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Event Planning: Pool Party Ideas - Barbecues

Updated on August 30, 2013

Party Planner for a Cookout

I have a lot of experience with event planning. In fact, I always use a party planner even for small get-togethers, like a family cookout. I’ve helped with party planning on larger scales, too, for clubs, schools, organizations, and weddings. I love hosting parties, and I’m considered to be a very good hostess, but I try not to get all “stressed out” because of party planning. That’s probably one reason people always have a good time at my parties – I make it seem pretty easy, and I have as much fun at the events as my guests do. They’re at ease because I’m at ease. Perhaps you’ll find some of my event planning tips useful.

Event planning will make your next party a breeze!
Event planning will make your next party a breeze! | Source
Everyone gets in on the action at our barbecues and pool parties!
Everyone gets in on the action at our barbecues and pool parties! | Source


Allow me to discuss barbecues for just a moment. The term “barbecue” can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adjective. As a verb: We’re going to barbecue this weekend. As an adjective: That’s a nice barbecuegrill. As a noun: This barbecue is tasty! In the South, barbecues can also mean get-togethers where barbecue is served: We’re gonna have a big barbecue on Saturday. Around here, barbecues are common events.

We host barbecues throughout the year. Living in the Deep South, we rarely have to worry about ice, and we practically never have to worry about snow. When we hold barbecues and cookouts in the warm months, we almost always combine them with pool parties. Our pool is an above-ground model, but hubby made it so that it’s “built in.” The surrounding deck fits under the top rail of the pool, and we have steps instead of a ladder.

If you’re interested in throwing barbecues and you want to serve pulled pork, congrats! It’s a great way to serve a lot of people, in a relatively easy way. If you’re not sure about how to make pulled pork, click on the link. You’ll find my classic pulled pork recipe, step-by-step, with photos.

It's better to have too much food than to have too little.
It's better to have too much food than to have too little. | Source
Pool party!
Pool party! | Source

Event Planning

Event planning is the most important part of any cookout, barbecue, fish fry, Low Country boil, oyster roast, cocktail party, or other types of get-togethers. In my opinion, it’s impossible to over plan. I think it’s also just about impossible to plan too far in advance. What some hostesses don’t realize that is the more time you spend on event planning, the smoother your get-together will run. You can also save money, time, and energy in the long run.

The first thing you’ll need to consider when party planning is what type of event you want to host. Next, decide when and where you want to hold the event. You’ll also need to decide about how many people you want to include. I read once in a party planner book that generally speaking, about half the people invited will actually show up to the party. That might be a good rule of thumb for other parts of the nation, but it doesn’t work for my neck of the woods. We once invited 100 people to a Christmas party, and 106 showed up! It worked out fine, as I always have extra party food.

Do you want kids to come to your event, or do you want it to be an adult-only party? Whatever you decide, you’ll need to be sure that your guests understand. Some parents automatically assume that their kids are included with BBQ invitations and pool party invitations. If you don’t want kids at the party, be consistent. Don’t tell the Smiths it’s okay for them to bring their children and tell the Joneses that they can’t bring theirs. This could cause a lot of hard feelings.

Be realistic in the number of people you want to host. Having 200 guests at a party might sound like a lot of fun, but remember – you have to feed all those folks, and you also have to have enough room for everyone. And if a meal is involved, you’ll have to provide tables and seating.

Once you’ve decided how many guests you can realistically handle, decide on the party food you want to serve. Include appetizers or party finger foods, meats, side dishes, bread, and dessert. For side dishes, include some lighter foods like salads, along with some heartier dishes. Decide how much of each food you’ll need, and always over figure. It’s much better to have too much food than to not have enough in your event planning.

In your party planner, include a grocery list. Be sure to remember the condiments.
In your party planner, include a grocery list. Be sure to remember the condiments. | Source

Party Planner

Any time I host parties, I use a party planner. I don’t buy a formal party planner. Instead, I make my own, using a spiral notebook. I keep the notebook handy whenever I’m at home so that I can write down ideas as I think of them. The following party planner is the one I used for our Fourth of July pool party-barbecue. You can adapt it, as needed.

1. Type of event: pool party and cookout

2. When: 2 p.m., Wednesday, July 4th

3. Where: my home/deck/pool

4. Number of guests: 30

5. Kids? Yes

6. Menu: pulled pork, hot dogs, sausage dogs, ranch-bacon potato salad, coleslaw, sliced tomatoes, baked beans, pasta salad, buns, fruit salad, condiments

7. Appetizers: firecrackers and cheeses, chips and dip, strawberries and blueberries

8. Desserts: key lime pie, lemon meringue pie, red-white-and-blue trifle

9. Kids desserts: cupcakes, brownies, cake balls

10. Make grocery list. Buy pork, hot dogs, and sausage when on sale and freeze.

11. Round up tables and chairs.

12. Invite guests.

13. Buy beverages, plates, cups, and napkins.

14. Three days before party: thaw meats in fridge.

15. Two days before party, rub butts and refrigerate. Buy cupcakes. Clean coolers.

16. Day before party: clean deck, pool, carport, and house. Set up outdoor tables and chairs. Make firecrackers, slaw, and trifle. (Other people are bringing pies, baked beans, fruit salad, pasta salad, cake balls, chips and dip, and brownies.)

