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How to BBQ for a Party Like A Pro

There’s nothing quite like a backyard BBQ to bring together your family, friends, and neighbors for a day (or night) of good, wholesome fun. But when you’re switching from grilling a few burgers and dogs to feeding a whole neighborhood, you’ll need to do a lot more planning and preparation to BBQ for a party like a pro.

But fear not: With some basic math taken from the catering industry, you can maximize your efficiency and enjoyment while you work on feeding a large group. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to BBQ for large groups with a step-by-step planning process and recipes sure to impress everyone you know. That way, you’ll be the star of the show at the next wedding, graduation, or birthday celebration you end up cooking for.

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Tips on How to BBQ for a Party

The restaurant industry has a term called mise en place, meaning everything in its place. That’s exactly what you’ll need to BBQ for a large group: Having your menu, portion sizes, grilling station, and after-party storage set up well in advance.

And once you do have everything in its place, the actual barbecuing process will be a breeze. So let’s dig into each area of planning, one at a time.

Know Your Crowd Size

First things first: How many people will you be cooking for?

This doesn’t have to be an exact number (though that helps if you’re on a tight budget). But get a good estimate, and round up to the nearest multiple of 10. So if you think that 36 people will be attending your BBQ, plan for 40—that way, there will be enough for healthy eaters and a good bit of leftovers for sandwiches throughout the week. It's always good to err on having a little too much food than not enough!

But know this also: The larger your party size, the more planning you’ll have to do in advance. Because it takes longer to cook and serve everything, there are more steps you’ll need to take to ensure that your cooked food is served safely.

This may also include making lists, including one for any foods that need special ordering, items you need for grilling (pellets, accessories, cutting boards), and things you might need to rent, like tables and chairs.

Come Up with a Menu

When it comes to planning your BBQ party, crafting the perfect menu is the first step to flavor-packed success and happy guests. Start by coming up with a menu full of star-studded proteins, delicious sides, desserts, and drink options.

Once you've come up with your menu (simplicity is key), make sure to select your choice of pellets to infuse your dishes with wood-fired flavor. With Traeger, your BBQ menu is limited only by your imagination so get creative.

When you’re figuring out how to BBQ for a party, you may want to consider what sort of occasion it’s for as we. Are you cooking for a casual get-together or a wedding? A birthday party, or a reunion? This may affect your menu and the different foods you decide to serve.

Calculate Portions And Times

Timing is key when it comes to barbecuing for a lot of people. Start with your preparations a few days or even a week out, especially when it comes to your meat choices. Marinating or seasoning meats and vegetables ahead of time is a great way to enhance the flavor for your guests to enjoy. This is also a great time to take a look at your grill. Does it need cleaning? Are you out of any products? Have you plugged it in to make sure everything is up to par? Before the big day, be sure to plug in your Traeger and turn it on. That way you can receive any firmware updates, which can take a few minutes to process before you start cooking.

When it comes to the actual day of the party, consider timing the various elements by the hour so you'll know you'll be ready when your guests arrive. And consider your fridge space. You may need a cooler to hold everything or empty it out of non-essentials.

You'll also need to have a good idea of your portions. In general, a pound of food can feed 3-4 people, so a good rule of thumb is to have a quarter of that for each person. Though with how good Traeger BBQ is, you might need to plan for a bit more.

Set Up Your Grilling Station

Whether you’re cooking for 15 people or 150, setting up an organized grilling station will make the whole process smooth and simple.

Do an equipment check. Do you have enough bowls, platters etc. Serving spoons. How will you keep hot foods hot for serving?

The basic idea is this: You want to have all of your tools and ingredients set up around your grill before you start grilling. That way, you never have to leave the grill—or risk burning hamburgers or hot dogs while you’re away.

Any meats you will be grilling need to be refrigerated while you’re waiting to cook them. This is easily accomplished by keeping them on ice in a cooler, wrapped in plastic so they don’t get waterlogged. Raw vegetables can be kept at room temperature while awaiting the grill.

