would have the most fun. If you are at home, essential cookout items, such as an outdoor grill, grilling utensils, paper plates and plastic silverware, as well as lawn furniture and games, can be stored in the garage for easy access. If you plan to travel to the cookout site, make sure that everything you need for the cookout will be available onsite. Are there grills? Are there picnic tables? Is there a public restroom nearby? Is there a shelter in case of inclement weather? Will you be near a swimming area and, if so, is there a place to change?
2. Guest List: Cookouts are usually more laid-back and less stringent than indoor house parties. Rules still apply, of course, but because the meal takes place out of doors there always seems to be plenty of room for extra guests, and table manners tend to go out the window. Also, because you are outside, guests can bring their own chairs or sit on the ground, thereby eliminating any stress over seating arrangements. Send invitations, or call everyone a week or two in advance. If the party is impromptu, don't rely on guests arriving on time. It is your responsibility to phone everyone personally and relay the invitation.
3. Meat: Cookout foods that require certain temperatures, such as meat, should be taken into consideration long before the big day. Frozen meat should be thawed and ready to grill the night before. Marinade or condition meat the day before the cookout, and always keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
4. Grill And Electricity: When your plans include a barbecue, make sure the onsite grill is up to snuff. If you will be using a gas grill, check that the tank is full. The last thing you want to do is run out of gas when making the burgers. If you're using charcoal, make sure you have matches and lighter fluid. If you'll be bringing along crock pots, you'll also need electrical outlets.
4. Salads: Salads also should be prepared in advance. If possible, prepare salads the night before, and place them in the refrigerator. If you plan on being outside for a long time, make sure you bring along a plastic child-size swimming pool. Fill it with ice, and nestle the bowls of foods that must remain chilled into the ice. If there's enough room, drinks can also be stored in the pool.
5. Drinks: Plan for at least four nonalcoholic drinks per person, more if it's a particularly hot day. The goal is to keep everyone hydrated.
6. Dishes And Utensils: Outdoor cooking utensils are an important part of your event's success. Because you will be outside-especially if you are somewhere besides your own home-you won't have the luxury of real dishes. Bring along more paper plates than you think you can use (they go like hotcakes), plus plenty of plastic utensils. Bring napkins, plastic cups and serving spoons for each dish.
7. First Aid Kit: Be prepared. Everything from insect bites to scrapes to sunburn or headaches and bellyaches can occur on a cookout. Get directions to the hospital from your cookout location, and place the directions in the first aid kit.
8. Insect Spray: Insect spray is a necessary evil. If you're near a lake, your chances of running into black flies during the hot summer months is high. The same goes for mosquitoes and gnats, not to mention regular houseflies. While citronella candles work well, they give off a smell that can have asthmatics running for cover. Try spraying the area the night before.
9. Condiments: Catsup, mustard and a few sets of salt and pepper shakers will come in handy when dinner is served.
10. Chairs And Blankets: Remind everyone to bring his own chair, and before blankets or beach towels are placed on the ground check to make sure the area isn't infested with ants or other insects.
Summer cookout games that get everyone interacting can make warm-weather barbeques even more fun. Simple family outdoor games, ranging from drawing a hopscotch grid with chalk on the driveway to setting up a badminton game, can create fond memories.
A 4th of July cookout is not only a chance to get in some good backyard cooking, but it is also an opportunity to thank our forefathers for fighting for our freedoms.