Put a new twist on an old-fashioned cookout.
Burgers in the Backyard
Credit: Tina Cornett / Styling Cindy Manning Barr

An Easy Backyard Cookout:

Serves 10

When's the last time you and your friends toppled over each other trying to win a sack race or dodge a ball? Too far back to remember? This summer, plan to do it again--invite them over for a cookout; then chill out, and have a ball in your backyard.

Play up the let's-have-a-ball theme on the tables by making beaded napkin rings and flower centerpieces that are reminiscent of beach balls. For long-lasting decorations, make one-panel, tie-on chair covers, or carve out time to build a whimsical picnic table.

On the menu, serve cookout favorites that feature unexpected tastes. Grill juicy burgers, and serve with toppings such as Marinated Green Tomatoes, Pimiento Cheese, and Sweet-Hot Ketchup. Prepare what you can the day before to keep party day tasks to a minimum.

After the last scoop of Over-the-Moon Banana Pudding has been enjoyed, we know you'll hear, "Wow, I had a ball," as neighbors stroll home from a day of summer fun.

Sliced Delights

It's the unexpected touches that make you stand out as a party host. Offer Marinated Green Tomatoes and Grilled Red Onions as burger toppings, along with plain sliced red tomatoes and onions.

Havin' a Ball

For your table, decorate with wooden spheres in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Add florist foam balls adorned with flowers, and make simple beaded napkin rings.

Flower Power

Buy florist foam balls in varied sizes, and soak in water. Clip flower stems to within a few inches of blooms. (We used mums, daisies, and carnations.) Press stems into florist foam until the entire ball is covered.

Svelte Sacks

Potato sacks have never looked so good. Choose bright burlap and coordinating ribbon. Cut sack front and back (ours are 4 x 2 feet). Tip: When cutting burlap, use pinking sheers to prevent fraying.

Pin front and back together, right sides facing. With a sewing machine, stitch sides and bottom of sack together, leaving top open. Turn inside out. About 4 inches down from the top of the sack, use scissors to make small slits for ribbon, and thread ribbon.

Neat Napkins

To craft these cute napkin rings, purchase inexpensive wooden beads from a crafts store. Cover them with high-gloss spray paint in the color of your choice. Let dry, and use string or wire to thread beads. Alternate bead color for interest. Make sure beaded strand is long enough to fit around a rolled napkin (ours are about 5 inches long). Cut wire, allowing room to secure at ends, and slip over a rolled napkin.

Fabric Accents

Anytime you bring together food and family, there are bound to be thrills and spills. Deter stains by having your fabric laminated. We had this terrific fabric treated before crafting the runner and cushions. Check with your local fabric store.

To make the table runner, measure enough fabric to run length of table plus 2 feet for overhang (1 foot on each side). Fold runner ends toward underside to make a triangle, and hot glue edges together for a finished look. Sew beads at each pointed edge. Place laminated cushions on wooden benches.

Quick Covers

Use your leftover fabric from the potato sacks to create simple slipcovers for chairs. Cut a piece of burlap to cover back and seat of chair, allowing extra for overhang. Prevent edges from fraying by cutting them with pinking sheers or hemming them. Stitch two strips of burlap to each of the top corners, and wrap them around top of chair. Tie in knots.

By Alicia K ClavellMary Leigh FittsShirley Harrington and Vicki Poellnitz