How Much Food to Buy for a BBQ for 50 People

Hot barbecue with meat and vegetables.


Come and Get It!

You'll need plenty of food per person for a barbecue for 50 people. The outdoor air, the festive atmosphere and the hours of smelling smoky aromas make everyone hungry and ready to eat the proverbial horse, or in the case of a barbecue, the chicken, pork and beef. Make a plan to freeze any leftovers or send them home with your guests in containers you have at the ready.

The Main Course

If you plan to serve only one kind of meat, the number of hamburgers, steaks, chicken pieces or sausages to buy is an easy matter: one per person with a few extra. For example, 1 pound of ground meat yields four 1/4-pound burgers. So 15 pounds of hamburger will feed about 60 people. With other meats that shrink after cooking, like beef brisket, count on about 1 pound of brisket per person if there's no other entree.

Side Dishes

Side dishes are typically as popular as the main course at barbecues. Buy two ears of corn per person for corn-on-the-cob, and the following quantities for other sides:

  • Potato Salad. Five pounds of potatoes yields a generous amount for 50 people. Reduce that amount if you plan to add lots of celery, olives and pickles to the salad.
  • Cole Slaw. Three heads of cabbage provides plenty of slaw for 50.
  • Baked Beans. One 16-ounce can provides about three 1/2-cup servings. Buy about 20 cans if you plan to serve the beans as they come from the can, and buy fewer cans if you plan to add sauce and cooked onions. 


Some desserts freeze well if you buy too much, while others won't; send home extra cake with your guests, but freeze extra cookies for future use. Count on two or three cookies per person, depending on their size, and provide two large sheet cakes for smallish pieces or three cakes for larger pieces. Or go with healthy watermelon slices, and buy three large melons with each slice cut into quarters.

Safety Concerns

Whether you cook indoors or out, insist that your helpers wash their hands thoroughly before beginning food prep. Provide sanitary hand wipes, antibacterial hand cleanser, or water from a cooler, bars of soap and paper towels if you're outside.

Marinate meats in a refrigerator or in a cooler, taking them out just before cooking, and keep hot food hot in tray warmers or on the grill and cold foods in bowls nestled in ice. FUse an instant meat thermometer on meats, or cook hamburgers until they are brown throughout.