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Knowledge Base » Food Hygiene » What to Serve at a BBQ

What to Serve at a BBQ

Last updated on 21st April 2023

In the UK, barbeques are usually enjoyed throughout the spring and summer months, due to the cold weather and rain we experience here a lot of the rest of the year. Barbecues (also known as BBQs) are usually held in people’s gardens, and are sometimes small family affairs, but more often are a chance for friends or neighbours to get together, eat, drink and socialise outdoors.

In 2020, it is thought that around 150 million BBQs were held here in the UK, making us the leading BBQ nation in Europe (with Germany the runner up).

Although the types of food, drinks and entertainment on offer will vary, having a barbecue and enjoying some outdoor dining is something that intersects all social classes as well as different age groups.

What is a BBQ?

A barbecue is when food is prepared and eaten outdoors, usually on a charcoal grill. Variations of the barbecue are enjoyed all over the world, with South Africans enjoying a long standing tradition of gathering around a fire to cook food and socialise (known as a braai) and Koreans enjoying cuts of barbecued meat in restaurants, where the grills are often built into the table itself.

When we think of British barbecues, we might envision bright sunshine, novelty aprons, cold beers and, most importantly, meat sizzling over a hot grill.

The BBQ grill itself that is used for cooking will usually be either:

  • A gas barbecue grill;
  • A charcoal grill; or
  • A disposable barbecue.

Disposable, single use barbecues can be picked up in most supermarkets during the summer months. They are ideal for those who do not barbecue often and are only cooking for a small number of people. Those who entertain more frequently, usually choose to have a portable (or sometimes built-in) barbeque grill in their garden.

Food that is cooked on a barbecue takes on a unique, smoky flavour from the charcoal or flames. The barbecued food is usually served with side dishes and drinks, with guests helping themselves to food and drink as they chat and socialise together.

A BBQ in summer

What to serve at a BBQ

Meat is a staple of the traditional British barbecue.

Popular meats to cook on a BBQ grill include:

  • Burgers.
  • Sausages.
  • Chicken drumsticks or wings.
  • Pork chops.
  • Ribs.
  • Steaks.

If you fancy serving something a little different, you could add a twist to your barbequed meat such as marinating it using spices (such a cayenne pepper, turmeric or smoked paprika) and herbs (such as parsley, oregano, or rosemary).

To really spice things up, consider making a homemade glaze of honey, soy sauce and crushed chillies and brush this on prior to adding your meat to the hot grill.

Barbecued meat will often be served alongside bread buns, salads and sauces. Some people may opt for more adventurous and lavish side dishes; this will be influenced by their budget, the demographic they are catering for and their personal tastes.

What to serve vegans at a BBQ

Vegan diets are becoming increasingly popular. People are opting for a vegan diet due to both ethical and health reasons. Vegans do not eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy products.

Take care when serving guests at your barbeque who follow a strict vegan diet so that you do not accidentally cross-contaminate any products.

To help with this:

  • Cook meat products and vegan products separately.
  • Check packets carefully so as not to accidentally serve anything non-vegan to a vegan guest.
  • Have separate utensils for meat and vegan food.
  • Make sure anything that is decanted into bowls or serving dishes is clearly labelled so it does not get mixed up.

It may seem straight forward not to serve your vegan guests any meat or dairy products, but it is easy to make mistakes that may seem small but could cause significant distress to your vegan guests.

  • Check salad dressings do not contain honey.
  • Do not use the same knife to spread dairy butter and vegan spread in your bread buns.
  • Check that any meat-alternative items you are using are suitable for vegans, not just vegetarians, as some products will unexpectedly contain dairy or eggs.

Remember to also check for ‘hidden’ ingredients in items that you buy, including things you may not even realise is in the food you consume, such as:

  • Gelatine.
  • Animal fats.
  • Whey (from milk).
  • Lecithin (soya lecithin is fine).
  • Cochineal (a food dye made from crushed insects).

In addition to shop bought vegan products that resemble their meat based counterparts such as vegan sausages or burgers, you can surprise your vegan guests by serving:

  • Vegetable skewers – The best veg to choose includes aubergines, peppers, red onion and mushrooms.
    *TIP soak wooden skewers for at least an hour before cooking to prevent them burning*
  • Barbecued corn on the cob – best served smothered in vegan spread and sprinkled with parsley.
  • Marinated tofu strips served with sweet chilli or soy sauce.
Vegan BBQ food

What to serve vegetarians at a BBQ

Vegetarians do not eat meat or fish. The reasons behind opting for a vegetarian diet vary from health reasons, ethical beliefs or to just being down to a personal preference. Many foods are now stamped with ‘suitable for vegetarians’ making it easier to navigate which foods are vegetarian friendly and which are not.