Lastly, make sure you have the right tools at your side to ensure a successful cookout. Our Traeger Flat Top Grill Essentials Kit includes a scarper, spatulas, and squeeze bottles for cooking on a Flat Rock add a pair of our BBQ Grilling Tongs for whatever you’re cooking on your pellet grill, and you’ll be ready to rock.

Keep Drinks and Desserts Simple

While you could go with pre-made dessert options from the store, why not show off your skills and opt for some unique smoked desserts? If you plan on making desserts for your BBQ, consider easy treats that can feed a crowd like smoked lemon bars, peach cobbler, bacon marshmallow treats, and baked berry cheesecake.

A stack of red solo cups, cold cans, or bottles of beer, wine, soda, and bottled water on ice are always must-haves when having a large group of people over for a BBQ, but it doesn't hurt to have a few fun cocktails on hand. Consider some of our batch drink recipes:

  • Traeger 'Que Cocktail: Grilled orange juice, lemon, honey, bourbon, and beer have never tasted so good.
  • Grilled Strawberry Bourbon Lemonade: Kick up your summer lemonade with bourbon and wood-fired flavor for a refreshing and unique cocktail your guests will love.
  • Smoked Sangria: With a mild wood-fired flavor, your guests will drink up this Grand Marnier, simple syrup, fruit, and red wine combination.

Best Meats & Sides for a BBQ Party

We’ve collected only the best of the best recipes for your event in this section, from how-tos for smoking your own meats, to inventive burgers and dogs, chicken and skewer options, and a few favorite sides for a bbq party.

Smoked Meats & Bigger Cuts

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A hefty amount of slow-smoked meat is a grillmaster’s secret weapon for feeding large crowds. Start it the night before or the morning of your party, and you’ll be able to impress all your guests with how easy you make the grillmaster’s art look.

Our grills are tailor-made for smoking big cuts of meat with ease, from ribs to brisket, to pork shoulder for pulled pork, and beyond. While smoking meat is an art that can take years to master, the tips in our article on the best meats to smoke will take you from beginner to confident in no time flat.

Bigger cuts that can feed a large group are always a great go-to for planning a BBQ party. For example, if you're planning on having a larger group over consider cooking pork butt on the Ironwood. Not only is this a delicious meal your friends and family will love, but with the size of this Traeger Grill, you can cook 4 pork butts which would be enough for at least 40 people.

Important to remember, that if you plan to smoke a large piece of meat the day of, give yourself plenty of time as total cook times can vary. It’s always better to have it done early than late, as the meat needs to rest anyway and hold well.

Burgers or Sliders

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Classic hamburgers can either be a main course at your barbecue or an addition to your main smoked meat. Sliders are a perfect choice if you're serving a few other meats so that people can have a small bite while you’re preparing everything else. Either way, you can learn more in our guide for how to grill burgers.

Amanda Haas’s Grilled Beef Sliders are a great recipe to start with, but if you’re feeling more adventurous, consider Dan Patrick’s Venison Philly Cheesesteak Sliders. And if you’re looking to impress with a twist on a burger, try our recipe for Smoky Pork & Bacon Burgers.

Hot Dogs and Sausages

Hot dogs and sausages are the busy griller’s best friend when it comes to feeding hungry groups who show up early because they cook quickly and don’t require much space on the grill.

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And while they’re not too difficult to grill, the difference between a perfectly cooked sausage and a “just okay” one comes down to technique. Read our guide on how to grill sausage for the full rundown on how to grill the best sausages ever, and take a look at some of our favorite wood-fired sausage recipes:

Chicken

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Chicken is another versatile meats you can serve at a BBQ, because of all the different ways it can be prepared. You could make a whole smoked chicken on your Traeger in about 2-3 hours, and then shred or slice it to serve. Or you can focus on easy finger food and prepare spicy, smoked chicken wings for party-goers to eat on the side. Or you can get the best of all worlds with our quick-cooking and good-looking BBQ chicken breasts.

Those are just a few of the many options you have for chicken dishes, either as main courses or as sides. We have about dozens more recipes where that came from, if you’re looking for further inspiration.

