Summer may be the official season of late May through early September, but the unofficial sponsor of these hot summer months belongs to three letters: BBQ. And if you identify with the 74% of Americans currently on a budget, finding cheap BBQ ideas is a must for this time of year.
How to Throw an Incredible BBQ on a Budget
Summertime is here, and it’s time to grill and chill — without having to break the bank. Start you summer right and throw a fantastic BBQ on a budget, with these cheap BBQ ideas that are sure to wow your guests.
1. Know where to shop
If you’re on a tight budget, the first lesson to pulling off an epic BBQ is knowing where to shop. As great as it may feel in the moment, shopping at an expensive specialty grocery store may lead to regret when next month’s credit card bill arrives.
It may not be glamorous, but discount stores like Aldi offer exceptional value and great food. Owned by Trader Joe’s, Aldi has nearly everything you need for your cheap BBQ recipes and then some. From organic meat to all the fixings for a great burger, a decent wine and beer selection, and everything you need for the perfect s’more. The store even stocks up on seasonal must-haves like charcoal, plastic tablecloths, patio furniture and more.
A great rule of thumb is to head to a budget-friendly grocery stores first — and then to your favorite grocery for whatever you can’t cross off your list.
2. Firm up your guest list
You can’t shop for a budget BBQ bash if you don’t know how many people will show up to your shindig. It’s not always easy to track down RSVPs for every guest, but it’s important to try. An accurate headcount will help you save on food costs and leftovers.
Send out text messages asking if guests plan to attend and whether they intend to bring kids or significant others, or use a free paperless invitation to manage the guest list and send automated reminders for you.
3. Get creative with your burgers
Today, turning plain old ground beef patties into grilled masterpieces is all the rage. Take advantage of this culinary trend and use it to stretch out your beef. Whether it’s with plain breadcrumbs, pureed veggies like sweet potatoes or some other inventive add-ins — getting creative with your burgers impresses your guests and satisfies your budget.
Take it one step further by putting out impressive — yet inexpensive — toppings and allow your guests to create their own masterpiece between two buns. Check out these awesome ideas, many of which can double as tasty sides. That’s what we like to call a win-win.
4. Don’t be afraid to save money on meat
We aren’t talking about visiting your back-alley butcher (is that even a thing?), but by substituting less expensive cuts of meat for certain dishes, you can save some serious money . Opting for hot dogs over brats, for example, is one way to cut back on costs when trying to satisfy the appetites of a large crowd.
Kebabs skewers are a great — and inexpensive — grilling idea that is sure to dazzle your guests. They pack a high wow factor while using lower-priced ingredients like green pepper, onions, and mushrooms.
5. Offer plenty of sides
When planning out your menu, be sure to fill it with plenty of cheap BBQ side dishes. Beans, chips, macaroni salad, grilled veggies, slaw, potato salad and watermelon are just a few examples of BBQ side staples that are budget-friendly crowd favorites. Keep meat costs lower by offering plenty of sides your guests will surely love.
This level of variety not only shows off your hosting abilities, it will also give your guests the chance to fill up on delicious food that’s much less expensive than meat.
6. Ask guests to help out
Consider making it a potluck, where you provide the grilled meat while guests bring the sides, dessert or drink of their choice. BYOB is also a cheap BBQ idea for larger crowds — and one that is second nature to most BBQ guests. If you prefer, reach out to a few close friends who will happily pitch in.
7. Make your sauces and rubs
Not only is it cheaper to take the DIY route with BBQ sauces, marinades and rubs, making them yourself is much tastier than buying from the store. Your guests will be impressed, your food will be delicious — and you’ll be amazed at just how easy it was.
8. Ration your fuel
The golden rule of grilling is to be ready to cook as soon as your grill is ready. Whether you’re the champion of charcoal or gifted at gas, it’s important to understand how to ration your fuel when grilling on a budget.
Rather than dump a 10-pound bag of charcoal on the grill (which, for the record, is entirely unnecessary), use about 30 briquettes for every pound of meat. For gas grill proponents, be sure to turn off the burners immediately after you’re done using the grill.
Between getting your perfectly cooked meat on the table and digging in, it’s easy to forget to turn off the gas. Whether your grill uses propane or natural gas, keeping your grill on after you’re done is like burning through money. Take that extra few seconds and make sure everything is turned off before enjoying that burger.
9. Make cheap dessert (or don’t)
While dessert is a crowd favorite, don’t feel like you have to provide sweets to cap off those savory cheap BBQ recipes.
If you want to offer dessert to your guests, there are many ways to pull it off without breaking the bank. Instead of s’mores, grab a few bags of big marshmallows to roast over the fire. Jell-O jigglers and Rice Krispie treats are other popular and affordable dessert options. And don’t forget the (inexpensive) summer classic: Popsicles. They’re a crowd favorite for kids and adults!
10. Check your pantry
You don’t need to buy brand-new condiments like barbecue sauce if you have plenty already in your refrigerator or pantry. You might even find extra bags of chips, pretzels and other snacks to serve. Check out your pantry and fridge before heading out to the store to avoid duplicate purchases and unnecessary spending.
Make sure to consider your audience too: lots of kids at your BBQ means that staples like crackers and chips are favored over more elaborate appetizers. Keep it simple and inexpensive!
11. Get creative for your summer BBQ
Save money by setting up lawn games that you already have to entertain your BBQ guests. Cornhole, frisbee, kickball, sidewalk chalk and water balloons are all either free or inexpensive ways to give your cheap BBQ that extra fun factor.
You can also get creative on ways to save. Skip the paper products and use plates, silverware and glasses from your kitchen. Instead of individual plastic water bottles, save the environment and some cash by serving water from large dispensers. You can even add fun fruit infusions like orange slices and strawberries to give the water an extra zing.
12. Utilize your wholesale club membership
If you have a Sam’s Club or Costco membership, it’s time to tap into those bulk savings. It can make a difference on your bottom line, especially when buying hot dogs, buns, baked beans and chips for a crowd. Shop out the meat choices at your wholesale club as well —ground beef and chicken prices are often unbeatable when you buy in bulk.
13. Get competitive and host a $99 BBQ
Start a challenge for you and your friends: who can host a $99 BBQ? Everyone picks a different weekend and then gets creative on how to host a cheap cookout. You’ll love the friendly competition of who can host a BBQ on $99 (or less!) — and you’ll have a built-in schedule of fun summer get-togethers with your friends.
14. Don’t send home leftovers
A little-known cheap BBQ trick: you don’t have to send home all the leftover food with guests. You’re already stretching your finances to throw a BBQ on a budget, so there’s no need to feel guilty about keeping whatever leftover food your family will eat. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy BBQ leftovers for the next day or two — with the bonus of not needing to worry about what to make for dinner.
15. Don’t forget to have fun!
Being financially responsible shouldn’t stop you from having fun with your family and friends. Use these cheap BBQ ideas to throw an epic, wow-worthy cookout that will go down in history as the best.
And remember the summer months are for family, friends and FUN! So taking a few extra minutes to plan out your BBQ can make it extra-memorable without impacting your wallet.