How to Not Screw Up Your Barbecue


barbecue ribs

As we graduate into adulthood, we start passing certain milestones along the way, like being able to drink (legally), getting a real job, voting (for some of us, anyway) and moving out of our parents’ house. And moving out brings with it even more responsibilities — one of which is, at some point in time, hosting a party, and that party might be a barbecue. Either you’ll come up with the idea yourself, or you’ll be egged on by a girlfriend, or wife, or a buddy who likes to drink lots of beer while eating grilled hamburgers.

So congratulations, you are now hosting a barbecue, and you have 25 to 30 people coming over. I know what you’re thinking first — how much beer? Here’s the deal: either throw a few cases of decent beer into a cooler or get a small keg. Either way, make sure you buy lots of ice to keep the beer super cold, along with bottled water and various soda (regular and diet) on ice.

barbecue foodBut what is most important here is the food because, after all, it’s a barbecue. You are celebrating the fact that winter is in the rearview mirror and celebrating the fact that you can freely fire up the grill and unleash your inner caveman by grilling all kinds of meat, and maybe even a few vegetables. And you can do it all while socializing with your pals and throwing back a few Coronas (if you do buy these, make sure you stock up on lime as well). Simple enough, right? Well, not necessarily. It’s real easy to screw up a barbecue, especially your first one, so let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.


We don’t expect you to be like your significant other and her mom planning your wedding (for the record, letting them handle all that is the way to go, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic), but you have to do some degree of planning ahead. See if there are any vegetarians among your guests and have options available for them. Figure out what you’re going to serve and make a grocery list. And don’t be too cheap, because your friends are your friends for a reason.

Now, one thing that is paramount here is your grill itself. You will probably read in men’s mags such as GQ and Men’s Health that those Weber charcoal grills are the best and give you even cooking, blah blah blah. I’m sure Bobby Flay would agree and only want to use a charcoal grill. But come on. Those things take forever to burn to the right cooking temperature, your hands get black from charcoal and it’s easy to screw up the lighting process. So true to this article’s title, get yourself a gas grill and have an extra propane tank on hand. And trust me — flame-broiled is flame-broiled whether it’s from charcoal or gas. You can taste the difference, but for convenience and sanity’s sake, gas is the way to go so you can save time and spend more of it hanging out with your guests.


You don’t want an extravagant menu, and you certainly don’t want to serve New York strip steaks with mushroom gravy if you have more than four people to cook for. You also don’t want to serve marinated chicken breasts or skewers for that many people. What you need to not screw things up is simplicity — burgers, dogs or brats, and maybe some veggie burgers. Could you grill veggies? Yes, but I wouldn’t recommend that, because if you try to grill asparagus for 25-30 people, you’ll need about 15 bunches of them. You’ll also lose about 2-3 bunches’ worth in the grates, and everyone’s pee will smell to the point that you’ll never get rid of that stench in your bathroom. Instead, I recommend making homemade coleslaw. Make a large enough batch, maybe multiply everything by four and make sure you have a bowl that is giant enough but that will fit on the bottom of your fridge. Make the slaw the morning of your party and then don’t worry about it. Oh, and when you put it out, make sure it’s in the shade…you know, to cut down on the chance of poisoning your guests.

It can’t hurt to put out a tray of veggie sticks, and a variety of snacks such as potato and/or tortilla chips, pretzels and nuts. It’s even better if you have the time and energy to make a few batches of Crispix snack mix. Make it the night before, assuming you have the willpower not to snack on most of it while watching “SportsCenter.”

barbecue grilling

Okay, now the beverages and sides are out of the way. On to the main event.

If possible, buy fresh burger patties from the butcher shop or the meat department of your grocery store. Honestly, though, it’s not a sin or a shame to buy them frozen in a box — those burgers are generally pretty decent — but you shouldn’t buy 15 pounds of ground beef and make patties yourself. Have you ever made burger patties that come out as flat and pretty as the ones that are already shaped that way? No, you usually wind up with a small hockey puck that is half the size of your bun, and for all that work! Get them pre-shaped and be done. For the dogs or brats, just buy a decent brand like Hebrew National, not the cheap 99-centers. Blech. Also, have some decent American cheese that you purchased from the deli counter, not that shrink-wrapped stuff that is half-cheese, half-plastic. Get some party sized containers of ketchup, mustard, relish and pickle slices. Your significant other will suggest lettuce and tomato, but I’m a purist — ketchup, pickle and maybe a squirt of mustard. You may feel differently, and if you do, fine, but remember I told you what a pain in the arse cutting up lettuce and tomato is for that many people. Onion is even worse because your hands will smell for a week.

And, oh yeah, the buns. Make sure you buy the right size buns, make sure they are fresh — and it’s okay to buy the cheap ones if they are big and fresh. Have all that stuff out before you grill, because when you actually set out to cook the meat, you can do it quickly and again, enjoy your guests. Standard burger patties should take maybe 5-7 minutes to cook, flipped once when you start to see blood seep through the top; and the dogs should only take 2-3 minutes, flipping constantly to avoid burning them — even better if you can cook these a bit slower on a cooler part of the grill. Meanwhile, veggie burgers take about 2 minutes total to cook, and it’s best to spray your grill with nonstick spray before you throw them on, because otherwise they will stick and mess up your flow.

Finally, dessert. Look, this is your party and for the most part, men don’t do dessert at these types of things. Let your woman handle that, or go by the dude mantra that dessert is simply another beer.

Most importantly, though, make sure that you buy enough food. Figure out the number of guests and how much they realistically will eat, and multiply all that out properly. You don’t want to have to run to the store, because you mostly want to enjoy your barbecue. You know, the one you didn’t screw up.


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