With Memorial Day behind us and the Fourth of July and Labor Day on the horizon, cookout season is officially in full swing. I can practically smell the sizzling burgers and hear the clinking of ice in cold drinks as friends and family gather to celebrate summer. There’s nothing quite like the joy of a backyard BBQ, where blaring music mixes with laughter, and the smell of grilled goodness fills the air. Whether it’s an impromptu get-together with neighbors or a well-planned party at a friend’s or relative’s house, these cookouts are a big part of summer fun.

But let’s be honest, showing up to a cookout is more than just bringing a dish to share. Proper etiquette can make all the difference in getting that coveted return invite to your friend of a friend’s cookout or even to your boss’s “bougie” beach house. I always make sure to greet the host with a big smile and a helping hand. Unless I am the host, which happens quite often at my house.

It’s always good to offer a helping hand, like offering to run the grill or keep an eye on the cooler. And, of course, remembering to say thank you as the night winds down is a must. With these little gestures, you’re not just another guest, you’re someone the host will want to invite back.

The Basics of Summer Cookouts

We should all know the basics, right? When it comes to summer cookouts, there are a few golden rules. For example, always RSVP, thank the host, offer to help where needed. If you’re the host, you want to make sure you cleverly stash away some extra food to ensure it lasts beyond the first wave of guests. You wouldn’t want the best dishes to disappear before the party truly gets going.

First things first, responding to an invite is a must. Whether it’s a text, email, or an old-school mailed invite, a prompt RSVP shows respect for the host. It helps them plan efficiently and ensures everyone is accounted for. Even if you’re unsure about attending, it’s better to respond with a polite decline than to leave the host in suspense. As someone who is always hosting something, I’m never offended when some declines or even says “maybe” to an event. At least they said something.

RELATED: Mastering Potluck Etiquette with These 5 Tips

Now, let’s talk about contributions. When you’re heading to a cookout, it’s a nice touch to bring something along. A dish, a thoughtful gift for the host, or even something simple like soda, napkins, paper plates, or plastic cutlery can make a big difference. Think about the host’s preferences, any dietary restrictions, or the theme of the gathering when deciding what to bring. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask the host for suggestions.

Upon arrival, make your way to the host to thank them for the invitation. A warm compliment on the setup or (hopefully) wonderful smell from the grill will make them feel appreciated and set a positive tone for the event.

Throughout the cookout, offer your assistance. Whether it’s setting the table, arranging seating, or helping with food prep, your involvement shows you’re genuinely invested in the event’s success.

And here’s a pro tip for you if you’re hosting: never put out all the food at once. If you lay out every pan of mac and cheese immediately, it’ll be gone with the first round of guests. Instead, put out one pan of each dish at a time, keeping the rest indoors and warm or refrigerated as needed. This way, guests will naturally pace themselves. When it’s time for round two and the inevitable scramble for to-go plates,  you can swoop in with fresh, delicious reinforcements.

Check out some more summer cookout etiquette tips below.

  • It’s Not The Time To Learn The Inner Workings Of A Grill Master

    You just got your first charcoal grill and want to impress at the holiday cookout. But grilling is an art, so get some practice before inviting everyone over. When planning your menu, be realistic about your skills, time, and space. There’s nothing worse than having guests waiting while you search for how to cook ribs. Prepare slow-cooked items like pulled pork and chicken ahead of time and keep them warm. And a bit of advice, quick-grill items like hot dogs can be cooked when the rest of the food is ready and served immediately.

    Worried Home-cook making mistakes and failing at cooking

    nicoletaionescu/ Getty Images

  • No Experiments, Please

    A company potluck is perfect for testing out that new keto-friendly recipe. But for the summer cookout, stick with tried-and-true dishes. Everyone loves that familiar potato salad recipe. Experimenting is great, but maybe test new dishes on a different audience first. Trust me, your guests would rather not endure the awkwardness of a hard chew or the stealthy paper plate roll-up straight to the trash.

    Bad home cook trying to imitate a food blogger in recreating dish

    nicoletaionescu/ Getty Images

  • Bring More Than Your Appetite

    Ever heard whispers about that one person who never brings anything to the cookout? Don’t be that person. Just like you would for any other party, bring a small token of appreciation for the host. It’s polite and makes the whole event more enjoyable for everyone. From experience, dessert or something small like cheese and crackers is always a safe bet. If you want to stay away from food, try something like napkins, paper plates, or a game for everyone to enjoy.

    Asian young man holding empty plate and her stomach with happy and full expression.

    Rizky Rahmat Hidayat/ Getty Images

  • Don’t Poison Your Guests And Keep A Clean Sapce

    Food poisoning is no joke. Avoid cross-contamination, undercooked meat, and spoiled food. Keep raw meat and poultry separate from everything else, use separate utensils and cutting boards, and wash everything thoroughly. Use clean ice for drinks, not the ice from the cooler. And always use an instant-read thermometer to check if meat or fish is cooked properly. Follow USDA guidelines for safe temperatures. And remember, keep hot dishes hot and cold dishes cold. Don’t leave food out for more than two hours, or one hour if it’s a scorching day.

    If you have pets, this advice is especially important. Some guests might already be wondering about your kitchen’s cleanliness or have seen that Instagram photo of your cat in the fridge. Make sure your cooking space is squeaky clean before whipping up something for the cookout. We’re all rooting for you! Say no to pet hair or licked spoons in the kitchen.

    Man cutting piece of meat on cutting board with knife, cat looking at it

    Tatiana Terekhina/ Getty Images

  • Nail The Playlist

    The older generation may not appreciate explicit lyrics, and the younger crowd might not enjoy an all-’80s playlist. Read the room, mix up the music, and set the right atmosphere. When in doubt, put on a neutral radio station to avoid taking full responsibility for the playlist. And remember to keep it subtle and in the background. Unless you’re throwing a kickback sort of function.

    Family and Friends Dancing together at the Garden Party Celebration. Young and Elderly People Having Fun on a Sunny Summer Day Disco.

    gorodenkoff/ Getty Images

  • Keep Conversations Light And Friendly

    Avoid diving into touchy subjects like politics, religion, family drama, or bringing up your friend’s ex- who cheated. All of this and then some, with it being an election year. Stick to enjoyable, inclusive discussions that keep the atmosphere positive and relaxed. Cookouts are meant to be a time for everyone to unwind and have a good time together. No need for heated debates over the grill. Unless, you want to make things uncomfortable for the summer cookout attendees.

    Outdoor, child, Family, arguing, covering ears, shouting

    Zukovic/ Getty Images

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