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Graduation barbecue essentials for a special cookout

Celebrate your favorite graduate with these barbecue must-haves


Whether you’ve just finished four years of high school or earned a college degree, it’s an accomplishment worth celebrating. Since most graduations happen in the late spring or early summer, the warm weather makes a barbecue the perfect graduation party.

Are you getting ready to throw a graduation barbecue? Here are some tips to help you plan the best party possible — along with some popular must-have items that can help your favorite graduate have the time of their life. 

How to plan a graduation barbecue

Select a theme or color scheme

No matter what type of party you’re throwing, you’ll have an easier time choosing decorations, food and activities if you settle on a theme or color scheme. For example, a luau, country or “night at the movies” theme can be fun for a graduation barbecue. 

However, you don’t necessarily have to go for a specific theme. Instead, you can settle on a color scheme to plan your decorations. You can choose the graduate’s favorite colors or use the school colors for the school they’ve just finished or the college they'll attend in the fall. 

Decide on the menu

Choosing the menu for a graduation barbecue is relatively easy. Classics like burgers and hot dogs are crowd-pleasers, especially if your guest list includes children. You may also want to grill up some chicken, ribs, steak, shrimp and fish for those who want something a little fancier. Don’t forget to include options for guests who don’t eat meat — think grilled veggies, veggie burgers and other meat alternatives.

Side dishes like corn on the cob, potato salad, coleslaw and pasta salad are barbecue must-haves too. To save yourself some time, you may want to purchase premade sides from the local grocery store or deli. 

You’ll also want to have plenty of beverage options on hand. Nonalcoholic drinks, such as soda, lemonade, iced tea, bottled water, sparkling water and fruit punch, are essential for kids and those who don’t drink alcohol. But you’ll want to have some adult beverages on hand too. Beer and wine are easy to serve, but you can also make premixed cocktails and leave them in a pitcher for guests to pour from themselves. You might even blend some frozen margaritas or daiquiris to quench your guests’ thirst. 

Prep your grill

Since your grill is essential to meal prep for a graduation barbecue, check that it’s ready to go for the big day. Clean the grates, and make sure you have propane on hand for a gas grill or coals for a charcoal grill. Grill tools, such as tongs, a barbecue fork, a spatula and a meat thermometer, should also be clean and ready to go.

Consider the entertainment

Make sure guests have fun by providing some entertainment options. Since you’ll be outdoors, use wireless speakers to stream a festive party playlist. You might also set up some outdoor games, such as cornhole or bocce ball

Plan for inclement weather

If you’re planning a graduation barbecue that will take place outdoors, you have to prepare for possible rain on the big day. Consider investing in a party tent that can keep your guests dry even if it starts to drizzle. You can also designate an alternate barbecue location indoors if the weather doesn’t cooperate. 

Graduation barbecue essentials

Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill

If you want to upgrade your grill before your graduation barbecue, this Weber grill has plenty of features to make serving your guests easy. It uses charcoal to give your food delicious flavor but has an electronic gas ignition system to ignite the coal with the press of a button.

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Dazonge Congrats Grad Class of 2023 Banner

These well-sized banners look great around your front or patio doors on the big day. They are made of weather-resistant polyester and come in six colors to match the rest of your decorations.

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Gatherfun Graduation Photography Background Banner

Create an excellent photo op with the graduate in front of this large decorative banner. It comes with a rope, so you can hang it quickly and easily. It’s also washable, allowing you to reuse it.

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Qttier 2023 Cake Topper

Dress up your graduate’s cake with this fun, glittery cake topper. It is made of durable, food-safe acrylic and features a cute cutout of a graduation cap at the top.

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Partico Graduation Card Box 

This decorative box doesn’t just add a festive touch to your graduation barbecue; it also provides a convenient spot for guests to drop cards for the graduate. It is made of premium paper and has embossed gold foil details that stand out against the solid background.

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Margaritaville Tahiti Frozen Concoction Maker

Make nonalcoholic slushies for the kids and boozy cocktails for the adults with this convenient drink machine. It can make three different blended drinks at a time for 72 ounces overall. It also offers shave-only and blend-only functions that allow you to customize the consistency of the drinks.

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ABCanopy 10-foot by 20-foot Canopy Tent

Be prepared for any type of weather during your graduation barbecue with this spacious tent that provides plenty of cover if it rains and shade from the sun if it’s hot. The 500D polyester top has a polyurethane lining, so it’s waterproof and windproof. The frame is sturdy and rust-resistant, and it can be set up in a few minutes without any tools.

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Anker Soundcore Flare 2

This waterproof Bluetooth speaker is perfect for barbecues and other outdoor parties. It offers 360-degree audio and features a ring of LED lights around the top and bottom that flash in time to the beat of the music. It can also run for up to 25 hours on a single charge.

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Jennifer Blair writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.

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