10 Songs for Your Next Cookout

What do you need for a great grill out? Delicious food, of course. Maybe a few yard games. Oh, and bug spray and citronella candles because bugs, ew. But you also need music that sets the mood and keeps the party going. Because the best part of a cookout is, as the kids would say, the vibe. My favorites start as casual afternoons that turned into evenings of fun without anyone watching the clock.

No matter what you’re serving up, these 10 tracks were made for cookouts:

1. “Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (1991)
It’s all in the name. Summer is the season for cookouts and what better way to kick off your gathering than with this hip hop classic full of throwback references like CDs and all the best parts of summer.

Best Lyric: “And as I think back, makes me wonder how / The smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia”

2. “Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)
We’re all from Alabama when this song comes on. And even though it’s about one state in particular, the theme of heading home to your friends and family is one we can all relate to. And bringing loved ones together is what cookouts are all about.

Best Lyric: “Big wheels keep on turnin’ / Carry me home to see my kin”

3. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Otis Redding (1968)
The lyrics of this tune may be a little bit of a downer, but the chill melody makes it perfect for casual get-togethers. Sitting along the water, watching the waves is one of the joys of summer, especially with some sangria.

Best Lyric: “I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay / Wastin’ time”

4. “American Girl,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1976)
Another patriotic tune, this one goes out to all the independent ladies. It always reminds me of young love and those adventures you take in your twenties before you “settle down,” which is why it’s perfect for reminiscing over plates of good food.

Best Lyric: “She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there / Was a little more to life somewhere else”

5. “Lovely Day,” Bill Withers (1977)
Were the ‘70s all about cookouts? I don’t know, but this decade sure produced some grilling gems. This song is all about the good feeling we get from seeing those we love and reminds everyone to leave their troubles at the door (or out of the backyard).

Best Lyric: “Then I look at you / And the world’s alright with me”

6. “California Girls,” The Beach Boys (1965)
Give your cookout a bit of beachiness with this tune from a group of California boys who just love American ladies. It’s such a fun throwback that just feels like summer. Bonus points if your cookout is on a beach.

Best Lyric: “I been all around this great big world / And I seen all kinds of girls / Yeah, but I couldn’t wait to get back in the States / Back to the cutest girls in the world”

7. “September,” Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)
Summertime is all about relaxation and love. At least once we’re done running errands, cooking, working out and checking in on the kids. But I digress. No cookout playlist would be complete without this optimistic hit about fun times past and present.

Best Lyric: “Love was changin’ the minds of pretenders / While chasin’ the clouds away”

8. “Fantastic Voyage,” Lakeside (1980)
Add some funk to your cookout and get everyone up and dancing in no time with this song. This is no Electric Slide or Cupid Shuffle — there’s no choreography to memorize. Because who can do that with a belly full of burgers and hot dogs?

Best Lyric: “We’re the directors of this groove ship / And you are under our command, yeah”

9. “Go Your Own Way,” Fleetwood Mac (1977)
While this folksy rock classic is about bidding farewell to a lover, to me it’s all about saying see ya later to all the stress of school year and colder months and enjoying the summer. The repetitive lyrics also make it excellent singalong material.

Best Lyric: “If I could / Maybe I’d give you my world / How can I / When you won’t take it from me”

10. “Paradise City,” Guns N’ Roses (1987)
If I could guess which song would have everyone raising their glass and singing along around a bonfire at the end of the evening, it would be this one. Grab your air guitar and get ready to scream-sing the lyrics: “So faaaaar away!”

Best Lyric: “Captain America’s been torn apart / Now he’s a court jester with a broken heart”

What songs are you always playing at your cookouts? Share with us in the comments.