This Party Calculator Tells You Exactly How Much Food to Make for Your Summer BBQ

·3 min read
summer-barbecue-calculator: grill with food on it
summer-barbecue-calculator: grill with food on it

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.

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:

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

Two-Ingredient Tom Collins

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.

Limeade Margarita

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

White Sangría

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

Hibiscus Cooler

Mix zesty iced tea, ginger ale, and your choice of rum for this icy big batch cocktail.