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Bright Ideas to Lighten Up Backyard BBQs

Backyard Ready: Lighting options to create an awesome evening entertainment space.

Bright Ideas to Lighten Up Backyard BBQs

Strings of lights can help set the mood for backyard entertaining. (Shutterstock image)

Sitting around a chimenea the other day, it was impossible not to enjoy the cool spring evening as a firefly or two cast off a faint glow and the wonderful smell of burning pinion wood drifted gently in the twilight’s faint breeze.

Fly rods, drift boats, and Arkansas trout streams were the reason for the visit to the Norfork, Ark., region as my son Zach and I traveled to the Natural State backyard of longtime angling friend Rob Woodruff.

But as good as the caddis-hatch fishing promised to be, the chance to unwind under the soft light of his backyard porch was even better as we reminisced, told fishing stories, enjoyed some nourishment, and planned the day ahead when the sun rose again.

But fly anglers dreaming of rising trout aren’t the only ones laughing, talking, and basking in the dim glow of early evening.


With temps rising and Memorial Day just around the corner, the lushness of greening plants, thickening lawns, and fully leafed trees is beckoning backyard enthusiasts all over the country to their deck, patio, and treasured spaces out back. That includes thoughts of weekend activities, such as an evening wild-game cookout, where being Backyard Ready can be a crowd-pleaser.

And in nearly every case, as the sun slips below the horizon, some form of natural or manmade lighting will create warm ambience, illuminate the scene, and become an important mood-maker for any backyard party.

How can you go about creating the perfectly lit backyard space this year? From my perspective, doing so will center around these four ideas:

1. Creating the Ideal Mood

For the most part, an ideal Backyard Ready space is one where the lighting is soft and inviting, not harsh as the noonday sun.

The trick here is to make the lighting soft enough to create the desired mood, but not so soft that guests have trouble seeing their food plates filled with delicious dishes like venison, evening beverages like sweet tea or smoked ice cocktails, and even travel routes to backyard game zones.

On the other hand, it never hurts to aim for the middle of the road, either. For illuminating your Backyard Ready space, this can be accomplished by having various lighting zones, one soft and inviting for people to sit and visit, one that is medium strength and eliminates dark holes so guests can prepare their plates and see easily, and perhaps one bright zone where arrows can be flung at a 3D target or fishing lures can be tossed at targets set up across the backyard.

Backyard Ready Lighting
A softly lit area is great for conversations with friends and family. (Shutterstock image)

And keep in mind that if your backyard space has lurking trouble spots like a swimming pool, a few steps here and there, a pond or water fountain, a gurgling small creek, or exposed tree roots and potential elevation changes, you'll need some lighting that is bright enough to safely guide someone from Point A to Point B.

That last idea also brings to light—and yes, the pun is intended—that lighting can be cast from above, below, and in between. That can include lighting overhead for mood, moderate lighting at waist level for eating and clean-up chores, and brighter lighting along a foot path to guide one safely inside and outside.

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2. Choosing the Proper Lighting Source

When it comes to lighting sources, there are a variety of options, some more natural, some completely manmade, some inexpensive, and some quite costly like those put into place by a for-hire contractor.

Speaking of outdoor lights, you’ll probably want to look at ways to turn off or dim existing outdoor wall lights, existing security lighting or motion activated lights, and flood lights. The same thing can be true of bigger lights under a deck roof or patio canopy, or on a backyard wall or tool shed, since such lighting can be too bright and harsh for backyard guests soaking in the conversations of a quiet spring evening.

Backyard Solar Lighting
Solar-powered options add to your back-deck lighting. (Shutterstock image)

On the more natural side of things, there’s always the option of harnessing the power of the sun, opting for environmentally friendly solar-powered lights placed along a footpath or around a deck or patio. Those can include step lights for a deck, pathway lights, or even tea lights or Christmas style string lights that have solar powered small globes or bulbs.

Some might opt to use a real flame, either from a handful of mounted propane-fueled lantern globes, from a handful of tiki torches lighting the way, from a series of luminarias (a candle in a weighted paper sack, a type of bag lighting that is common around Christmas time in New Mexico and other southwestern locales), or even from a couple of small, strategically placed firepits or chimineas that are burning wood or pellets for fuel.