17. Night before party: place pork shoulders on smoker.

18. Morning of party: Ice down drinks. Slice cheeses. Hang out towels. Set out pool toys and floats.

19. Just before party: Pull pork. Set out all the BBQ food, with serving spoons/forks. Turn on music. Place towel at door. Place trash can on deck.

20. At party: Have fun and enjoy your guests!

Our main BBQ food was pulled pork.
Our main BBQ food was pulled pork. | Source
pulled pork sandwiches
pulled pork sandwiches | Source
bacon-ranch potato salad
bacon-ranch potato salad | Source
BBQ pulled pork with sauce
BBQ pulled pork with sauce | Source
cold pasta salad
cold pasta salad | Source
lemon meringue pie
lemon meringue pie | Source
My red-white-and-blue trifle.
My red-white-and-blue trifle. | Source
black bean and corn salad
black bean and corn salad | Source
roasted potatoes
roasted potatoes | Source
pineapple-lime congealed salad
pineapple-lime congealed salad | Source
spicy grilled corn
spicy grilled corn | Source
grilled sweet potatoes
grilled sweet potatoes | Source
smoked pork butt and sausage
smoked pork butt and sausage | Source

BBQ Food

Our BBQ food usually includes the signature dish of the South – BBQ pork. This is usually in the form of pulled pork and pulled pork sandwiches, made from Boston butts (pork shoulders). Hubby puts the meat on the smoker the night before, and it cooks all night. About an hour before the party starts, he takes the pork off the smoker, and we shred it into pulled pork. We don’t usually add BBQ sauce to the pulled pork. Instead we provide several different sauces so that our guests can choose their own for pulled pork sandwiches. I make the pulled pork in a large foil pan. To keep it warm, I set the pan on a metal baking sheet, set in over two stove burners, and set the burners on the lowest setting. I then cover the pan with two layers of foil.

When we have barbecues or cookouts, we like to actually cook out. The butts are already done when the guests arrive, but we throw something on the grill that cooks quickly. Hot dogs are a good idea, as are sausages. I like to use the fully cooked brats for this. All you need to do is to brown them on the grill, and they’re ready to eat.

Of course, you have to have some side dishes, too. Typically, with barbecued pork, we serve traditional BBQ food like potato salad, coleslaw, and baked beans. We might also have a pasta salad and/or a fruit salad in hot weather. In the winter months, a piping hot pot of Brunswick stew is a great accompaniment to pork barbecue. If you need a recipe for Brunswick stew, click the link. For a southern potato salad recipe, check out this link.

Don’t forget the bread! For pulled pork sandwiches, you can use hamburger buns, onion rolls, hoagie rolls, or Kaiser rolls. If you’re not having pulled pork sandwiches, toasted garlic bread is a good choice for pork barbecue and other BBQ food.

When a big meal is planned, I like simple appetizers for parties - especially party finger foods.
When a big meal is planned, I like simple appetizers for parties - especially party finger foods. | Source


When you’re expecting people over for a meal, it’s a good idea to serve a few appetizers. Serving appetizers for parties gives your guests a chance to mingle and visit with each other before the main meal is served. At our most recent cookout, we served a few simple party finger foods. I made my firecrackers and served them with slices of Colby, provolone, and baby Swiss. I also had some other crackers to go with a homemade spread, along with some fresh berries.

I didn’t include any meat or seafood appetizers because we were having so much meat as the main course. Your appetizers for parties, however, might include meat dishes like steamed shrimp, hot wings, chicken nuggets, meatballs, crab dip, or mini crab cakes.

Since we were having such a heavy meal, I stuck with pretty light party finger foods. I didn’t want my guests to fill up on appetizers. I wanted them to have plenty of room for the real BBQ food!

Hot dogs are usually good kids food.
Hot dogs are usually good kids food. | Source

Kids Food

If you’re expecting children at your party, you’ll need to include some kids food. These foods should be easy to eat, and they should be foods that children like. All the grandkids love hot dogs, so it’s usually a great kids food. They also like potato chips and dip, fresh fruit, and raw veggies and dip.

