Here's how to throw a socially distant BBQ, according to experts

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  • Judith Matloff

The final hurrah of summer is around the corner, so we rounded up expert-approved advice on how to throw a socially distant BBQ. Here’s how to set up, break down and enjoy some quality time with loved ones before the hustle and bustle of school and work officially begins. 

Bring on the burgers! Here’s everything you need to know. 


First things first: Always check your local guidelines for safety updates and restrictions. “The key is to advise everyone beforehand of said protocols and to make them know you’re serious about honoring them,” explains Judith Matloff, author of How to Drag a Body and Other Safety Tips You Hope to Never Need.  

It’s critical to keep numbers down. She suggests inviting two other couples max, or one other family, particularly if small children are involved. “You can’t control small children, or even adults, especially after a couple drinks,” she adds.

One easy way to social distance is to create a visual cue like setting up picnic blankets six or more feet apart. This Make It Fun waterproof polar fleece picnic blanket ($30) will keep you dry on damp grass and folds down neatly into its own built-in carrying handle. Amazon reviewers rave that food and liquid spills can be shaken right off, too! 

Remote recreation

Who can say no to a pickup bocce ball game? (Photo: Amazon)
Who can say no to a pickup bocce ball game? (Photo: Amazon)

Experts we spoke to encouraged people to get on their feet, get their heart rate up and have some safe fun. Bocce ball, corn hole, horseshoe and ring toss are some games to consider (just make sure to social distance and not share objects).

“Yoga is also a great activity to do on a lawn, since everyone is spaced apart and there’s no touching or sharing,” explains Randolph Gordon, MD, MPH, Managing Director at Deloitte.

Doctors don’t recommend contact sports like basketball and football, but volleyball is much lower risk. “Data suggests that picking up the virus from inanimate objects is possible but not likely, especially if you wash hands and wear a mask,” Gordon adds.

Strategic settings

When arranging place settings, remember to provide a few extra masks. Have everyone keep a mask next to them in case they want to get up and walk by another person not from their pod. 

Designed server

These elegant cutlery sets are totally biodegradable. (Photo: Amazon)
These elegant cutlery sets are completely biodegradable. (Photo: Amazon)

“It’s easier to maintain discipline if one person with well-washed or gloved hands and a mask acts as designated server and plates at the grill,” explains Matloff. Then each pod serves up their own sides from their own common nuclear group, preferably on their picnic blanket. That reduces risks associated with communal serving dishes.

“There’s always the possibility people won’t stay six feet apart while waiting in line, which is another reason to keep the numbers low, Matloff adds. 

“Also, think more individualized food whenever possible,” explains lifestyle expert, Adele Beiny. “So instead of a large bowl of watermelon, opt for small individual treats, mini tarts, macaroons.”

Place one at each setting so you’ll naturally have less congregating. Given we’ll be utilizing more supplies in order to minimize touch points, make a thoughtful effort to go green. We love this compostable birch wood fork, knife and spoon set (see above) that is non-toxic and chemical-free.

Cut down on condiments

Another tip? Avoid passing around communal condiment bottles. One safe and easy way to divvy up salsa and other necessary sauces? Plates with built-in reservoirs. Look for biodegradable nacho bowls for dishes that deserve a dip. But when you can, marinate your food for maximum flavor so folks won’t even consider passing around the ketchup. 

And you don’t have to head back to the store for pre-made marinades! Amanda Blechman, registered dietitian at Danone North America, recommends using yogurt as the base of your marinade for meats and fish – the lactic acid is a natural meat tenderizer! “Combine ¼ cup of dijon mustard, ¼ cup of maple syrup and a few tablespoons of plain or Greek yogurt to spread on top of a piece of salmon, then grill on the BBQ for approximately 10 minutes for a home-cooked masterpiece,” she dishes.

Safe and sanitary

Don’t forget to set out a garbage pail so everyone can dispose of their own used dishes and cutlery. Put on gloves when taking it out to the trash.

Rules of the restroom

Even a small air purifier can work wonders. (Photo: Amazon)
Even a small air purifier can work wonders. (Photo: Amazon)

When folks have to go, they have to go, so if you’re ushering people to a restroom indoors there are some precautions to keep in mind.

Don’t provide soap bars and put away all towels. Everything in the bathroom should be single-use only in order to minimize the spread of germs. Provide liquid soap, paper towels and disinfecting wipes for guests.

Matloff recommends hanging a big sign over the sink asking guests to clean the sink after use.

You may also want to invest in a small HEPA air filter to help turn over air in this smaller, confined space. What we love about this air purifier is that it has a particle sensor that shows the quality of the air around you through lights: blue is excellent, green is good, red is poor.

“Only invite people who you know won’t be offended that you ask them to put down the lid of the toilet,” adds Matloff. A new study shows that turbulence from a toilet bowl can create a plume that is potentially infectious to the next user.

It’s perfectly fair to ask if your friends or family have had testing or have been quarantining. If you have any doubt about their habits, just do a virtual gathering instead. In the end, your health is more important.

Video by Kat Vasquez

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