There are many meat alternatives available that can be purchased at all major supermarkets.

This includes vegetarian versions of barbeque staples such as:

  • Burgers.
  • Sausages.
  • Fillets.

These vegetarian alternatives to meat products are often made from different types of proteins, including soya, seiten (vital wheat gluten) or beans.

Sometimes meat free products are made from chopped vegetables that are bound together with flour, rice or potato and coated with breadcrumbs; typically these will be vegetable burgers, nuggets or fingers.

These types of products are extremely tasty when barbequed; however, they are not as stable as soya based products. It is important to take extra care when cooking and turning these items on a barbeque or they will crumble or break apart and fall into the flames below.

Halloumi (a type of Mediterranean cheese) is designed to be grilled and cooks well on a barbeque. Cubes of halloumi cheese also make a delicious addition to vegetable skewers.

Vegetarians will also be able to enjoy all of the same food as vegans.

What to serve a pescatarian at a BBQ

Pescatarians do not eat meat but they do eat fish. Pescatarian guests at your barbecue will be able to enjoy the same food as your vegetarian and vegan guests. You may also want to add some fish dishes for them.

To cook fish on a BBQ it is best to wrap it in foil. This helps the fish to retain moisture and to cook evenly. It also stops parts of it getting stuck to the hot grill itself.

Popular fish to barbecue include:

  • Salmon.
  • Tuna steaks.
  • Monkfish.

As well as grilling fish whole or using thick steaks, cubes of fish or prawns work well on skewers, especially if they are marinated prior to cooking and served with a squeeze of lime or lemon.

Salmon cooked on the BBQ

What to serve gluten-free guests at a BBQ

A gluten-free diet is one that excludes gluten. Gluten is a protein most commonly found in wheat, but also in some other grains. People may opt for a gluten-free diet for health reasons, or because they suffer from coeliac disease. When people with coeliac disease consume gluten, it triggers a response from their immune system that attacks their own tissue. This leads to multiple digestive complications.

A plain cut of meat, such as steak, will be naturally gluten free; however, take care when serving gluten-free guests processed meats such as burgers or sausages as grains are routinely used during the manufacturing process.

Always refer to the packaging and, if in doubt, err on the side of caution, as feeding a gluten-free guest something that they are allergic to will have unpleasant side effects.

Bread products are a staple of the Western diet and now there is a wider understanding of coeliac disease and gluten intolerance, many companies have begun to manufacture wheat-free and gluten-free products.

Gluten-free bread products can be purchased at most supermarkets and some convenience stores, including:

  • Sliced bread.
  • Buns.
  • Ciabattas.
  • Wraps.

If you really want to impress your gluten-free guests with your baking skills, you may want to search online for easy recipes for gluten-free bread using a wheat flour alternative such as almond flour or gluten-free brown flour.

As you would do with your vegan guests, take care to keep items that contain gluten away from those that are gluten free to avoid allergen contamination, and never use the same knife to butter both. It is best to use separate spreads or butters as well, to minimise the chances of any breadcrumbs accidentally causing contamination.

TIP: take care to check items such as sauces and dressings as they may contain flour as a thickener. Allergen ingredients will be listed in bold.

What sides to serve at a BBQ

To complement the delicious BBQ food that you are serving you will want to prepare some mouth-watering sides to tempt your guests.

Cooking food on a barbeque grill can be stressful as you need to keep a constant eye on it to stop it burning and turn it regularly so everything cooks evenly, therefore it is a good idea to serve any sides buffet style.

By setting out your side dishes, sauces, plates and cutlery for the guests to help themselves, you are minimising stress and reducing the amount of time and effort you have to put into serving everyone. This also means that everyone gets to help themselves to exactly what they want which reduces food wastage.

Popular sides to offer at a BBQ:

  • Bread, bread buns, wraps or pittas.
  • Salads (including potato salads, pasta salads).
  • Homemade potato skins, wedges or jackets.
  • Crisps or fries.
  • Cheese slices.

