Nothing says summer like fireworks, cooking on the grill and watching the kids run around the yard.
Better yet? Add a few friends and family members to the mix and you’ve got yourself a party. With Independence Day just around the corner, it’s never too early to start planning the ultimate summer barbecue.
From patriotic games to watermelon hacks, here are 10 tips for throwing a Fourth of July party your guests are sure to remember all summer.
1. Make festive ice cubes
Regular ice is just plain boring—jazz up your barbecue drinks with festive red, white and blue ice cubes. To make these ice cubes, wash and dry a handful of blueberries, raspberries and pomegranate seeds. Drop them in the bottom of your ice cube tray and arrange them in a patriotic pattern. Add water and freeze, then pop a few into your glass for a tangy and refreshing treat.
2. Clean out the garage
Want to open up the garage for your guests to come in out of the sun? Consider enlisting the help of ClosetBox. Their team of self-storage movers will come to your house and pick up your garage gear and store it in your own private vault at a secure storage facility. When you decide, Closetbox will return your belongings. Closetbox willl also pick up and store your party games, decorations and patio furniture at the end of the summer.
3. Include little ones in the fun
For the little ones at the party who are too young for fireworks, set up a craft station and let them create their own Fourth of July wand (with help from mom and dad, of course). Decorate a wooden dowel with streamers, ribbons, foam and other red, white and blue craft items. Then, while the big kids are twirling their sparklers, the little ones can wave their wands and feel included in the fun. Or, have them point their wands toward the sky during the neighborhood fireworks display and let them pretend to control the show.
4. Clean your grill
If you’re planning to wow guests with your barbecuing skills, make sure you start with a clean grill, says Harriet Jones, a cleaning and maintenance expert for Go Cleaners London. She suggests submerging your grill grates in a solution of vinegar and baking soda, which will help loosen the baked-on grime and food particles. Or, for an even easier cleaning method, place a few sheets of aluminum foil on top of the grates, then turn on your grill for 30 minutes. Turn off the grill, let it cool and remove the foil—you’ll be able to easily wipe off the remaining charred residue in no time.
5. Banish bugs
There’s nothing worse for your guests than having to constantly swat away mosquitos, but bug spray is smelly and can ruin your party vibe. Before your guests arrive, make sure you rid your yard of any standing water (think bird baths, watering cans and flower pots), says Jesse Rehm, CEO of Triangle Pest Control. He also suggests planting mosquito-repellant plants such as marigolds, citronella, catnip, lavender, basil and lemon balm—your yard will be fragrant with the smell of flowers and herbs, not harsh chemicals.
6. Fly the flag
If you’re planning to hang an American flag in front of your house, be sure to brush up on your flag etiquette first—there’s actually a federal flag code that governs how to display Old Glory.
According to the rules, the flag should always be “aloft and free” and should almost always be displayed above other flags. Unless you’ve got an all-weather flag, bring it inside during summer thunderstorms. If your barbecue will last into the evening hours, be sure your flag is illuminated after dark.
7. Create the ultimate playlist
No Fourth of July barbecue is complete without Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” playing on repeat. But your guests might want a little music diversity, so consider putting together a patriotic playlist with songs like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” Don’t have time to create your own mix? Spotify has a patriotic playlist ready to go—just push play and enjoy your party.
8. Check your propane supply
You don’t want to run out of propane right in the middle of grilling. Before the party starts, here’s a super easy way to estimate how much propane is left in the tank. Simply disconnect the tank from your grill, then pour a glass of warm water on one side. Place your hand on the tank—it will feel cold wherever there’s propane.
9. Play next-level yard games
Sure, yard games like cornhole and ladder toss are fun, but you can also keep your barbecue guests entertained with a few good-natured competitions. Set up a table with construction paper, tape, scissors, glitter and other craft items. Then, set a timer for 10 minutes and watch as your guests scramble to design the most festive Uncle Sam hat. Have a fashion show after the time runs out and let the kids pick the winner.
Or, consider organizing a Fourth of July scavenger hunt. Before your guests arrive, strategically hide a few patriotic icons—a miniature top hat like the one worn by Abraham Lincoln, a few toy soldiers or a bald eagle figurine—then print out clues for your guests. Divide party-goers into teams and send them on their way.
For the kiddos, set up a sidewalk chalk competition. Give each child a driveway square and reward the most patriotic design with small party favors.
10. Hack your watermelon
Watermelon is a classic barbecue treat, but you don’t have to serve boring triangle slices—there are tons of ways to hack a watermelon that will impress your guests. Use cookie cutters to cut letters, shapes and designs out of the pink fruit, then skewer the pieces to create edible drink markers. Or, easily turn your watermelon into a drink dispenser with the help of a spigot.