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How to Host an Alcohol-Free Barbecue

Who says you need booze to throw a fun summer cookout?

Damon Orion

We all know that summertime and barbecues go together like Samuel Jackson and F-bombs … and what could go better with a summer barbecue than a frosty beer?

There are some good reasons to rethink this time-honored tradition, though. Let’s face it—alcohol is no free ride. Among other things, it’s a known catalyst for conditions like cancer, liver inflammation, stroke, high blood pressure, weakened immunity, depression, anxiety and long-term cognitive problems, including dementia. And that’s before we even get into those nasty hangovers.

Not to worry, though—there’s no need to throw the barbie out with the firewater. Instead of stashing your grill away in the garage and stepping down as BBQ host, you can reinvent the summer cookout with an eye toward wellness. All it takes is a little retraining of the mind and a willingness to replace old habits with healthier and—dare we say?—more exciting stuff.

Here are some guidelines for throwing a fun summer barbecue, sans the anti-genius juice:  

Set the Ground Rules

When you’re inviting guests, let them know this is a no-booze event. Make it clear that they shouldn’t bring alcohol, and be prepared to explain your reasons for this. 

Now, when you say “alcohol-free,” some people may hear “duller than a six-hour documentary about yawning,” so paint a picture of how this is going to be more fun and interesting than the usual drunken brain cell blitz.  

Provide Alcohol Substitutes

The smell of grilling food can trigger a Pavlovian response, filling many a proud American with the urge to throw fermented liquids down his/her throat. Through the tried-and-true technique of habit swapping, we can redirect that impulse by replacing those alcoholic beverages with things like non-alcoholic beer or wine, punch, sparkling water or flavored lemonade.

Fortunately, as the popularity of non-alcoholic drinks increases, so does their quality and variety. Among the tastier options here are mocktails—yes, booze-less cocktails such as spritzers, mimosas, piña coladas, sangrias and so on. Some recipes for MUD\WTR mocktails can be found here

Step up Your Food Game 

Dazzle your guests with a huge, enticing array of delicious flavors. Lots of ideas for unusual grilled dishes—both vegetarian and non—can be found here and here. Take special note of the desserts. Who knew you could grill eclairs or angel food cake with strawberries? Turn this experience into a circus for the taste buds, and your friends will forget alcohol ever existed. 

Plan Activities Ahead of Time

From the tried-and-true game of cornhole, to Kan Jam, to scavenger hunts and alcohol-free flip cup, the options for outdoor barbecue activities are almost endless. Don't let your guests sit around wondering when the second round of grub is going to be ready. Plan ahead so that there are games and other activities for them to have fun with. 

Be fun

Again, some of your guests will probably expect an alcohol-free barbecue to be boring. Give them a pleasant surprise—be the life of the party! Show by example that you can still let loose and have a blast without getting trashed.  

Damon Orion is a writer, musician, artist, and teacher based in Santa Cruz, CA. He has written for Revolver, Guitar World, Spirituality & Health, Classic Rock, High Times and other publications. Read more of his work at damonorion.com

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