backyard bbq ideas lead
CNN  — 

You’ve got the grill. The menu is planned. The invites have gone out. But do you have the proper tools, tableware, decor, BBQ sauces and rubs and other items needed to make your next backyard barbecue the best one ever?

“My pro tip for enjoying at-home barbecues and not ‘manning’ the grill all day is to make as much as you can ahead,” says Girl Carnivore’s Kita Roberts. “Think of big cuts of meat that can be cooked low and slow ahead of time. Smoke a pork shoulder or brisket the day before and then reheat in foil pans to serve. The smoky barbecue flavor shines through and you aren’t stuck waiting for the meat to be ready when guests are hungry.”

We asked Roberts and Scott Thomas of The Grillin’ Fools for their pro tips for feeding a crowd and also rounded up some great gear and other must-haves that will add some special, er, sauce to the ambiance at your next get-together. Stock up on the Wet-Naps — it’s grill time!

Green Mountain Davy Crockett Sense Mate Portable Wood Pellet Grill ($386;

Green Mountain Davy Crockett Sense Mate Portable Wood Pellet Grill

Thomas says pellet grills with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology are the perfect options when cooking for a crowd. “Once upon a time, I was a charcoal snob and thought pellet grills were just outdoor ovens,” he says. “Then I had kids. And with so much less time to adjust vents and add fuel, I found being able to set it and forget it is a godsend. I can put my protein on the pellet cooker, set my temp, insert my probe thermometer and check my progress from my phone while cleaning up and preparing the house and the backyard for the crowd.”

Thomas says he currently uses a Green Mountain Grill that allows him to check and adjust the temperature of both the grill and the protein from his phone. This foldable, portable, electric pellet grill from Green Mountain gets great Amazon reviews and comes with Wi-Fi controls, a meat probe and a thermal sensor to monitor the grill temp. At 57 pounds, it’s also a go-to for tailgaters.

Cambro Insulated Food Carrier ($179;

Cambro Insulated Food Carrier

Cambro’s lightweight insulated carriers, often used by restaurants and caterers, are made to keep food hot (or cold) for hours. “Remove your pork shoulder, brisket or ribs from the grill still wrapped in peach butcher paper or foil, wrap the meat in a towel and drop it in a Cambro or an empty cooler and the meat will be fine for hours,” Thomas says. “One year, my Thanksgiving turkey was done three hours early. I used foil, a towel and an empty cooler and it was the best turkey I’d ever had.”

Porter Road Packer Brisket ($112;

Porter Road Packer Brisket

When grilling for a group, Thomas recommends brisket and pulled pork, which can be made in large quantities at a relatively low cost.

“Ribs are a little harder because of the amount of space needed to cook for a large crowd, but otherwise are a great option if you have the space,” he adds. “And they can be done in shifts if using the Cambro method. When the second batch is done, serve the ones staying hot in the cooler or Cambro. Chicken is great too and can be kept warm while a second or third batch is cooked on the grill. And don’t forget the old standbys: burgers, dogs and sausages.”

Porter Road’s dry-aged brisket is antibiotic- and hormone-free and pasture-raised, and it serves more than a dozen people.

Omaha Steaks Fully Cooked Chicken Wings ($31.99;

Omaha Steaks Fully Cooked Chicken Wings

“If you don’t have a smoker and are using a traditional or gas grill, tossing burgers or wings to come off the grill at the same time is a huge stress saver,” Roberts says. “On average, wings take 45 minutes to grill. Burgers tend to only take 15 minutes from start to finish. Pop the wings on the grill and at the 30-minute marker, when you’re checking the wings to make sure they aren’t burning, toss the burgers on so everything comes off the grill at the same time.”

Take even more guesswork out of your barbecue with these precooked wings from Omaha Steaks (serves four) that can be warmed on the grill for 15 to 20 minutes.

Oxo Good Grips 16-Inch Stainless Steel Locking Tongs ($15.95;

OXO Good Grips 16-Inch Stainless Steel Locking Tongs

Among Roberts’ top picks for at-home barbecue parties are two pairs of long tongs, “so you can go from raw to cooked without the worry of cross-contamination and reach across the entire grill area without singeing your arm hairs.” With nearly 9,000 5-star reviews on Amazon, she likes Oxo’s tongs, which are also nonslip and dishwasher-safe.

Roberts also recommends heat-resistant grilling gloves, a charcoal chimney starter “so you never have to use lighter fluid again” and Western Wood BBQ smoking wood chips or chunks that, she says, will leave your guests “guessing how you locked in classic smoked barbecue flavor on any grill.”

Thermapen One Meat Thermometer ($105;

Thermapen One Meat Thermomete

“Probably the most important item other than the grill is a Thermapen,” Thomas says. “When cooking for a crowd, whether chicken, hamburgers or bratwursts, don’t guess. … It is quite humiliating to have to throw the meat back on the grill because it is undercooked or dry it out because it is overcooked.” The Thermapen One offers digital temp readings in one second or less.

