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How to Plan a Wedding Barbecue for Your Reception

This great wedding barbecue article was inspired by a reader! Reader Melissa D. wrote in to ask:

I'm planning a casual wedding for 40 guests. It will be outdoors and we're thinking of doing a barbecue for the food at the reception. We want to make sure we have enough food and also want to keep it simple since we plan to do much of it ourselves. Do you think this is a bad idea? Do you have food tips or anything?

A bad idea? No, I think it is a great idea! Sounds like it would be fun, low cost and tasty. Perfect for a casual outdoor wedding. However, since I'm no expert in the grilling realm (especially for 40 people) I've enlisted the help of a grilling & food guru to answer your question. I passed on your question to the Firepit and Grilling Guru and these are his suggestions:

How to Plan a Wedding Barbecue for Your Reception

©Firepit & Grilling Guru; all rights reserved

A wedding barbecue can be a great, less-expensive and fun option for a less formal wedding reception. However, grilling food for a large amount of people can be a lot of work so you need to plan ahead and think it through ahead of time so that everything will run smoothly. I am going to cover several tips and recommendations to ensure your wedding barbecue goes well and without a hitch!

Here is a list of things you will need to consider or plan for before your wedding reception, including those things you will need:

  1. Someone to man the barbecue - This may seem obvious but it is important that you have someone set aside to just tend your wedding barbecue throughout the evening. You will not be able to do this yourself! Cooking on a grill requires constant attention. The couple getting married and their immediate family are going to busy entertaining and enjoying the festivities. Find someone else do it who is prepared to be busy most of the evening, at least until the meal is over. Ideally the grilling lover you find should have someone available to help them, to bring them more platters of food and to be able to make runs for supplies, sauces, charcoal or whatever else might come up. Your wedding barbecue chef's efficiency and ability to cook for a large number of people will be much less if he is constantly having to run around. Depending on the size of your party you may even require more than one person cooking.
  2. A large grill - In part, this depends on the number of people you will be cooking for. However, do not try to cook for a large number of people on a small, little kettle grill! Buy or borrow the largest grill you can find with an amble cooking surface area. The more room, the more items can be cooking at the same time and therefore service will run more smoothly. A standard, large Weber kettle grill has just under 400 square inches of cooking surface. I recommend at least 500 square inches and the more the better for a much larger party. An option is to use more than one grill.
  3. Charcoal vs. gas grill - You really could use either for a wedding barbecue, however you should consider a few things about each. Charcoal takes longer to get started and up to cooking heat. Also, depending on the duration of the meal, charcoal can start to get cooler, requiring attention tending the fire and adding coals. For a large grill you will need a large amount of charcoal so make sure you buy several large bags. You don't want to run out of fuel in the middle of your party!

    A gas grill is probably easier, faster and requires less attention, making them ideal for a large wedding barbecue. However, I recommend having at least one extra tank of liquid propane fuel. Again, you don't want to run out of fuel in the middle of your wedding barbecue! Another option is a natural gas grill which runs off a natural gas line. With a gas grill, if you miss the wood smoke flavor you get from a charcoal or wood fire, you can substitute this in a gas grill with a smoker box. This is a metal box into which you put water-soaked wood chunks or chips. The wood smokes and gives your food a savory, smokey aroma and flavor. Hickory and mesquite are the two most popular and widely available types of smoking woods.

  4. Prep your food ahead of time! - I will give you some food suggestion ideas below, but I cannot stress this enough. All food chopping, slicing, marinating, and even laying the ingredients out on platters or in bowls should be done well ahead of time! Again, do everything you can to avoid running around and panicking at the last minute. All your supplies and ingredients should be laid out and ready to use when the cooking begins. Even do it a day or two ahead, what you loose in freshness of ingredients you will definitely gain in piece of mind!
  5. About choosing your menu and preparing food

    Spend some time to plan your menu carefully. You want something tasty yet easy, inexpensive and relatively quick to make at your wedding barbecue. A long cooking roast that takes 30 minutes or more to grill is not ideal. If you run out of anything and need to make more, you are stuck! People will have to wait to eat. You want to plan on all the food being prepared and ready for service as close to the same time as possible. This is easiest with foods that are smaller or thiner and thus take less time to cook. For example, thinly sliced beef or chicken strips (like Korean barbecue for example) will cook in no time, literally minutes, while a large tri-tip or rack of ribs can take 30 to 60 minutes or more. Hamburgers and hot dogs are the epitome of inexpensive and fast cooking barbecue food. However, most people will want something a bit fancier and more distinguished for their wedding barbecue. Here are some suggestions to give you some ideas of what are reasonable options.

