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12 Best Things to Serve at a BBQ, Experts Say

They're super easy but look like a lot of effort!

There's perhaps no party that's more fun than a BBQ. While other gatherings tend to have a certain level of formality, BBQs are all about eating casual food in your coolest clothes—and maybe taking a dip in the pool or tossing around a football.

If you're hosting, deciding on a menu is your first step to a fabulous bash. You want to serve a few classics and some creative dishes—and you don't want to include anything that'll require too much attention during the party and prevent you from chatting with friends over a cold drink. Here, professional chefs and party planners sound off on the best foods to serve at a BBQ that guests will devour and remember 'til next summer.

RELATED: The 6 Best Things to Ask Guests to Bring to a BBQ, Experts Say.

Gourmet sausages

Closeup of woman dishing out grilled sausage

Consider this a level up from the traditional hot dog.

"You can order a variety of types to suit all needs, like vegan, beef, chicken, and turkey, and serve them with a fun array of relishes, mustards, and other garnishes and accouterments, which makes it more interactive, so people can personalize it to their liking," says Gianna Cardinale Gaudini, event leader and author of The Art of Event Planning. "You can even up the ante by serving a variety of specialty buns, like brioche, pretzel, and gluten-free."

The best part: Sausages are tough to screw up since they're pre-cooked and only require a light sear.

Grilled pineapple skewers

top-down view of grilled pineapple skewers and a half a pineapple on a white wood background
jenifoto / iStock

It doesn't get much easier than this for a delicious side or dessert.

"I love serving grilled pineapple skewers because they're less formal and do not require plates or a fork," says Aleka Shrunk, founder of the entertaining and food blog Aleka's Get Together.

She brushes the pineapple skewers with a honey-jalapeño glaze, which pairs nicely with the smokiness they pick up from the grill.

Marinated steak with chimichurri sauce

Homemade Cooked Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce and Spices
bhofack2 / iStock

Whitney Cardosi, nutrition coach, cooking instructor, and founder of Wellness With Whit, always serves a classic marinated skirt or flank steak with chimichurri sauce for a BBQ. "You don't have to worry so much about undercooking steak like you do with poultry, and it makes great leftovers," she says.

"I love how a nice big skirt steak can serve up a crowd and looks beautifully rustic sliced and placed on a platter, especially when topped with a vibrant and fresh chimichurri sauce," she adds. Everyone will go back for seconds.

RELATED: 5 Things You Should Never Do When Hosting People in Your Backyard.

Watermelon salad bowl

watermelon-feta salad served in watermelon
Juefrateam / iStock

Here's a fun twist on watermelon: Scoop out the melon to create a "bowl," and fill it with watermelon, feta, and mint, suggests Cardinale Gaudini.

"It's refreshing and playful, and people always take pictures and ask for the recipe," she says. "You can customize it based on preferences and add arugula, kalamata olives, tomatoes, or pickled onions as a variation."

Corn on the cob

grilled corn on the cob, mexican style, with limes
Nelli Syrotynska / Shutterstock

Corn is a summertime crowd-pleaser. "I like a side dish that is delicious but easy, and that won't spoil in the heat," says Cardinale Gaudini. "Add herb butter or butter and chile powder to farm-fresh corn." It's healthy and delicious.

Potato salad

Herb potato salad in picnic setting

People expect potato salad at a BBQ, so give them what they came for, with a fun twist!

"You can spruce it up with some really fun things like pepperoncini, cornichons, preserved horseradish, roasted garlic, your favorite flavored mayonnaise, some good whole grain mustard, and boiled eggs," says Arellanes. "This will make anyone at your BBQ festivities ask you for the secret recipe to your 'old-fashioned' potato salad."

RELATED: 5 Worst Things to Serve at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say.


picnic foods on striped blanket
Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

Chris Arellanes, corporate executive chef from KYU Restaurants, says a great burger is a BBQ essential.

"Use a good blend of meat to fat, maybe 80/20, and an aggressive amount of salt and pepper," he says. "Paired with a soft sesame seed bun and your favorite accompaniments and you can't go wrong—it's a good first step for a novice griller to practice and really home in on their meat temps and proper charring techniques."

Grilled peaches and vanilla ice cream

Grilled peaches and ice cream dessert over blue plate
manyakotic / iStock

Nothing says summer like grilled peaches and ice cream.

"Simply cut the peach in half, remove the pit, season with a tiny bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toss on the grill for two to three minutes," says Cardosi. "Once finished, place the peach half on a plate and top with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream."

You could top the dish with honey or nuts for some texture!

BBQ-marinated chicken breast

grilled chicken breast with fresh herbs sliced on a rustic wooden board

David Rose, head chef at Omaha Steaks, suggests beginner BBQers serve barbeque-marinated chicken breasts.

"They're easy to prepare, cook quickly on the grill, and are always a crowd-pleaser with their juicy flavors," he says. "If you're new to grilling, they offer a great introduction to some of the grilling basics and also allow for customization and pairing with various sides, making them a fun choice for a successful BBQ."

RELATED: 6 Things You Should Always Have When Hosting Guests in Your Backyard.

Pineapple-jalapeño coleslaw

Coleslaw in dish

Jazz up your cole slaw recipe with pineapple and jalapeño.

"It adds a delicious tropical kick that pairs amazingly with grilled meats," says Rose. "The sweet pineapple and spicy jalapeños create a fun flavor combo, while the crunchy texture adds a nice contrast."

Make it the night before for easy party prep.

Carrots with carrot-top pesto

Top view and close up of a baking/frying sheet with roasted/baked rainbow orange, yellow and purple carrots with garlic served with basil, parmesan and olive oil green pesto with an orange napkin.
Delphine Remy / Shutterstock

A tray of roasted carrots will look beautiful on your tablescape. It's a little more elevated than your average roast veggie.

"For a carrot top pesto, I blend carrot tops with parsley, garlic, salt, olive oil, pecans or pine nuts, and lemon," shares Cardinale Gaudini. "It's so delicious that my son can't get enough, and he's seven!"

Non-lettuce salads

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad
los_angela / iStock

A non-lettuce salad, like quinoa or street corn, will hold up in the heat.

"They're easy to make ahead of time and can be served cold or warm," says Cardosi. "Quinoa salads are wonderful for using up what you have on hand with any veggies, a little feta, and a simple dressing like olive oil and lemon juice."

Complete the dish with fresh herbs like mint or parsley and you've got a standout summer side.

Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is an experienced features editor and writer. Read more
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