Food,  Lifestyle,  Meals & Planning

4 Ways to Crush Your Labor Day BBQ

low stress * whole food * gluten free

As written: Gluten-free, Whole Food, Paleo; with options for Whole30 and Keto diets

Labor Day is truly the last hurrah of summer. We Pacific Northwesterners are getting in the last cookout and camping trip before the chill and structure of fall pulls us from our summer dreams back to the reality of short days, flannel layers, and hot drinks. 

Plus, it’s a 3-day weekend! You can have a BBQ on Sunday evening and people might actually attend. This means you (or Chris and me – the host(s)) have an extra day to wrap your head around having people in our house and feeding them – this is HUGE for us. 

We’ve hosted get-togethers before with varying degrees of success, but the prep and sometimes the event itself is stressful. We can feel very self-conscious (hosting performance anxiety), which prevents us from enjoying our friends and the day. 

The point of this post is to lay out a plan for a low-stress, easy-to-prepare backyard BBQ for a warm summer afternoon … like Labor Day weekend. I’m planning my get-together for Labor Day in sync with this post, because …  

  • We have awesome friends that we don’t see enough – I want to catch up with them! 
  • I am not a natural host (just ask my husband – he’s happy to recount my early blunders!), so the planning and execution has to be dead easy, or I’ll stress out, have zero fun, and self-loath for the next few days. 
  • I want to document what works for us, and I hope it will be helpful to you, too!

For me, there are four keys to hosting friends for a BBQ and not going nutso.

This is what I want to happen at my BBQ.

1. Keep it Simple

Assumptions, rules and prerequisites for keeping it simple:

  • No oven use – it’s still hot outside.
  • A casual affair – the focus is on friends and food, not decorations, overly complicated cocktails, or the like.
  • No one-person-slaving-at-the-grill-all-afternoon (unless he/she wants to).
  • You (the host) provide basic drinks, snacks, a main dish, and one side. 
  • Guests bring a dish to share. You can assign or live on the edge and let them bring whatever they want.

Everything else is up to you. 

2. Proven Recipes Only

Both of the options below are written to serve 8 adults or 10 – 12 if there are a combination of kids and adults. The differences: Track #1 requires more planning, but no grilling (perfect for apartments, parks, or people who don’t want to grill); Track #2 is quicker from beginning to end and allows you to get your grill on.

Two Tracks:

Track #1: Choose this plan if you can’t/don’t want to use a grill and have the forethought to start a pork shoulder in the crockpot the morning of your get-together. 

  • The beauty of this plan is that there is absolutely no grilling or stovetop cooking. 
  • Equipment needed: Food processor or blender, Crockpot or Instant Pot.

Menu: Chipotle Mayo Dip or Green Pea Hummus with Dippers (see Notes), Pulled Pork, and Apple Cider Slaw


Track #2: This plan assumes you have less than 2 hours to get the house clean and food ready for this shindig. 

  • This menu is keto-friendly without BBQ sauce.
  • If you have the ingredients, you can throw this together in an hour tops.

Menu: Guacamole with dippers, Grilled BBQ Chicken Thighs, and Broccoli Salad


  • Guacamole (double the recipe)
  • Grilled BBQ Chicken Thighs
    • Buy at least two boneless chicken thighs per guest.
    • Make some simple BBQ rub (like this one – omit sugar if you want), buy some, or just use salt, pepper, and whatever you have on hand. Chicken thighs are very forgiving.
    • Grill thighs until internal temp is 165’F.
    • Serve with BBQ sauce if you want, but the thighs will be juicy and flavorful by themselves. I like G Hughes.
  • Broccoli Salad (double the recipe)

3. No-Prep Add-ons

  • Watermelon. Buy one, chill it if you have time, and cut it up. It can be an appetizer or dessert, depending on the crowd.
  • Ice cream bars. For dessert. Can keep kids quiet for a few minutes while you finish your drink. Not paleo or Whole30, but So Delicious has a ton of dairy- and gluten-free options. If you’re not concerned about allergens and want a treat, the options are endless.

