Throw a backyard barbecue on a budget
Nine tips to keep costs down.
Special to The Seattle Times
It's time to dust off the grill and invite friends and family over for a quintessential summer cookout. But before you blow your monthly grocery budget, check out these tips to control costs.
Make a menu plan
Once you know how many guests you'll have (give or take a few), write out a detailed menu plan with a coordinating shopping list of everything you'll need. This will help you stay organized and on target. Stick to the list to avoid impulse purchases and to prevent last-minute trips to the store to pick up (full-priced) soda or buns you forgot to purchase (on sale) in advance.
Use what you have
While planning the menu, consider dishes you can make from ingredients you already have in your pantry or stockpile. Have several boxes of pasta on hand? Whip up a pasta salad as a side dish. Got a five-pound bag of potatoes in the pantry? Use them in a potato salad. If you have a vegetable garden or berry patch, put your fresh produce to use in a fresh tomato salad, zucchini bread or blackberry pie. Get creative!
Shop the sales or buy in bulk
Watch the store circulars a few weeks in advance for items you know you'll need and purchase them when they're on sale. Hunt down coupons for those items (especially beverages, condiments and snacks). Freeze any perishables like meat or buns that you buy ahead of time. A coupon paired with a grocery store sale could result in a lower price than you can find at a warehouse store. If certain items you need don't go on sale, buy them in bulk, and save whatever is left over for future use.
Skip the disposables
Paper plates are convenient, yes, but do we need to remind you of the waste involved? Plan for a few extra minutes after the party slows down to load the dishwasher and put the money you would have spent on plates, bowls, cups and utensils toward something else.
Stick with one specialty beverage
Catering to every anticipated thirsty whim will add up fast. Instead, offer one specialty drink, such as homemade lemonade, sweet tea or sangria (make it with Two-buck Chuck from Trader Joe's to save a bundle) and set up a nice drink station. Skip the bottled water and place pretty pitchers of chilled water on the table with glasses, an ice bucket and beverage napkins.
Make the classics gourmet
Dress up affordable options like burgers and hot dogs with designated dressing stations. Create a burger bar by placing aioli, bacon crumbles, sautéed mushrooms, jalapeños and other gourmet toppings and condiments in pretty dishes for guests to pile on as they wish.
Think outside of the (burger) box
Steak, burgers and hot dogs are popular grilling meats, but they aren't the only options.
Chicken is remarkably versatile — thighs (which are usually among the cheapest), breasts, legs and wings can all be used in different ways. Also consider alternatives, such as ribs, pork, fish, bratwurst or other sausages, especially if you find a great sale (grocery stores often run buy-one, get-one-free promotions on meat) or vegetable kebabs. You could also surprise guests with grilled pizza or another untraditional dish.
Make it a potluck
Ask guests to bring a side dish or dessert — do they have a specialty dish? A recipe they've been wanting to try? — to spice up the menu and keep your own costs in check. Be clear about this request when you're doing the inviting. Guests may not appreciate being told at the last minute they need to bring something to what they thought was a hosted gathering.
Don't invest too much in décor
No one is expecting you to play Martha Stewart, and guests won't notice that you didn't shell out for new tiki torches or tablecloths. Cheap paper decorations will just end up in the trash at the end of the day, so don't waste your hard-earned dollars. Instead use what you have on hand (or what you can make, if you're crafty) to personalize the party.
Andrea Dashiell is a freelance writer.