Ideas & Inspiration

Tips for a Tasty Cookout

Essential Grilling Tools
A person uses grilling tongs to rotate kebabs on a gas grill.

First, make sure you have right grilling tools on hand:

  • Fire extinguisher
  • 16-inch grilling utensils (Note that standard 12-inch kitchen tongs are too short for grilling and can increase the risk of burns)
  • Grilling gloves
  • Metal grill brush
  • Food thermometer
  • Fuel for your type of grill

Tip: Add an extra punch of flavor to your food by grilling with smoking wood chips. Create tasty pairings using your choice of a wood chip varieties, which include mesquite, hickory, apple wood and more.  

Types of Grills and Fuels
A propane grill on a patio.

The type of grill is determined by its fuel. Listed below are the four main types of grills, along with their fuel requirements and benefits:  


Charcoal grills are one of the most iconic types of outdoor grills. They most commonly use charcoal briquettes as fuel, but they can also use hardwood lump charcoal, which usually do not have chemicals or fillers and can provide a more distinct flavor.  

Charcoal grills cook at up to 700-degrees Fahrenheit and have no temperature controls. These grills are designed to distribute heat in hot, direct zones and in cooler, indirect zones, so manage the heat and cooking speed of your food by cooking over different areas of the grill grate.  


Gas grills can use either natural gas or liquid propane as fuel. To use natural gas, the grill will need to connect to your house’s natural gas line. Propane is purchased in tanks that can be easily refilled. When grilling with propane, it is a good idea to have at least one full tank on hand.  

Compared to charcoal grills, gas grills heat up faster, offer more precise temperature control and are easier to clean. However, cooking with gas does not offer the chargrilled flavor that cooking with charcoal does. 


Electric grills require no fuel; you only need to plug them into an electrical outlet. Space-saving and portable, these grills are a great option if you live in an apartment or condo where traditional grilling is not permitted or if you have limited outdoor space for a cookout. Although electric grills do not add the same flavor to foods that grills with other fuels do, you can use marinades and liquid smoke to replicate that familiar grilled flavor.  


Smokers are grills that cook food at a lower temperature over longer periods of time. Smokers have the greatest variety of fuel types; you can choose from charcoal smokers, wood smokers, gas smokers, electric smokers and pellet smokers. Pellet smokers are electrically powered and burn wood pellets to create a smoky flavor.  

Although they take longer to cook food, smokers do not require constant supervision like a charcoal grill might and are best at infusing meats with rich, authentic flavors.  

Tip: Create a smoking pack for any type of grill by packing wood chips in several layers of aluminum foil. Poke holes in the foil so that the smoke can escape, then place the smoking pack directly on top of the charcoals or in the smoking box of your grill. 

Safety: Place grills at least ten feet away from your home on a flame-safe surface such as a patio or driveway, rather than grass or a deck. 

Cookout Preparation
Four friends gather in a backyard around a grill and outdoor seating for a cookout.

Once you have the essential tools and fuel for your grill, begin preparations for your cookout. To save yourself time on the day of the cookout, try to set up as much as you can the day before. 

  • If the weather allows, set up tables and chairs in your backyard the day before. Lay tablecloths and table settings the next day, shortly before guests arrive, to ensure nothing is damaged or lost before the cookout starts. 
  • Have large blankets and outdoor pillows on hand to spread on the ground as extra seating if needed. 
  • Ensure you have plenty of plates, utensils, cups and napkins for all your guests. For a casual vibe, use disposable utensils and dishes. For a more formal affair, use outdoor dishware, serveware and utensils, but have disposables as a backup in case you run out of anything to avoid a rushed, mid-cookout dish washing session.  
  • Prepare as much food as possible before the event. The grilled foods will be the highlight and focus of the cookout, but sides and desserts are equally as important and can be prepped ahead of time. You can also purchase drinks and snacks ahead of time for your guests to enjoy before the main meal. 
  • Consider creating a simple and convenient outdoor hand washing station so that your guests won’t have to walk in and out of your home. Fill a water cooler with clean water and provide hand soap and paper towels nearby. Guests can lather and rinse their hands under the water cooler’s spigot, then return to the party.  
  • Compile a cookout playlist. Playing some low music can help break the ice and ease the pressure for conversation as guests arrive and get comfortable at their own pace. 
Lighting Ideas
Three lit garden torches in a backyard space.

Add a fun ambiance to your cookout with some well-placed lighting. This is an especially important step if your cookout extends into the evening.

  • String lights can line your fence, deck railing, porch overhangs or doorways. Not only will the string lights add some whimsy to your cookout as the sun sets, but they will also clearly indicate the party area for your guests. 
  • Lanterns can serve as both extra lighting and a centerpiece for the tables. 
  • Use outdoor lights to line paths and walkways for your guests. 
  • As the evening approaches, torches will add warmth to the air and help keep bugs away.
Drink Ideas
A beverage cooler filled with ice and bottles.

No cookout is complete without refreshing beverages. Keep your guests hydrated and happy with plenty of drink options. Purchasing bottled beverages and creating premixed cocktails (or mocktails) beforehand will ensure you don’t spend most of your cookout behind a bar. Put bottled water, canned sodas and other bottled beverages over ice in a beverage cooler for easy access. Fill beverage dispensers with mixed and homemade drinks so guests can serve themselves. 

Tip: For a large party, create a DIY cooler out of a kiddie pool and water balloons. Freeze water balloons overnight, then place them and bottled drinks in an inflatable or plastic kiddie pool. The frozen water balloons will keep the drinks cold and be easy to clean up once they melt.

Grilling Tips
A woman grills vegetables on an outdoor gas grill.

For perfectly grilled foods, follow these helpful grilling tips:


  • Before cooking, heat up the grill and clean the grate with a wire brush. Alternatively, you can clean and season your grill at the same time by rubbing the grill grate with an onion. 
  • Allow the grill to ample time to build ambient heat. Charcoal grills will need at least five minutes to heat up, while gas grills will need at least 15 minutes. 
  • Monitor internal food temperatures using a reliable food thermometer and grill thermometer. 
  • Do not fight flare-ups. Instead, move food to another spot on the grill and wait for the flare-up to die down on its own. 
  • Decide how much time you want to spend at the grill versus how much time you want to spend socializing with guests. Certain foods, such as hamburgers and hot dogs, will require constant attention. If you want to step away from the grill, choose a main dish that has a long cook time, such as a roast chicken. 
  • Sides will help fill up a plate, so offer your guests many side options in addition to grilled foods.
Activity Ideas
Four people play ring toss in a backyard.

While you cook or clean up after the main meal, entertain your guests with outdoor activities. Give your guests ways to casually mingle as they wait for food by setting up lawn games like bean bag toss, ring toss or bocce ball. If you have the yard space, keep an area clear for a game of touch football or soccer. After the meal, invite your guests to enjoy a planned group activity like a projection movie or roasting marshmallows over a fire pit.

Ready to find the supplies you need to wow your guests with an amazing cookout? Use The Home Depot app to locate products and check inventory in your local store. We'll take you to the exact aisle and bay.