How to Host a Socially Distanced Backyard Barbecue

Ensure that your party is safe for one and all.

pulled chicken bbq sandwich

The height of summer normally means neighborhood block parties, Fourth of July picnics, and potlucks galore, but with social distancing guidelines still in place in many states, gathering with family and friends will likely look a little different this year. Experts advise that parties should be held outside and guests who are not in each other's "bubbles"—meaning immediate family members or those you live with—should stay six feet apart. If you want to host a socially distanced backyard barbecue, there are a few things you need to do to ensure that it's a safe and comfortable experience for all.

First and foremost, think about how you'll prepare the food. Whether you're taking on the duty of grill master or assigning someone else to the task, it's important for the head chef to be healthy and free of all coronavirus symptoms. "Make sure that anyone who is involved with food production including shopping, prepping, cooking, and serving are not showing any signs of sickness, in addition to confirming that they have not been in contact with people that have been sick," advises John Lloyd of Odeen's BBQ.

Hosting a Potluck Party

Before you start making a guest list or outlining a menu, plan to host the party outdoors. "Being outdoors is safer than indoors because there is continuous introduction of fresh air to dissipate viruses that may be present in respiratory droplets or aerosols. When indoors, there is a risk that recirculation of air can blow the virus around, infecting other people," says Dr. Sarah Hochman, an infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Consider the weather forecast and share a rain date with guests. Set up separate tables and chairs for each family attending and make sure that they're at least six feet apart so that everyone can relax and party at a distance.

Set Expectations Ahead of Time

Make sure that all invitees are on the same page and let them know what precautions you will be taking before the party begins. "Ensure your guests have no symptoms of fever, cough, or sore throat prior to coming," says Dr. Hochman. Ask your guests to arrive wearing a face mask and inform them of your plans for social distancing. Consider the bathroom situation, too—most likely guests will need to use it, so ask that they walk through your house with a face mask on and thoroughly sanitize before and after entering.

Provide PPE

Wearing a fabric face mask in the middle of summer isn't exactly comfortable, but it's necessary in order to keep everyone at the party safe and prevent spreading the virus. If you want the masks to feel more festive, make custom ones for your guests using patriotic fabric for the Fourth of July or Labor Day, solid shades based on everyone's favorite color, or personalized with their names. You should also set up sanitation stations with bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes at each table so that everyone can sanitize throughout the party. Feel free to provide gloves in case a guest would like an extra layer of protection when touching food or utensils.

Choose the Menu Carefully

Backyard barbecues usually mean communal bowls of chips and dips, a pile of ribs or large pot of pulled pork that anyone can help themselves to, and a cooler filled with cold beers, bottled water, and a carton of lemonade. Due to COVID-19, the community-oriented, help-yourself-style of serving is a thing of the past. "Self-service where guests handle spoons and tongs is not acceptable in this climate," says Lloyd. Instead, he recommends having pre-plated meals for each guest in order to minimize the direct contact that people have with the food—and each other. If you do want to serve food buffet-style, place protective barriers over any exposed food and have hand sanitizer readily available for guests in line. "The safest way to distribute food [buffet-style] is to have one person designated to serve and for that one person to have meticulous hand hygiene," says. Dr. Hochman.

For your barbecue menu, plan to serve individual bags of potato chips; prepared burgers, hot dogs, and pulled pork sandwiches on individual plates that guests can grab one at a time; and serve potato salad and other salads in small plastic cups. Personal sweet treats that fit the bill include our Cardamom-Scented Peach-Apricot Cobblers, this Cherry-Raspberry Semifreddo, or Basil-Yogurt Panna Cotta with Grapefruit Gelèe.

Experts also advise against using the same plates and cups for second helpings in order to prevent spreading germs. Instead, use compostable and recyclable dinnerware to reduce the environmental impact of paper waste.

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