Monday, 30 May 2016

Weekly Column: BBQ on a Budget

BBQ on a Budget

It is great to fire up the grill and celebrate the arrival of warmer weather with friends in the backyard. But how can one afford to host a big gathering without blowing the monthly food budget?

Shop Ahead
It can’t be overstated that being prepared and buying ahead saves you money. Learn the regular price/pound on meat so that you recognize a deal when you see one. If you see a great price on meat and have the freezer space, buy it even if you don’t have a BBQ planned at the moment. Buying meat for a large meal at the last minute can be pricey, so watch the flyers, catch the sales, and be choosey. Call your local butcher to inquire about BBQ packs that might be available.

Be Flexible and Do-It-Yourself
If grilled lobster is no longer in the budget, adjust your expectations and try something new. Select cheaper cuts of meat and marinade, skewer, debone or slow roast for tenderness. If you have the time, try making your own burgers or buns for a homemade experience. Have a look for the best deals as you shop and prepare your menu, and adjust your plan according to what is on sale. Sites such as Pinterest or allow you to search for recipes by ingredient, so try something new and save cash at the same time.

Save with Sides
Make the ordinary extraordinary by grilling corn on the cob or stir-frying veggies on the BBQ. A slow cooker of baked beans, either homemade or from the can, is filling and fibrous too. Making salads ahead saves you time and prebaking potatoes then reheating on the upper shelf of the BBQ can take the stress out of all that cooking. Sliced potatoes cooked in foil are easy and affordable, too.

Focus on the Fun
Gathering for a meal is a wonderful way to bring friends and family together and the cost should not deter you from having a good time. Borrow some outdoor games such as bocce ball or croquet and include the kids in an afternoon of friendly competition. If you have the room, a horse shoe pit or bunnock court is hours of entertainment. Something as simple as bubbles or a sprinkler for the kids will bring squeals of delight for a minimal cost.

Potluck and Bring-Your-Own
It is totally acceptable to be upfront and ask your guests to bring their own meat or alcohol to the BBQ. Offer to provide sausage or hotdogs and some salads and ask that they bring anything else they might wish to eat. Plan a frugal dessert such as a bucket of ice cream or water melon, or try something homemade. If you aren’t confident on the grill, designate a willing volunteer and make sure he or she is still part of the fun. When people ask what they should bring, be specific so that you end up with a good variety of food. Also, ask about any dietary restrictions and allergies when planning the menu. Making sure there is something that everyone can eat is considerate and ensures everyone will enjoy their meal.

Keep it Simple
If you are keen to stick to a budget, or are just environmentally conscious, don’t feel obligated to decorate for a backyard BBQ. If you wish to brighten your space, try a potted herb or plant that you can enjoy all summer. If you do decide on some decorations, take care of them so they can be reused. Single-use items are hard on the wallet and go straight to the landfill. This includes paper plates, napkins and cutlery. On the subject of waste, be attentive to your grill. Burn it only as long as is necessary to safely cook the food and clean the grate. Don’t waste fuel and you might get a few extra meals out of that propane tank. Likewise, pack up the leftovers quickly so they can be eaten the next day. If you won’t eat them, send them with someone who will. Don’t leave the food you worked hard to pay for and prepare sit out in the heat or bugs, even if you are busy enjoying a drink or conversation.

Many people won’t be travelling as much this summer but there is still much fun to be had. Adjust your expectations. Invest your time and energy in the friendships all around you. When you gather, focus on your company and resist the urge to “put on a show”. You do not need to outdo someone else’s yard, patio, menu or liquor cabinet. Chances are, no one is paying that much attention anyways. Possibly, they will be relieved to have a place where authentic, simple pleasures can be enjoyed without the pressure to spend more money. 


  1. Yay! I do like these columns! But this one made me super hungry :-) Great memories of summer BBQs from when I was a kid. There is honestly nothing like one!

    1. Thanks, Pru :) I agree, there's nothing like sharing great food outside with friends. It's a memory I want my kids to have. Thanks for commenting!