Solo Stove Bonfire Fire Pit ($299.99; originally $349.99;

Solo Stove Bonfire Fire Pit

Keep the party going long after the sun goes down and the cool evening air sets in with Solo Stove’s sleek, stainless steel, wood-burning fire pit that’s super efficient and burns with practically no smoke, so your clothes won’t smell after sitting around the fire all night. At 20 pounds and 14 inches tall and with a 19.5 diameter, it’s the perfect size for pretty much any patio or yard (and easy to take camping) and requires no assembly. We love it for its ease of use, ample heat output, lack of smoke and chic, minimalist aesthetic. Bonus: Consider dessert served when you use it to make s’mores after your barbecue. Just don’t be surprised if you have trouble getting your guests to leave at the end of the night.

Jeremy Exley Yard Dice ($50;

Jeremy Exley Yard Dice

What’s a backyard barbecue without a few fun lawn games? We can’t wait to make some friendly wagers playing with this set of six large handmade wooden dice that comes with rules for four games. Each 3 1/5-inch cube is made from solid pine, and the set comes housed in a rustic-style drawstring bag for easy storage.

Brightown Outdoor Solar String Lights, 2-Pack ($12.77, originally $15.98;

Brightown Outdoor Solar String Lights, 2-Pack

Set a festive mood at your evening barbecue with solar-powered twinkle lights either strewn across your patio, wrapped around your greenery or twisted into glass jars as centerpieces. This pack features two waterproof 33-foot-long strands with 100 LED bulbs each in a warm white. Lasting up to 10 hours on a full charge, choose from eight lighting modes, from waves to twinkle to steady.

Coleman Outdoor Rainbow Blanket ($34.99;

Coleman Outdoor Rainbow Blanket

Short on chairs? Toss a festive blanket on the ground for picnic-style seating. This colorful rainbow version features a water-resistant bottom and soft flannel top and has corner loops that can be staked into the ground to keep it in place. When you’re done using it, it rolls right up and comes with a fastening strap that serves as a handle.

Tiki Aloha Pineapple Glass Torch, Set of 2 ($34.99;

Tiki Aloha Pineapple Glass Torch, Set of 2

Bring a little light, along with some tropical joy, to your backyard barbecue with these pretty green glass pineapple torches. The 8-inch-high jars can be used alone as lit centerpieces or placed on poles to serve as 50- or 65-inch torches. Mosquitoes biting? Use Tiki’s BiteFighter Fuel to keep them away.

Gibson Home Brist Melamine Dinnerware, Set of 4 ($25.99; originally $29.99;

Gibson Home Brist Melamine Dinnerware, Set of 4

Paper plates are perfectly acceptable during a backyard barbecue, of course, but if you’re looking to elevate your dishware a bit, opt for this bright and colorful melamine set from Gibson. Each durable set for four includes a dinner plate, salad plate and bowl (12 pieces total) that look lovely when mixed and matched.

Sun Squad Grill Toss Napkins ($3;

Sun Squad Grill Toss Napkins

There’s no denying it: Barbecues are messy, and you’re going to need napkins — lots and lots of napkins. Keep in line with your party theme with these fun and colorful two-ply napkins that feature grills, hot dogs, utensils, kabobs and more. You’ll get 30 in a pack, but at just $3 a pop, you might as well stock up.

Sun Squad BBQ Apron ($10;

Sun Squad BBQ Apron

You bought the napkins — you might as well go ahead and get the matching apron. In a bright blue, this canvas apron is covered in barbecue icons and will help keep the grill master clean — while looking festive — all party long.

Joyin Inflatable Palm Tree Cooler ($18.95;

Joyin Inflatable Palm Tree Cooler

Sure, you could pull out your old standard cooler for your barbecue bash, but this inflatable palm tree is so much more fun! Made to float in the pool or just decorate your patio, it holds ice and drinks and is perfect for a luau/tropical party theme.

J.K. Adams Co. Barbecue Cutting Board ($69.99;

J.K. Adams Co. Barbecue Cutting Board

Every barbecuer needs a cutting board to carve all that delicious grilled food, and this large maple version is a great option. At 20 inches by 14 inches, it’s 1-inch thick, has undercuts for easy grasping and comes with a lifetime warranty.

BBQ Fun Umbrella Tablecloth With Zipper ($37.99;

BBQ Fun Umbrella Tablecloth With Zipper

Dress up your outdoor table with this 60-inch-by-120-inch water-resilient, spillproof tablecloth that includes a table umbrella zipper hole and, with it’s adorable illustrations, will leave no guest uncertain of the night’s menu options.