So summer is truly here, and you you know what that means: warm weather, fun on the beach, women in sundresses and, most importantly, backyard barbecuing.

Barbecues are one of my absolute favorite parts of the summer. They are a great way to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family—spending time together, eating tasty food, playing games and drinking cool adult beverages. Summer barbecues truly bring out the best of the summer and I have certainly thrown my fair share of them throughout the years.

From the epic Fourth of July ragers during my 20s to the quieter, more laid-back gatherings of today, I have seen a million barbecues and I’ve rocked them all. So much so that I actually appeared on Live with Regis and Kelly to dispense grilling and barbecue advice.

With summer here and many of you poised to throw your own summer bash, here are a few tips that are guaranteed to take your next backyard gathering to another level.

1. Give Your Party a Theme and Name It
Parties are fun, but parties with a theme are better. Having a theme will give you and your guests something to plan around. They add an element of creativity to the party and can become your inspiration for decorations, music, food and drinks. Simple themes can be centered around the summer holidays like Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, but you can always take it a step further and go with a Margaritaville or Luau motif.

Once you give your barbecue a theme, the next step is to name it. Attaching a moniker to your summer barbecue will ultimately turn it into an event. For example, we used to call my Fourth of July party “Bonejam” (a play on my name). Doing so made everyone involved psyched to be a part of it, leaving me to field questions as to its date months in advance.

2. Come Up with a Food and Beverage Menu
Continue making your party into an event by designing an epic menu. As a self-proclaimed foodie, no party of mine goes down without a comprehensive menu.  Back when Bonejam was at its height, the food kicked off with sausage and peppers around noon. Then the grilled meats—including my award-winning ribs, flank steak and pork loins—came in waves throughout the day. And it didn’t end until we finished off the leftover kegs with eggs the following morning.

Center the menu around the theme of the party and, depending on your cooking abilities, make it as simple or as elaborate as you want it. Fire up the grill for burgers and dogs, while throwing in some salads and corn on the cob for a traditional American barbecue. Or throw a grilled pizza themed party and make a few different variations of grilled pizzas throughout the day.

If you want to limit your involvement as a chef but still get rave reviews from your guests, get yourself a nice smoker, throw some meats and veggies on and let it cook low and slow while you mingle and play games with your friends.

Of course, with all of this food, you’re going to need some adult beverages to wash it down. Mix up some refreshing summer cocktails based on the party’s theme, like a margarita (for a South of the Border theme) or, my personal favorite, an Ice Pick (for a North Pole or Eskimo or “Cocktails named after weapons” theme).

Not into the mixed drinks? Then head out and grab some tasty craft beers for you and your guests. Either way, make the drinks light and refreshing. Choose session beers that are crisp, thirst-quenching and have a lower alcohol content. (The same goes for the cocktails. Keep your liquor pours on the stingy side, especially early on.) This will make sure your guests can last the life of the party without having to boot and rally.

3. Get Your Music in Order
Sure, you’re a good time and all, but throw some sweet tunes in and your guests will be singing and dancing throughout… especially as the libations start to pile up. Back in the day, I used to create new soundtracks for each year’s party with music based on the theme. I then created multiple CDs that would play throughout the day. Now that there are streaming music sites, creating a playlist is much easier to execute. Throw in a portable bluetooth speaker and you don’t even have to carry your stereo outdoors anymore.

If you really want to take it to another level, get a band or a DJ to play your event. You may even be able to pull this off on the cheap if one of your friends happens to be a DJ or in a band. If you go this route, be sure to invite your neighbors so that they don’t get too angry when the band is playing at 130 decibels and they’re not involved.

4. Backyard Games Are a Must
The menu is set and music is pumping. Now it’s time to incorporate the backyard games. There are so many great ones out there, from the classics like beer pong, horseshoes and flip cup, to newcomers like cornhole, polish horseshoes and can jam. Backyard games are a fun way to occupy time at a party, generate conversations and even talk a little trash. Organize a cash tournament around any and all of these games to generate even more buzz (other than the one from the drinks).

Whether your guests are playing or not, they will be engaged throughout, especially if money is involved. You can even get a little crazy and create a tournament around multiple games—with points earned for wins and top-three finishes—and award a prize to the overall winner.

5. Let Your Guests Leave with Some SWAG
Swag from a party is the equivalent of goodie bags for adults. Let’s face it: Everyone loves free stuff. So be the hero and let your guests leave with some. Two of the best and relatively inexpensive party favor giveaways are a sweet T-shirt or Silipint glasses with a logo or party name on it. Designing a cool logo centered around a theme can be easily done online. Or if you have a friend who is a graphic designer, enlist them.

In all honesty though, you don’t have to get that crazy. Just the event’s name and the year is good enough. Your friends will appreciate the thought, effort and of course the free gift. It will also serve as a nice reminder of the epic time that they had and get them excited for next year.

Photo: iStock/SolStock