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Hosting a cookout? Don’t forget these 18 outdoor party essentials

Throwing an outdoor party is a bit like volunteering to chaperone your kid’s amusement park field trip. It seems like fun at first, until you realize it’s stressful to be the point person for a group of sweaty, hungry people. Preparing well in advance is key, from creating a welcoming ambience to protecting your food (and guests) from pesky insects. So if you’ve got a gathering coming up, think of these must-haves as a sort of checklist as you plan. From obvious essentials like coolers and chairs to fun finds like a refreshing water mister, here’s your guide to success.

Amazon

First thing’s first: Let there be light! These highly rated bulbs emit a warm glow that’ll instantly create an inviting atmosphere, and they’re weather-resistant. 

“I have bought two strings; [the] first one I’ve had for almost two years,” wrote a repeat buyer. “Haven’t even had to replace a bulb yet. I use them daily and have had no issues. Beautiful lighting, bulbs are not breakable and they are able to withstand heat, wind, rain.”

$25 at Amazon

Amazon

It’s not a party without some upbeat tunes, and this compact, waterproof device comes recommended by our very own tech editor, Rick Broida, who says it’s his pick for best mini outdoor speaker.

“Color-changing lights wrap all the way around — totally unnecessary, but undeniably cool when it’s dusk or dark,” he said. “The Glow Mini sounds remarkably good for its size, and it can get pretty loud as well. In my testing, I was constantly surprised by the quality of music I heard from this little thing. Also impressive: Soundcore promises up to 12 hours on a charge; I’d have expected half that, given its size.”

Check out his roundup of the best outdoor speakers for more. 

$40 at Amazon

Amazon

Few things will have your guests oohing and aahing like a fire pit, and this one scores high marks for its smoke-minimizing design. It’s also lightweight at just over 15 pounds, and has a removable ash can that’s a breeze to clean. Yahoo Life writer Kristin Granero dubbed it the best overall fire pit in a roundup of a dozen models.

“Of course it’s easy to put together, but I was surprised at the amount of heat something so compact puts out,” raved a fan. “It was virtually smokeless and I can store it easily in my camper to use at festivals. The only downside is the wood has to be small to burn in such a compact fire pit.”

Psst: Don’t forget the marshmallow-roasting sticks!

$199 at Amazon

Amazon

Few things can result in a record-scratch moment at a party like popping open a can of room-temperature (or — even worse — hot) seltzer. No thanks! Keep beverages nice and cold in this fully insulated tub, which promises to preserve ice for up to three days in temps of 90°F. You’ll be able to fit 80 cans to keep everyone refreshed and hydrated, and its leak-proof design makes it ideal for travel.

“I was afraid this would be too small for my needs, but it’s larger than anticipated,” shared a shopper. “[I] use it for family gatherings and it holds plenty. I love that it seals well and keeps ice and products cold. I leave it overnight in Nevada summers, and the next day there is still some ice and cold water in it. I love that it has the drain spout too for emptying.”

$48 at Amazon

Amazon

Your friends will be so impressed by your attention to detail when they go to grab a drink after sundown and notice this waterproof light among the wine coolers. Now they’ll be able to see which bev they’re grabbing without getting roped into a game of bobbing for beer. It works for up to 48 hours in ice and has white and red light settings.  

“Amazing. Works perfectly,” gushed a reviewer. “Never knew how much I needed it, and so far three of my friends have also purchased [the] same one. Opening the cooler at night makes it appear like a cartoonish treasure chest of adult beverages.”

$25 at Amazon

Amazon

So, that mayo-based pasta salad you made? Delicious, I’m sure, but it’s only supposed to be kept at room temperature for about two hours, and less than that if it’s a hot day. That said, these genius inflatable trays act like table coolers to help prevent guests from consuming unsafe food — just blow ’em up with the included hand pump, fill ’em with ice and place your food on top. As the ice melts, you can open the built-in drain plug to release water.

“We used these for my son’s graduation party,” explained a buyer. “It was so easy to inflate and helped the lunchmeat stay cold, even in 85°F heat. We just tipped them over to dump the water.”

$23 at Amazon

Amazon

No one wants to grab a burger that’s being ravaged by bugs, and these handy covers are like mosquito nets for food. Unlike, say, foil, the mesh material lets everyone see what each dish is, and when they’re not in use, they’re collapsible for easy storage. 

“Used these at a birthday party when we grilled to keep flies off the food,” shared a shopper. “No issues there. I’m currently using some to keep some pesky critters out of my herb garden and they’re working beautifully. [I’m] pleasantly surprised at how well they’re holding up considering they were so inexpensive!”

$12 at Amazon

Amazon

Plastic plates are wasteful and paper plates get soggy. These compostable plates are a smart alternative because they’re made from a biodegradable byproduct of sugarcane and are sturdy, not floppy. Bring on the baked beans! 

“We are saving water by not having to wash a dish and can compost along with any scraps,” explained a user. “These plates are very sturdy, have never leaked or had anything soak through. They also don’t bend. Walking with a paper plate at a backyard barbecue is no longer [a] fear.”

(Here are some compostable utensils to go with them.)

$22 at Amazon

Amazon

Avoid the panic that comes from realizing you don’t have enough servers five minutes before your guests arrive. I find that tongs work with most any food but soup, and your friends will be able to help themselves if you set one of these at every platter. 

“These versatile little tools go into nearly every serving dish on my table,” wrote a fan. “They don’t have a spring that could go awry. They do their job, and then into the dishwasher.”

