Getting outside to enjoy fresh air and nice weather while firing up the grill is an iconic summer pastime. And while there’s nothing wrong with throwing some burgers over the coals, you can easily turn a standard cookout into a day to remember by having fun with different barbecue theme ideas.
You can find inspiration from other countries and eating styles and let it influence your barbecue’s food and drinks. Then, go all-out with decorations, music and games that complement the theme.
Try barbecue versions of tasty Mexican dishes and serve them up with refreshing drinks like aguas frescas, horchata or margaritas.
Traditionally, Mexican barbacoa is made with beef, goat or sheep. It’s generously seasoned before being slowly cooked with steam, making for meat that’s equally tender and flavorful. Cook your barbacoa on the grill and use it to make tacos, burritos or simply enjoy it as is.
Tostada means “toasted” in Spanish, and it is like a little pizza on a tortilla. Make your tostadas with browned ground beef or grill up some chicken. You can also use the grill to toast your tortillas and cook vegetables to add a hint of smoky flavor.
Quesadillas are super easy and customizable. Precook your meat of choice or make a vegetarian quesadilla with refried beans, cheese and veggies like onion, peppers and tomatoes. Add other ingredients like rice and beans, then simply lay out your ingredients between two tortillas and toast each side on the grill until everything is warm and the cheese is melted.
When it comes to topping and garnishes, have guacamole, salsa and sour cream on hand, along with fresh-chopped cilantro.
Korea has its own version of barbecue that you can make at home. Try bulgogi, a marinated grilled beef, or barbecue beef short ribs, aka kalbi. Both are prepared with a similar marinade made of flavorful ingredients like garlic, ginger and green onion.
Grill your meat to your liking, tuck it into a lettuce or radish wrap and enjoy with dipping sauces made with chili paste, sesame oil and soy sauce. Serve with rice and sides like fish cakes, kimchi and pickled vegetables.
Accompany your meal with a Korean spirit like soju. There’s also sikhye, a sweet rice beverage that’s typically enjoyed for dessert.
Surf and Turf
Pair seafood with your favorite cut of red meat for a coastal, surf and turf-themed barbecue. Grill your meat as you usually would along with a few shrimp or scallops (use skewers to make flipping easier), or steam fresh clams in your grill.
Try a spin on the classic with a surf and turf burger. And if you’re more into the surf than the turf, make pasta for a seafood linguine.
When serving seafood, make sure you have plenty of butter and lemon juice on hand. Enjoy your surf and turf with tropical beverages like a mai tai, piña colada or tequila sunrise.
Grilled Pizza Party
This is a fun and easy barbecue theme idea. You may not realize that you can grill pizza, but it’s as easy as buying or making dough, deciding on a sauce (red or white) and choosing your toppings. It cooks up quickly and is always a crowd-pleaser.
Heat your grill so that you have medium-high heat on one side and medium heat on the other. Then, stretch out the dough, and place it directly on the grates on the hotter side (or on a pre-heated pizza stone). Once you see crosshatching on the bottom of the dough, flip and move to the cooler side of the grill and put on your toppings. Close the grill for a minute or so to let the cheese melt.
Smaller pies and flatbreads are easier to make on the grill, and everyone can get their own pie with personalized toppings.
Pair you pizza with drinks like a bellini, spritz veneziano or wine.
Though meat might be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of a barbecue, there are a plethora of vegetables that take well to grilling.
One popular and easy way to grill veggies is by using skewers. Chop essentially any of your favorite veggies, slide them onto a skewer and get grilling. Vegetables like onion, zucchini and peppers are all great options. If you don’t feel like breaking out the skewers, simply throw whole veggies like asparagus, mushrooms and corn on the cob right onto the grill.
Consider making make a pesto, balsamic glaze or other dressing to season your veggies before and/or after grilling them.
If you don’t own a fire pit or have the means of making a bonfire, you can easily make s’mores with a grill. If you’re looking for a healthier sweet, try grilling some fresh fruit.
You can grill essentially any fruit, but some popular ones are seasonal, like peaches, pineapple, plums and strawberries. Grilling fruit causes the natural sugars to caramelize, making them warm, sweet and jam-like.
Cut your preferred fruits into pieces and make kebabs or simply grill halved fruits. Enjoy them plain, or season your fruit with a bit of cinnamon, honey/sugar and/or lemon juice. And no one will argue with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.
Most Americans own some kind of grill or smoker — seven out of every 10 U.S. adults — according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Whether you have a charcoal, gas or propane grill, you should always keep safety in mind.
“In 2014-2018, fire departments went to an annual average of 8,900 home fires involving grills, hibachis or barbecues per year, including 3,900 structure fires and 4,900 outside or unclassified fires,” according to the NFPA. Those same years, “an average of 19,700 patients per year went to emergency rooms because of injuries involving grills.”
To enjoy your BBQ to the fullest, check your grill for leaks before use, keep your grill 10 feet away from your home and have a fire extinguisher nearby.
For more globally-inspired recipes, check out ideas for pantry meals from around the world.
What’s your favorite food to grill? Tell us in the comments below.