Can we have guests grill their own meat at the reception?

Can we have guests grill their own meat at the reception?
Photo by Sarah Tew Photography
We are going super laid-back, backyard wedding on a Friday evening. Our thought was to have a long grill set up and have each guest pick a pork chop or chicken and grill their own. We will have meat thermometers available. Our thought was that we didn't want people to show up get food, sit with whom they normally socialize, eat, and leave.

We thought it would be a gathering place for everyone to mingle — his family and my family all together with a common goal and would start conversations among everyone cooking. We also have salad, rolls, baked potato bar, a s'mores bar and outdoor games. We want people up moving and having fun. Any advice?

This idea sounds pretty fun, but I suspect it may be over the heads of a majority of your guest list. Grilling is a bit of an art with which some of us aren't too acquainted. If a thermometer has to be involved, you can safely say it's a more advanced science. You also might not want guests' interaction to be figuring out a grill or having any frustration with the experience.

That said: your idea of getting everyone up and about is awesome! Your s'mores bar and baked potato bar alone sound like they'll at least help with this. Just be warned that some folks will be scared off by the idea of grilling their own food. It also poses a bit of a food safety concern, even with the thermometers. You definitely don't want anyone getting sick. A safer alternative might be grilling up skewers of veggies — sweet taters, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, etc. can be easily grilled without too much expertise.

If you decide you do want to have a self-grilling station, make sure there's a pre-made option for your main course (some pre-made sammies? Pre-fried chicken?) That way if anyone feels like meat but doesn't want to get near the grill, there's an option.

You've already got this covered with the outdoor games, but non-food collaborative alternatives like collaborative guest books, karaoke, and photo booths are great for getting everyone together.

Let us know how it goes!

Can we have guests grill their own meat at the reception?
Potato Bar Sign from TheDoodleCoop

  1. I love the idea for your wedding, sounds like a great time. We're doing something similar for our "rehearsal dinner". We're doing a weekend away wedding at a town about 1.5 hours from where we live, so we wanted everyone who is around Friday night to be able to attend the "rehearsal dinner" and have it be really laid back. My suggestion would be to assign one or two grill masters who will grill everything for your guests. We asked my brother to be grill master, which he happily accepted. That way you know it's someone who is comfortable with and good at grilling, so no issues of anyone being scared off or getting sick. In my experience with BBQs, people hang out at the grill as their food is being cooked, so they'll have the chance to interact there. Plus you have so many other fun, interactive options planned. Good luck!

    3 agree
    • "assign one or two grill masters" Yes, This!
      At a party, getting a little sticky marshmallow on your fingers from make your own s'mores is super cute. Getting a little raw meat on your fingers (or wondering if guests touched raw meat) is kind of scary.

  2. As an ex-chef I’d say if you are not used to catering for a large group then what you need to know is not only the more people the cheaper per head, but the more people the more time (and stress) everything to do with organising and feeding them takes per head, no matter how lovely they are! It’s not as simple as sizing up what you’d normally do with about 10 people. My worry here is that whereas if you had a caterer efficiently (and safely) using the space on the grill and getting big numbers fed, by letting people doing it themselves you’ll end up with a less efficient use of space and the whole thing taking ages for everyone to get their food. You’ll also need to allow for more accidental wastage if letting people do it themselves, people will burn things as they chat way and have another drink.

    The other thing a caterer will do is keep all the cooked and uncooked stuff separate, keep stuff wiped down etc, have knowledge of what spatula just touched raw meat, keep an eye on the coals/heat source and have an overview of what’s going on to keep everyone safe. Even at a home BBQ someone ends up in charge for exactly this reason, which is why in my mind a BBQ is not usually a group activity, whereas the eating of it is! If you can afford it I’d say pay someone else to do that unless you have someone at the wedding prepared to give up other activities at the wedding to do the grill, not forgetting that this means not just tending it when people want to eat but setting it up, keeping it going and dealing with it safely afterwards.

  3. I have done a grill-your-own for a birthday party.

    But I cheated. We had a large variety of artisan sausages (the big ones with lots of interesting meats or combos of flavors.) Pre-boil the day before; submerge in cold water, bring to a boil and let boil 3-5 minutes. Lots of yucky foam will come out. For the party, set out in identified containers (ex pork-apple-maple, bison-whisky-chives, sweet italian etc) Now all you need is a couple of tongs and everyone can grill their favorite. Since they are already cooked, it's just a matter of making grill marks and the outside crispy, zero skill (or thermometer) required!

    I'm not sure if a sausage party is your kind of thing for a wedding though?!? Maybe up the rustic aesthetic a bit with fancy mustards and craft beer?

    And OMG smores bar. You are Awesome.

    1 agrees
  4. This seems like one of those things that sounds cool on the surface but….

    1. I'd be a little annoyed at literally having to cook my own meal. There's a huge difference between making smores and grilling your own meat. I don't even like grilling my own meat AT HOME, so I really wouldn't like doing it out in public
    2. How do people keep track of their meat? Are they expected to stand there the whole time?

    3. I like the idea of appointing grill masters–people still get control over their food, and still can mingle.

    1 agrees
  5. I agree with the person above. It sounds like a good idea, but it has the huge risk of coming off as you expecting people to cook the food for the party. I would suggest the board game themeline you also had and adding more fun activities.
    The grill masters is a good idea to conciliate the best of two words,but just make sure you have enough people to take turns, or someone will spend hours next to the grill feeling like he/she is there for an unpaid job, not as a party guest. You could hire someone. And I was thinking you could prepare some salad stuff and then let people assemble their own salad as they wish with the stuff that is already made (instead of chopping the tomatoes and washing the lettuce), something like a salad bar.
    You know your people better than we do, but just make sure it feels like fun and easy instead of like a job and that no one ends up sweating or staining their fancy clothes!

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