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Growing up, I spent a good percent of my warm days at cookouts: as an awkward child hiding behind my dad’s leg, as a budding teenager dodging invasive questions from aunties and friends of family friends. For graduation parties, funerals, Juneteenth, or Because It’s Nice Out. The cookout is a pillar of Black gathering, a multi-generational place where joy, grief, and laughter occur at once over paper plates; each one introducing a new cousin you didn’t know you had.
For all its deep roots in Black American culture and identity, many groups of people have their own type of cookout. I’ve seen a friend hunt, prepare, and roast a wild pig using a Loatian family recipe. I myself have been known to throw some asparagus on the grill with my white friends in Connecticut. When summer rolls around, there’s no better way to enjoy one another’s company than sharing a meal outdoors. Whether you’re putting on a backyard extravaganza or setting up shop at a nearby park, here’s how to throw a Summer BBQ for the ages.
Go hard in your own home. Here are some brands making games, gear, and other goodies to take your shindig to the next level.
This one is definitely an investment, but if you’re able to put your money towards a Spark Grill (starting at $1099), it definitely pays off. This TQE favorite offers the best of both worlds: the ease of a gas grill with the flavor of a charcoal.
MINNIDIP sells chic inflatable pools, cabanas, umbrellas, and lawn chairs that’ll transform your backyard into the Beverly Hills hotel. Perfect for a quick dip on a hot day, a MINNIDIP pool is fun for the whole family, and is cute enough that you won’t be rushing to deflate it when the party’s over. My favorite shape is the TOPIARY Luxe Inflatable Pool ($70); but for a bigger family/group, the Tropicool Palms 7ft Minni-Max ($90) can comfortably fit about 6-7 adults.
With first-class craftsmanship and a penchant for modern art, Recess makes pickleball gear that will satisfy novices and hardos alike. These grips are made of pro-level stuff: sweat-proof tape, and the same highly condensed foam that is used in the tennis and golf industry. The paddle surfaces are made out of a durable, industry-standard fiberglass, each one with a custom screen printed design made by local artists in the brand’s hometown of Austin, Texas. Build your own set (starting at $188) and set up a game in the driveway.
It’s not my place to tell you what to cook at these things, because chances are someone in your family/friend group already has strong and unwavering opinions about it. I can, however, reiterate the utmost importance of spice, sauce, and seasoning. If you want to elevate some of your tried-and-true classics, here are some of my favorite condiment brands that I can assure you no one else is bringing:
Shaquanda’s best selling Hot Pepper Sauce ($10) is a Brooklyn-made blend that genuinely goes on everything. If you want to keep it simple, just mix it into ketchup for a little kick.
Inspired by the founder’s Ghanaian roots and global travel, EssieSpice makes a collection of dry rubs, sauces, and seasonings that are deliciously unique yet universal. My favorite is the Mekko Dry Rub ($11), which works well on meat, veggies, or mixed with olive oil for an infused drizzle.
I’m not sure it’s physically possible for me to bring up or think about condiments without mentioning Fly By Jing. Whatever you’re cooking up, the Triple Threat ($42) –– complete with Sichuan Chili Crisp, Zhong Sauce, and the Mala Spice Mix –– will absolutely kick it up a notch.
While the alcohol will be taken care of on the inevitable liquor store run (and the subsequent ones after that), it’s important to have some options for those who aren’t drinking. Here are some cocktail mixers that are versatile enough to pair well with whatever you have, and delicious enough to be enjoyed on their own.
AVEC makes low-to-no-sugar, carbonated cocktail mixers that are good enough to drink on their own. I know that low or no sugar usually = ick, but these flavor combos are tasty, refreshing, and natural. Between Jalapeño & Blood Orange, Grapefruit & Pomelo, Yuzu & Lime, Hibiscus & Pomegranate, and straight Ginger, there’s sure to be something for everyone. Better yet, try The Sampler ($45) to get a taste of them all.
Hella Cocktail Co. has an extensive line of mixers that are alcohol-optional. The Five-Flavor Bitters & Soda Variety Pack ($39.95) is perfect for any party thanks to flavors like Grapefruit, Lemon Lime, Ginger Tumeric, Dry Aromatic, and Bitter Sweet Spritz.
Brooklyn Brewed Sorrel
Sorrel is a classic Caribbean drink. The spiced hibiscus flavor is delicious and comforting during any season, and makes for a wonderful mixer if you want a little kick to it. Brooklyn Brewed Sorrel makes this stuff by the case –– stash a bottle or two at home, and take one out to every function on your calendar.
The best thing about a cookout is that you don’t need much to make it fun. Sun, people, and food are pretty foolproof ingredients. But, as the past few years have made outdoor socializing a more necessary precaution, I’ve invested a lot more in being as extra as possible. This list of BBQ essentials is by no means exhaustive, nor should it interfere with any traditions that you and yours may already have. Each one of the above items is meant to add an exciting new element to a nostalgic staple, so you can be the bougie auntie who comes late with fancy hot sauce in her bag. You’re welcome.