Skewers & Kabobs

Skewers are quick to cook, provide a lot of variety, and can be assembled ahead of time. That makes them a great main course or side when you’re short on time, but still want to offer plenty of options for your guests. Something like our Grilled Chicken Fajita Skewers will cook in 10-12 minutes per skewer. And if you’d like to mix it up and give your guests a seafood snack option, try out our Spicy Shrimp Skewers as well. Grilled rib-eye kabobs with chimichurri and bourbon BBQ chicken kabobs are also always popular choices to have for a big get-together.

How Many Skewers Per Person?

Skewers can be great as main courses, where you’ll want to serve about 8 ounces per person. They also make for delicious snacks that can be served in addition to your main courses and sides. Consider this as an optional goody, and make just enough for each guest to have a small portion (one skewer per person, or about four ounces of smoked chicken).

Pulled Pork and Pork Ribs

Pulled pork is another popular meat choice that can be repurposed for any number of recipes, and ribs are a classic staple of barbecues everywhere.

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Our Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork recipe takes three to five hours to smoke, with about half an hour to an hour of prep time. It makes for excellent sandwiches, or it can be served a la carte with a selection of sides.

Cooking ribs couldn’t be any easier—or tastier—than with our famous 3-2-1 Ribs Recipe. Start by smoking them for three hours, then cooking them in foil for two hours, and finishing them by brushing on sauce on the grill for up to an hour. They’ll be fall-off-the-bone tender and packed with flavor.

Sides for a BBQ Party

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Serving some sides for a BBQ party is the perfect way to add some variety and color to your guest's plates. Because you’ll be preparing them in advance, you can make an impressive spread without dedicating too much time to serving.

You can go as simple as possible, such as grilled corn on the cob and pre-made baked beans, or flex your chef skills with recipes like our Grilled Mango Coleslaw and Loaded Baked Potato Salad. For even more inspiration, check out our selection of vegetable recipes for all occasions.

How Many Sides Should You Serve?

Three to four sides is a good choice because it gives people enough variety to choose from, but is also curated to match the main courses.

Plan on serving about four ounces of each side per person. So for a BBQ for 20 people, you would need 80 ounces—5 pounds—of each side.

Appetizers for a BBQ Party

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The perfect BBQ always begins with tantalizing appetizers that set the stage for an unforgettable meal.

  • Traeger Smoked Deviled Eggs: Take a classic appetizer to a new wood-fired level.
  • Traeger Bacon Poppers: Made with fresh jalapeño peppers, cream cheese filling, and smoky bacon, this blend of spicy and savory is the perfect way to kick off a Traeger BBQ feast that's packed with flavor
  • Smoked Hummus & Vegetables: For a unique and unforgettable appetizer (that all of your guest will want the recipe for), consider a tasty dip infused with wood-fire flavor. Pair it with fresh, grilled vegetables for a tasty pairing.
  • Smoked Guacamole: Guacamole is a must-have for any party, and for a BBQ, no appetizer lineup is complete with a bowl of fresh and zesty guac.

For more appetizer ideas, read our article and get inspired for flavor.

Handling Leftovers

No amount of planning can guarantee that your guests are going to eat the exact amount of food you prepare. And since it’s better to overshoot the target than come up short, you’re going to have leftovers.

Have some plastic or glass storage containers ready to store all your leftovers as soon as the party’s wrapping up. Remember to keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold—you don’t want anything that’s been cooked or chilled sitting out at room temperature, because that can lead to health hazards.

If you have any leftover pulled pork, you’ll be eating well for the next week with our 17 leftover pulled pork recipes.

When you choose Traeger for your BBQ party, you're not just grilling; you're embarking on a flavorful journey that ignites your taste buds and leaves a lasting impression on your guests. With our premium wood-fired grills, quality pellets, and a world of delicious recipes at your fingertips, your party is guaranteed to be a sizzling success.

So, fire up your Traeger, get ready to wow your friends and family, and let the smoky aromas and bold flavors take center stage at your next BBQ bash.

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