    Main course suggestions:

    • Gourmet Sausages - Butcher-made sausages are a great option because they are delicious and filling, yet relatively inexpensive. There are also many flavor options so they can match several themes. From spicy Italian and Andouille sausages, to apple chicken or duck sausage, you have many delicious options. Because of their smaller size, they cook relatively quickly and you can fit many of them on a grill at the same time.
    • Marinated Skirt Steak - Skirt steak is a great option for steak at a wedding barbecue. Whereas other cuts of tender steak (like Rib Eye, New York, Porterhouse or Filet Mignon) can be very expensive and are quite thick, skirt steak is relatively inexpensive and tends to be thiner, cooking in a very short time, only a few minutes on each side on a hot grill. Skirt steak is great marinated and can hold up to marinating overnight or even longer. This means you can make a big batch early and have it ready to go the day of the wedding barbecue. The type of recipe you choose should fit the theme of your other foods but one of my favorite options is Mexican spicy skirt steak (similar to carne asada).
    • Teriyaki Chicken Strips or Breast Tenderloins - Chicken breasts cut into smaller strips, or if you just use the small tenderloins of the breast, cook much faster than trying to cook whole breasts. Again, marinating them ahead of time is great to add flavor. Simple garlic and herb with lemon, teriyaki or even orange marmalade glazes can help wake up the flavor of chicken, adding succulence and interest.
    • Korean BBQ Beef (Bul-go-gi) - If you've ever been to a Korean BBQ restaurant you are familiar with the delicious marinated, thinly sliced beef (and other meats) that cooks quickly at your table on a grill. There are many recipes of this type and can be used with pork and chicken too. Here you don't need an expensive cut of beef, just very thinly sliced sirloin or other similar cut. You can even ask your butcher to slice it for you to make it easier. These thin slices can then be marinated in bulk prior to the wedding barbecue and then will cook very fast on the grill. This is perfect served over rice!
    • Beef Spare-Ribs - This is another beef cut option which is not as expensive and tend to be cut thinly and thus cook quickly. These are very versatile and can take on any style of cuisine. From Korean BBQ marinades to Chinese barbecue sauce to Worcestershire and garlic marinades.
    • Pork Tenderloin - A pork tenderloin (not to be confused with the whole loin) can be found at most butchers. They are inexpensive compared to beef tenderloin yet share the lean, tenderness. Although they are quite big, they are long and thin and thus cook pretty fast too. These really shine on a grill. I especially like brining pork tenderloins (soaking overnight in a special brine solution to seal in juiciness and flavor) prior to grilling. There are many recipes for pork marinades or brines but I particularly like apple cider brined pork! The apple flavor really marries beautifully with the barbecued pork flavor (pun intended).
    • Pork or Lamb Loin Chops - Chops are pretty small pieces of meat and are very tender and flavorful. While you can marinate them, these can be cooked on a grill very simply as well with just a bit of seasoning and maybe some spices or herbs. One of my all time favorite grill recipes is also one of the most simple! Take your good quality lamb loin chops, rub them with extra virgin olive oil, rub with fresh sprigs of rosemary (and crushed garlic too if you like) and freshly ground black pepper. After letting them sit to marinate at least a few hours, simply remove the rosemary, salt both sides generously and throw on the grill! For a bit of added flavor, throw the sprigs of rosemary on your fire to add a savory roasted rosemary aroma to the air and to your chops!

    Side course suggestions:

    • Tossed Salad or Cole Slaw - Sounds obvious, but a simple tossed salad or cole slaw are both easy, can be prepared early and are a great accompaniment to grilled foods for your wedding barbecue. Prepare early and simply toss with dressing shortly before serving.
    • Grilled Mixed Vegetables - Simply clean and chop carrots, potatoes and onion into bite sized pieces. I wrap them up in a tin foil "purse" but for a larger batch these can be made in a larger metal container with a lid. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with coarse salt and black pepper and sprinkle a few dried herbs (like Herbes de Provence). Cover and sit on the side of your grill while you cook your other food. The vegetables steam nicely in their own juices and olive oil and come out tender and delicious! Simply check for doneness with a fork.
    • Grilled Endive - For a bit of European gourmet flair, clean whole heads of endive (pronounced "On-deeve"), slice them in half lengthwise, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Simply grill until golden brown, just a few minutes per side, and you've got a great side vegetable dish.
    • Rice - This can be made in bulk pretty easily and cheaply too and pairs with a number of cuisines. White rice with teriyaki or Korean BBQ meats. Saffron rice with Thai or Indian Satay skewers. Mexican yellow rice with grilled skirt steak. The possibilities are vast and this is a simple way to add a filling side to your wedding barbecue menu.

    Good luck planning your wedding barbecue reception! Be sure to explore more barbecue recipe ideas to find the ideal one for your personal wedding barbecue.


    This article was written by the Firepit and Grilling Guru where you can find more great ideas for cooking on your fire pit, grill or even in your fireplace.

    For more ideas on handling the eats at your reception, visit our Do It Yourself Wedding Food section.

    Return to the Do It Yourself Weddings home page.

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