If you’re serving BBQ food that has lots of heat and spices, it’s especially important for you to have some kids food on hand. Let’s face it – some kids are pretty picky, and many don’t care much for typical adult foods, especially when it’s too spicy. Of course, if your young guests like pork barbecue, you could always set aside some pulled pork that’s mild instead of hot. In fact, if you’re not sure about your guests’ tastes, this might not be a bad idea even for the adults. By the way, you need to mark hot and spicy foods and condiments as such so that no one’s taste buds will get an unwelcomed shock.

Cake balls make great kids desserts!
Cake balls make great kids desserts! | Source
Kids love homemade cookies, too!
Kids love homemade cookies, too! | Source
blond brownies
blond brownies | Source

Kids Desserts

When we have little ones over for barbecues and pool parties, we always include some kids desserts. For the Fourth, we had cupcakes, brownies, and cake balls. These made good kids desserts because they were small and in single servings. The kids could grab a dessert all on their own, and they could it without a fork or spoon.

Other good kids desserts include small parfaits, ice cream sundaes, cookies, and individual fried fruit pies. You can make homemade ice cream sandwiches with large soft cookies and ice cream, and these are always a big hit. You might want to consider making homemade popsicles, too. For a special occasion or themed parties, you can use layers of colors in the frozen treats to echo your party colors.

My favorite device for BBQ invitations and pool party invitations.
My favorite device for BBQ invitations and pool party invitations.

Pool Party Invitations – BBQ Invitations

As part of your event planning, you might want to send out some written pool party invitations or BBQ invitations. We rarely do written invitations for pool parties, barbecues, or cookouts. I have several reasons for this. First of all, for informal get-togethers, I don’t like written invitations – I prefer phone invitations. In the South, most people like to bring a dish to a party, and most hostesses certainly welcome this generosity. If you actually speak to a potential guest, it’s typical here in the South for the person to tell you what they’ll bring. That helps a lot with your event planning. You can often find out right away whether the person will come or not, which is also a big help with your party planner.

If you decide to send pool party invitations or BBQ invitations, keep them informal and fun. This will help send the message that your get-together is going to be casual and laid back. Since you’ll be serving food, you’ll need an RSVP to know how much you need to prepare. Unfortunately, from my experience, RSVP requests are all too often ignored. This is another reason I prefer speaking to people I invite.

One of my pool party ideas.
One of my pool party ideas. | Source
Provide pool toys and floats.
Provide pool toys and floats. | Source
Fill one cooler with a variety of soft drinks.
Fill one cooler with a variety of soft drinks. | Source
Fill another cooler with drinks for the kids.
Fill another cooler with drinks for the kids. | Source
The guys had their own cooler...of beer.
The guys had their own cooler...of beer. | Source
Provide some seating in the shade.
Provide some seating in the shade. | Source
Have a lounge chair or two for sunning.
Have a lounge chair or two for sunning. | Source

Pool Party Ideas

You’ll need to employ some good pool party ideas for a successful event. And by “successful,” I mean keeping everyone, including yourself, happy. The following are pool party ideas that I use for pool parties. You might find them helpful.

1. Keep only one door, the one closest to the pool, unlocked and accessible.

2. Unless you have an outdoor restroom, people will be going in and out, and they might not have time to get dry when they have “to go.” To avoid wet floors, place a thick, folded-up beach towel in front of the door.

3. Have plenty of beach towels handy for your guests to use. I hang mine over the deck railing.

4. Provide several floats, pool noodles, and pool toys for your guests to enjoy. We also include a few swim masks and goggles, along with a beach ball or two. For non-swimmers, have some swimmies or swim vests for them to use. You might also want to have a small air compressor on hand for inflating floats.

5. Have some chairs and shade available near the pool. Some parents might want to sit and watch their kids while remaining dry.

6. Set out a few lounge chairs in a sunny location in case some folks want to tan.

7. Have some beach music playing in the background.

8. For the enjoyment of your young guests, you might want to set up a bubble machine. Our grandkids love this!

9. Place a couple of trays of party finger foods on an outdoor table. That way, people can grab a quick snack without going indoors.

10. Have coolers of iced-down drinks available outdoors. We usually have three coolers – one with kids’ drinks, one with a variety of soft drinks, and one with beer.

11. Be sure to have a large trash can available.

12. Have sunscreen on hand for guests who might have forgotten theirs.

I really hope this information gives you some ideas about event planning. Remember – the more time you spend on party planning, the less likely it is that you’ll forget something or overlook someone. When you do everything you can possibly do beforehand, you’ll be better able to relax and enjoy your own get-together, and you won’t have to pay for everything at one time, either, which is a big help with a party budget. Shop early so that you can take advantage of the best deals, and mark off items in your party planner as you buy them. It’s never too early to start event planning!

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