Permission to be spontaneous!

Looks like it's going to be a perfect day for a BBQ, but whoops! You didn't plan one. Don't let that stop you. Here's how to throw a cookout on the fly with easy recipes and party ideas that make it look like you've totally got this. Because you do. #BBQgoals

Planning the Party

1. Keep it easy. Build your last-minute BBQ around crowd-pleasing recipes that take mere minutes to prep and not a whole lot of time and effort to cook.

2. Make it a potluck. It's usually a good idea for you (the host) to tackle the main dish while guests help with appetizers, sides, desserts, and drinks. After all, you want energy left to have fun at your own party, right?

3. Let the kids help. There are always lots of little tasks that need doing — setting out utensils and plates, filling ice tubs, etc. It's a great way to get them involved in the joy of sharing food and fun with loved ones.

Easy Main Dish Ideas

Start by choosing one or more of these main dishes, depending on how large your party is. Here's how to calculate how much food to cook for a crowd.

Chili-Lime Chicken Kabobs
Photo by Happyschmoopies

Chili-Lime Chicken Kabobs: Prep 15 minutes | Marination 1 hour | Grill 15 minutes

You probably already have everything you need for this tangy marinade. Some reviewers opted to add cubed pineapple to the skewers to give a sweet contrast to the spicy chicken.

Grilled Skirt Steak with Homemade Asian Barbeque Marinade: Prep 5 minutes | Marination 15 minutes | Grill 8 minutes

A quick marinade and a few minutes on the grill is all it takes to make this tasty steak. Instead of pricey rib eyes, this recipes uses budget-friendly skirt steak Sliced thin and served with grilled vegetables, this is a dish you'll want to put in your summer rotation.

Spicy Grilled Shrimp: Prep 15 minutes | Grill 6 minutes

Even if you have to factor in thaw time for frozen shrimp, this dinner cooks in a flash.

Easy BBQ Side Dish Ideas

Every BBQ needs just the right sides to round out the menu, and these are all quick and easy to make.

Thornehedge Peach Slaw
Photo by Molly

Thornehedge Peach Slaw: Prep 25 minutes | Chill 45 minutes

Use summer's juiciest peaches in this crisp, cool slaw. Check out more coleslaw recipes.

Savory Spanish Potato Salad: Prep 15 minutes | Cook 10 minutes

A little different and a lot more colorful than your usual potato salad. You can make this early in the day and stash it in the fridge until guests arrive. We've got a massive potato salad recipe collection you can explore.

Corn on the Grill: Prep 15 minutes | Grill 15 minutes

Lots of reviewers soaked the corn in water with the husks on for about an hour, peeled back the husks, spread on the seasoned butter, and grilled the corn with the husks pulled up again. The husks might char while the corn cooks, but that just adds to the roasted flavor. Find more recipes for BBQ and grilled corn on the cob.

Easy Appetizer Ideas

You could just rip open bags of chips and call it good, but you're better than that. Try these easy appetizers instead.

Fresh Vegetables in Green Goddess Dressing
Photo by Meredith

1. Grab a basketful of crisp, fresh vegetables and serve them with Green Goddess Salad Dressing. Find more dips that'll go great with the chips someone else is sure to bring. And check out 5 healthy dips that won't bust your yoga pants.

2. Layer slices of juicy tomatoes and fresh mozzarella with basil leaves and top the whole thing with good quality olive oil, freshly ground pepper, and flaky sea salt. Guess what? You've just made Insalata Caprese. Find more caprese salad recipes, and learn the 2 ingredients that will up your caprese game.

3. When life hands you ripe avocados, you're loco if you don't make guacamole. This recipe for Simply Guacamole takes only 4 ingredients and a few minutes to mash together. Find more guacamole recipes and read up on how to make the best guacamole ever.

Easy Summer Dessert Ideas

No need to get all fancy for this casual cookout. Go with easy dessert ideas that still look party-perfect.

Blueberry Crumb Bars: Prep 15 minutes | Bake 45 minutes

Celebrate blueberry season with these super-easy blueberry bars. Watch the video above to see how to make them.

Best Brownies: Prep 25 minutes | Bake 35 minutes

Throw a pan of brownies in the oven and serve them up with scoops of ice cream. Easy peasy.

Best Ever Blueberry Cobbler: Prep 20 minutes | Bake 40 minutes

Summer was made for this 5-star favorite. The recipe uses blueberries, but any plump and juicy summer berries would play well.

Related: Find more recipes for summer desserts, including no-bake cakes and pies that won't heat up your kitchen.

Easy Summer Drink Ideas

If someone asks if they can bring a bag of ice, the answer is always yes. If they bring drinks to go with the ice, put them on your permanent guest list.

Pitchers of Lemonade, Tea, and Juice
Photo by Meredith
  • Frosty pitchers of refreshing lemonade, iced tea, and fruit-infused water make for easy beverage service. Freeze juice or sliced fruits to use as ice cubes to flavor your drinks.
  • This year's hottest (coolest) summer drink is Watermelon Agua Fresca. You'll want to break out your blender for this one. Add a shot of spirits if you want to go all adult beverage on it.
  • If you have an ice cream maker, put it to work making frozen sangria slushies. You can make batches ahead of time and freeze them in zip-top bags until party time.

Related: Take a dive into our complete collection of summer drinks. And while you've got the grill going, try these sweet and smoky grilled cocktails.

BBQ Party Decorations

Backyard BBQ Party Table
Photo by Meredith

With just a few key moves, you can give your last-minute BBQ a summer party vibe.

  • Fill jars with blossoms and greenery from your garden or grocery store and arrange them down the middle of your outdoor buffet or dining table.
  • Small pots of plants and herbs make easy centerpieces, too.
  • Choose compostable plates and napkins in bold colors.
  • Gather blankets and pillows for guests to lounge on, or ask them to bring their own.
  • If you have the space, set up a bean bag toss or badminton game.
  • String up lights and set out candles to create midsummer magic when the sun goes down.
  • Don't forget to put together a summer playlist, or farm it out to a trusted friend.

Speaking of Summer BBQs