Plus, big batch cocktails and tips for setting up a buffet to make hosting easier than ever.

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summer-barbecue-calculator: grill with food on it
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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.

The Summer Barbecue 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 Safe 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," says Critzer, "but that benefit is lost as soon as you mix in potatoes or pasta." 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:

Batch Cocktails for Your BBQ

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