Follow This Easy BBQ Plan—and Handy Food Calculator—for Your Best Backyard Party Yet

Get all the big batch cocktail recipes you need and tips to make hosting a summer party easier than ever.

summer-barbecue-calculator: grill with food on it
Photo: Getty Images

It's summertime, people. The living—and your summer barbecue menu—should be easy. Our best advice for hosting an easy backyard BBQ is to stick to cookout standards, like burgers and dogs, and save the flair for the fun stuff—desserts and drinks. But don't get fussy: Think make-ahead ice cream parfaits and "lazy" versions of classic cocktails that can be mixed by the pitcher.

This essential guide will help you stay cool (with a fabulous cocktail!) when hosting your next summer barbecue.

Barbecue Food Calculator

Nothing says "party" like math, right? Allow us to help you calculate exactly what you need. Here's an easy way to add up how much to buy and make.

Menu Item Per Guest For Every 25 People
Main Course 1½ servings of any burger, hot dog, or sandwich Same as per person
Side Dishes 1½ cups total Add 2 big platters of cut-up fruit or vegetable crudités and scatter a few bowls of chips around for good measure.
Alcoholic Drinks 1½ alcoholic drinks per hour 2.5 gallons of pitcher-style cocktails
Non-Alcoholic Drinks 2 drinks per hour 2 gallons if you're also serving alcohol; 4 gallons of alcohol-free drinks if you're not serving alcohol.

How to Set Up a Buffet

Nothing says easy like a buffet that allows guests to help themselves. But no one wants E. coli. From how long you can leave things out to the safe salad dressings, here's how to serve up a germ-free spread.

Don't leave food out all day. In 85-degree weather, about two hours is the maximum for everything except the chips, says Faith Critzer, an assistant professor of food science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Unless a dish is kept refrigerator-cold or piping hot, harmful bacteria can quickly spread.

Put salads on ice. You can keep them nice and fresh by putting the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice and a little water.

Be careful with raw meat. Don't put cooked burgers back on the platter where the raw patties were. And have a second pair of tongs to use once meat is cooked.

Serve more vinegar-based salads. "Vinegar is acidic, which is good for preventing bacteria," says Critzer. It's not that mayonnaise is the enemy. "It's also acidic, but that benefit is lost as soon as you mix in potatoes or pasta," says Critzer. Try our vinegar-based Garlic-and-Herb Potato Salad.

The Right Amount of Ice for Your Party

Here's how to avoid melting ice and lukewarm beer at the same time, according to Denise Gee, the author of the cocktail book Porch Parties.

  • For pitcher drinks and mixed drinks, plan to have 1 to 1½ pounds of ice per person. Double this amount if the temperature will top 80 degrees.
  • For chilling beer and soda, you'll need at least four 10-pound bags for each large (40- to 60-quart) tub or cooler.

Is your plastic cooler an eyesore? A galvanized bucket is more fun and will still keep the ice icy, says Gee. She also likes to use planter boxes, plugged with wine corks (trimmed to fit if necessary) or lined with plastic, and a curvy trowel for the scoop.

Simple BBQ Food Ideas

Burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches don't have to be boring just because they're easy. Let guests doctor up their hot dog however they'd like by setting out a mix of fun toppings. Have a few vegetarians in the crowd? Opt for a big batch of veggie burgers that can be pre-made and frozen weeks ahead of time for super simple prep.

As for side dishes, think pasta salad, coleslaw, potato salad, or even a simple corn salad—of course, you can mix it up and serve a few.

And when it comes to beverages? Just mix up a pitcher of any of these simple cocktails, and you're ready to go.

5 Refreshingly Easy Batch Cocktails for Your BBQ

01 of 05

Two-Ingredient Tom Collins

Getty Images

A standard Tom Collins cocktail uses four ingredients—gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and club soda. But this batch version uses just two by swapping in lemon soda.

02 of 05

Limeade Margarita

Limeade Margarita
Sang An

Limeade takes the guesswork out of this simple batch margarita recipe.

03 of 05

White Sangría

White Sangria
Charles Maraia

White grape juice plus white wine make for a super simple sangria base. Just add fruit.

04 of 05

Kombucha-Rosé Raspberry Sangria

Rosé Kombucha Sangria
Sangria gets a little bit fizzy with kombucha. Better yet, this batch of sangria cocktails is perfect for when you can’t decide if you want white or red sangria. It’s bright, refreshing, and not to mention, pretty in pink. Get the recipe:Kombucha-Rosé Raspberry Sangria. Stephen DeVries

This pretty pink sangria comes together in just five minutes—and is perfect for your rosé-all-day fans.

05 of 05

Minty Moscow Mule Punch

Minty Moscow Mule Punch
While every bit as smooth and refreshing as the classic vodka cocktail that inspired it, this party-sized version of the Moscow Mule adds one upgrade: a subtle, cool, and inviting note of mint. The spicier your ginger beer, the more fire and bite your punch will have—so choose accordingly. Get the recipe: Minty Moscow Mule Punch. J Muckle; Styling: Rebekah Peppler

An easy-to-make ginger-mint simple syrup takes this classic cocktail up a notch—mix up a big batch to help your guests cool off.

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