For that matter, you could always opt for something as simple as a propane fueled Coleman North Star lantern casting 1,500 Lumens of light on top of a YETI-style cooler!

As is always the case with any open flame, you’ll want to make safety the primary consideration here, and not just aesthetics or costs. A few good examples here are not placing such lighting sources too close to the house, near outbuildings or around combustibles, and not placing such lights where young children have access to them. And it should go without saying that you’ll need to obey local and state laws, county burn ban notices, and homeowner association rules, too.

Backyard Ready Lighting Coleman
A camping lantern, like those made by Coleman, can be incorporated in your backyard lighting system.

For manmade light sources, there are a wide variety of LED style lights available at home improvement stores like Home Depot, Lowes, etc. And there are lights that are powered by plug-in electricity, a style of lighting that has a wide array of options too.

These can include commercial overhead light fixtures for roof overhangs, deck coverings, pergolas, and screened in spots, ceiling fans with light fixtures, plug-in tea lights or rope style lights that are powered through a wall socket, leftover Christmas tree lights intertwined through a railing or awning space, or even post-top or rail lights that grace the decorative fencing surrounding your deck or backyard space.

And finally, you can also use battery powered pop-up lights that are available on Amazon or at most box-store or home improvement centers. Simply expose the sticky tape and place under a counter, under a cabinet, under a picnic table, etc. Then pop the light into action when ready, and you’re all set!

3. Installing and Powering the Light Source

As with anything you do in true do-it-yourself fashion, you’ll want to have a plan in place that considers what you want lighted, how you can go about illuminating certain spots while leaving  other spots dim, and how you’ll install, space out, and power up all of your Backyard Ready lighting.

Sometimes, your plan on powering up a light source is as simple as what’s known as plug-and-play, or actually plugging a plug into a wall socket or an extension cord. Plug it in, turn it on, and enjoy! Or perhaps, all you’ll need to do to light things up a bit is to simply install the right batteries or fuel source like propane.

Backyard Lighting Systems
Lighting for an evening back-deck get-together can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like. But it needs to amply illuminate areas used often, such as where food is served. (Shutterstock image)

But for more advanced lighting projects that require some actual dirt work or construction, installing new power sockets, and some sort of hard wiring, powering up is a more difficult subject to tackle.

There are all kinds of DIY helps in this arena, a place where I’m admittedly far from being an expert. And since I’ve had a shocking experience or two trying to do-it-myself in the pre-YouTube era, perhaps you don’t want to listen to an outdoor writer opining on the subject of electricity.

So I’ll kindly defer here and say that since we’re talking about power—can you hear Tim “The Toolman” Taylor grunting “More Power!” in the old TV sitcom Home Improvement?—and, of course, electricity of some sort, it’s always wise to defer to the qualified experts in this field.

That means that unless you’re qualified and really know what you’re doing with an elaborate powering up plan, either talk with a licensed electrician or visit your local home improvement store and speak with a lighting expert, someone who genuinely knows what they’re talking about.

4. Enjoying It All

This is the easy part of lighting your Backyard Ready space—after the lights are up and turned on, simply get outside, and enjoy it all!

On some evenings, a quiet afterwork dinner with your spouse and kids, or maybe a friend or two from work, is the best way to enjoy the mild temperatures of spring, the chirp of birds, and the hum of insects buzzing about all of the new, lush growth in your backyard. For that, you need a simple meal, some simple beverages, and perhaps a firepit to unwind around as a blaze crackles, allowing you and your loved ones to soak up the delicious moments when daylight turns to dusk, and finally to full darkness as the Milky Way silently blazes overhead.

Backyard Lighting Pit
Backyard entertaining is always made better with a roaring fire. (Shutterstock image)

For more robust celebrations outback, you’re looking for a full-fledged outdoors party, one where there’s plenty of great food like this grilled whole venison backstrap, maybe a great adult beverage or two, and some simple relaxation and laughter under the stars.

No matter how you plan to enjoy your Backyard Ready space this spring and summer, it will be just perfect, especially when the light is just right for you and your guests.

And maybe, you can even plan a much anticipated fishing trip in the process!

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