$11 at Amazon

Amazon

Even if you’re not hosting an al fresco dinner party, you’ll still want to have some chairs for guests to relax in. These No. 1 bestsellers come in fun colors and fold up nearly flat. And when you’re not hosting the barbecue bash of the year, take ’em to the beach!

“They are high quality, sturdy chairs,” raved a reviewer. “I can sit down, and then be able to stand up easily. These are not like other chairs that are super low and hard to get up from. And they have an old school look like the chairs my family had as a kid.”

$115 at Amazon

Amazon

Your friends will be ever so grateful you had the foresight to get this outdoor bug trap — swatting at mosquitoes for hours on end is no one’s idea of a good time. This No. 1 bestseller just needs to be plugged in, and it’ll attract insects via its blue-violet light, no pesticides required. From there, it’ll zap ’em and they’ll fall into its tray, which you can easily empty once guests have left. 

“My husband and I like to sit out on our back patio every night, but the June bugs, gnats and moths drive us crazy,” lamented a shopper. “I bought those little tennis racket zappers for the June bugs, but not much you can do for the no-see-ums. … This one is great. I put it at the other end of the patio and the majority of the bugs all stay on that side and get zapped.”

$40 at Amazon

Amazon

If a bug does happen to make a meal out of a guest’s arm, having one of these nifty gadgets on hand can help prevent itchiness. Just stick the opening over the bite, pull the handle up, and it’ll suck out the venom that causes irritation. 

As someone who isn’t a fan of dousing herself in chemical-laden bug spray, I started using this tool last summer, and it was a game-changer. It’s small enough to keep in my bag at all times, and I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I tried it on several bites soon after I noticed them (it works better the faster you use it), and lo and behold, I experienced far less itching than usual. 

Check out my full Bug Bite Thing review for more. 

$10 at Amazon

Amazon

A sweaty guest is an unhappy guest, but this heavy-duty bestseller provides much-welcome cooling relief. It can be used on the floor of your patio or mounted, has three speeds and rotates to cover a larger area. 

“This fan moves a lot of air, even on the low setting,” said one, well, fan. “The sound of it is at a reasonable level, and [it’s] just a ‘fan sound,’ not anything grinding or metallic. It is easy to move around and provides a great breeze on a warm day to extend our outdoor time. We used to drag out pedestal fans or smaller Vornado circulators, but this is so much better.”

$65 at Amazon

Amazon

And to bump the refreshing factor up to 11? This water sprayer will become the toast of the neighborhood when you bring it out for a block party. Guests will be able to adjust the nozzles in their direction when a cooldown is needed, and everything required for assembly is included — just connect it to your outdoor faucet and you’re good to go. 

“Our deck gets the afternoon sun and makes using it unbearable,” wrote a (now) relieved shopper. “We set up the mister and we can spend time together as a family! I have also set this up next to the baby pool and [it] keeps me cool while the littles play in the pool. I plan on setting it up to keep the grill chef cool at our upcoming barbeques.”

$40 at Amazon

Amazon

A shaded refuge is essential for everyone’s sanity during sunny scorchers. This 9-foot umbrella can be tilted to block rays, and the fact that it comes with a base adds to its appeal (many are sold separately). 

“So far I’m impressed with this umbrella,” shared a buyer. “It’s very sturdy and the material is of a nice quality. I like the tilt feature and width, as it allows most of my deck to be shaded.”

$35 at Amazon

Amazon

Chatting over barbecued food is fun and all, but for those who enjoy a bit of competition, setting up a bocce set can keep guests entertained all afternoon. If you’ve never played bocce, the rules are simple: Each team gets a different colored ball (there are four) and tries to toss their ball as close to the pallino (small white ball) as possible. This No. 1 bestselling set includes a canvas carrying case, as well as a measuring device for accuracy.

“Ordered this for a last-minute Memorial Day party we planned,” explained a shopper. “It was great to have on hand when we needed a little entertainment. The whole family got into it! Carrying case is great.” 

$40 at Amazon

Amazon

For nighttime gatherings, it’s helpful when you can actually, you know, see what you’re grilling. That’s where these handy lights come in — their magnetic bases can be stuck to the hood of your grill for a little illumination, and their bendy necks can be adjusted as needed. Batteries are included, and these bestsellers can also be used for auto repairs, camping and the like. 

“These lights work great!” exclaimed a fan. “I use them when I barbecue, and with the sun going down early now, they really help. The magnet is really strong, so they stick to my barbecue to keep the grill lit up, and the LEDs are nice and bright. They come in a case, which I thought was really cool so I don’t misplace them. These lights are also good for working on the car at night.”

$16 at Amazon

Amazon

Last, but certainly not least, you’re gonna need a lot of trash bags — and not the flimsy kind, either. These bad boys are made from thick plastic to prevent leaking and tearing, and each one can hold up to 30 gallons. Here’s to a litter-free yard come morning!

“Everyone needs a big garbage bag,” declared a user. “I recently lost a freezer, and everything in it. I used these when I emptied it out. No rips, no tears and I loaded them FULL. They are strong and durable, and they do cover bad smells. Very pleased.”

$15 at Amazon

If you have Amazon Prime, you’ll get free shipping, of course. Not yet a member? No problem. You can sign up for your free 30-day trial here. (And by the way, those without Prime still get free shipping on orders of $25 or more.)

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.

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