Ideas for vegetable sides:

  • Pickled goods such as beetroot or gherkins.
  • Sundried tomatoes, olives or picante peppers.
  • Corn on the cob.
  • Coleslaw.
Coleslaw as a side

Sauces and dips:

  • Tomato ketchup.
  • Mayonnaise.
  • Barbeque sauce.
  • Hot sauce.
  • Sour cream.
  • Tzatziki.
  • Salsa.
  • Guacamole.
Sauces and dips

Something different:

  • Savoury, vegetable rice (cold or hot).
  • Tortilla chips (either plain or topped with some grilled cheese and jalapenos).
  • Spicy or fruity couscous.
Tortilla chips with sides

Dessert ideas for your BBQ:

  • Cake.
  • Mini cheesecakes.
  • Chopped fruit (such as orange or watermelon).
Fruit desert

Drinks at your BBQ:

Whilst socialising at a summer barbecue, many people will want to enjoy a cold beer in the sun. Other alcoholic drinks that are popular at a BBQ include cool, crisp white wine or a refreshing apple cider.

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can sometimes lead to people making poor decisions, especially around health and safety. You may wish to offer some non-acholic drinks at your BBQ party to encourage people to drink less alcohol.

These will also be suitable for any underage guests, pregnant women or teetotallers that you have in attendance.

When you think non-alcoholic drinks, your mind may immediately go to children’s parties where cheap cola or squash is served in plastic cups, but there is now an entire part of the drink’s industry aimed at creating ‘adult’ soft drinks.

Such as:

  • Ginger ale.
  • Elderflower cordial.
  • Mixed fruit spritzes.
People having food and drinks at a BBQ

You might also want to mix things up by creating your own fruity punch to serve your guests!

Sparkling pineapple orange punch recipe


  • Pineapple juice.
  • Orange juice.
  • Lemonade (soda water, tonic water and diet lemonade also work).
  • Lime juice.
  • Ice.

To make your fruity punch:

1. Stir together the chilled pineapple and orange juices in a large punch bowl.

2. Squeeze the juice from a couple of limes into the mixture.

3. Add the fizzy soda immediately prior to serving to ensure your punch does not fall flat.

4. Serve over crushed ice with a wedge of orange and lemon.

Tip: Add fruit such as blueberries, raspberries or slices of orange to your glasses and add a sugared rim, by running a lemon wedge around the rim of the glass then dipping into a plate of sugar, for an added twist to your fruit punch!

Both the host and the guests will want to have a relaxed and fun time at their BBQ party, as it is not only about the delicious food that is eaten but also about getting people together to socialise and enjoy themselves. It is important to keep BBQ safety in mind to make sure that everyone has the best time possible.

BBQ health and safety tips:

  • Assign someone to be in charge of the BBQ grill.
  • Keep children and pets away from the hot, cooking area.
  • Cook meat thoroughly so that it is not pink inside – undercooked meat can lead to food poisoning.
  • Have a bucket of sand or water on hand in case of fire.
  • Take special care when handling hot food and knives.
  • Keep a first aid kit on hand in case of any minor cuts or burns.
  • Place the BBQ grill on a flat surface away from low hanging trees, wooden sheds or fences.
  • Always wash your hands after handling raw meat.
  • Chill and store food safely.
  • Clear any rubbish and dirty plates away regularly to minimise the chance of flies and pests.
  • Consider reusable, plastic crockery and cups (this reduces the chance of breakages and is more sustainable than using disposable items).
  • Avoid burned meat. Some studies have suggested that eating meat that has been badly blackened on a barbecue is linked to certain health risks, so cook it thoroughly but not so it is completely charred.
  • Do not leave food out (especially in the sun) for too long, especially high risk foods such as rice, cold meats and dairy products. Put a few items out and then top up as needed.
  • Never leave any metal utensils (tongs, knives, spoons, prongs etc.) resting on the hot grill as metal conducts heat and touching them will cause skin burns.
  • Do not prepare other foods on the same surfaces that have had raw meat on.
  • Avoid loose fitting clothes around the BBQ grill and do not lean over the hot surface when turning the food.

To make your BBQ an extra memorable affair you may want to consider:

  • A fun theme, such as Hawaiian or Wimbledon.
  • Party games.
  • Using tech for a video call to include friends and family who are far away and unable to attend.

A BBQ in the sun is a great way to bring people from all walks of life together. A few simple twists and changes to the traditional idea of a beer and a burger, means that guests with different lifestyle choices and dietary requirements can all socialise together and have fun.

People may choose to reduce or restrict items such as meat, dairy or alcohol in their diets due to a number of factors including religious beliefs, health concerns or due to ethical reasons.

With so many alternatives now on offer, there is no reason that a tasty, fun and safe BBQ party, with a rainbow spread of different foods and drinks, cannot be had by all this spring and summer.

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About the author

Vicky Miller

Vicky Miller

Vicky has a BA Hons Degree in Professional Writing. She has spent several years creating B2B content and writing informative articles and online guides for clients within the fields of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, recruitment, education and training. Outside of work she enjoys yoga, world cinema and listening to fiction podcasts.

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