4. Easy Drinks

I like to keep it simple and divide alcoholic and non-alcoholic between two coolers.

Now that most all drinks are available in cans, I avoid glass containers like the plague.


To be clear, there are no health benefits to alcohol – it is an indulgence to be consumed in moderation. 

I find a good policy is to buy enough for 1 drink every 1 – 1.5 hours per guest;  I also stick with beer and wine. I know there are things like hard cider and hard <any other drink you can think of>, so feel free to offer whatever you like. (We like beer and wine. 🙂 )

  1. Beer. Our crowd tends to drink more beer, so we’ll buy enough for two beers per adult. Note that I’ve listed a variety of options here, all are available in cans, and at least one is sold anywhere in the US.
    • Select two varieties – one lighter in flavor and alcohol and one stronger in both. Buy cans not bottles if possible.
    • What I like: Light beer options are Deschutes DaShootz, Crux Pilz, New Belgium Dayblazer or Mountain Time, Coors Light (for the domestic drinkers). More robust choices might include Ninkasi Prismatic, New Belgium Citradelic, Rhinegeist Truth, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Hazy Little Thing IPA.
  2. Wine. I like wine and do not have a terribly sophisticated palate. I hate 12-oz canned wines because they are two servings each. How often do you see a moderate drinker swilling on a 24 – 32-oz beer? I love the convenience of boxed wines, but cardboard disintegrates in coolers. My vote is for eco-friendly tetra-boxed wines. It will probably be a warm day, so go with white and/or rose – they both pair well with chicken, pork, or friends. 
    • Buy one or two Bandits and be done with it. Remember, we are going for fun and easy – not sophisticated and stuffy.
    • If boxed wines are a touch too casual for you, here’s what I do for selecting bottles: Decide what your budget is per bottle (let’s say $10), go to the nearest grocery/liquor store, and select wines that are within your budget and score 87 points or higher (based on the little info tags that are interspersed throughout).


  1. Water – from the tab or in a pitcher. On ice.
  2. Sparkling water in cans or plastic bottles.
  3. Maybe some canned kombucha or fancy soda. These can be pricey, but nice to have for adults who are not drinking alcohol.


  1. Dippers: Food that is suited to transport dip from a bowl to your mouth. Examples: vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, sweet peppers, etc.), chips, crackers.
  2. Why, Chicken Thigh? I suggest boneless chicken thighs (instead of breasts or bone-in pieces). Thighs are much juicier than breasts, which tend to dry out when grilled. It’s nearly impossible to produce dry chicken thighs, and they are so much tastier than breasts. Pass on bone-in thighs to speed cooking time and spare your guests the messiness of eating around a bone.
  3. Entertainment (for kids and kids-at-heart): Yard games, board games, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, we have a trampoline.
Trampolines – not just for kids!

If you tend to stress out or avoid hosting get-togethers, try these four steps to make the process more approachable for you: 

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Stick with proven recipes
  3. Have no-prep add-ons
  4. Do easy drinks

I’ll post pictures, assuming it turns out OK and I get permission from guests. Let me know if you try anything in this post! I’d love to hear what works for you, or if you have anything to add!


We ended up having a very small Labor Day BBQ – just the four of us, plus my son’s buddy! It was actually a blessing, though, because we didn’t finish our other home projects until nearly dinner time.

I chose to prepare “Track 2” for our BBQ. The chicken turned out awesome – you can never go wrong with grilled chicken thighs!

The broccoli salad was more work than I expected. Although it tasted amazing and I’m excited to eat the leftovers, the prep (including cooking the bacon) was too extensive for a “throw-it-together” BBQ. I’ll save it for a potluck side dish and might just make the dressing by itself. Speaking of the dressing … the recipe calls for 1/4 cup olive oil, which I omitted completely and will continue to do.

Sorry, no pics – my husband is a little camera-shy!

Happy Labor Day!

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