One of the best times of summer is getting together with friends and family for a backyard barbecue. But how do you get your party going when inflation is driving up food prices from scorching summer temperatures?
You don’t have to give up cooking outside. You just have to plan carefully to stay within budget. Here are some tips for getting the best summer evening for 20 people while keeping costs under $100—or even as low as $50.
Let’s start with the appetizers. Devilish eggs are a time-honoured picnic favorite that can feed your audience for about $3. Make your own popcorn and top it with your favorites for just a few dollars. Carrots and celery only cost a dollar or two and can be easily sliced up for a quick bread with homemade dip for a total of $5.
The most expensive part of barbecue, unsurprisingly, is the meat. Discover these proteins to start your list. This allows you to see exactly how much money you have to fill the rest of the table.
Fortunately, some great and delicious barbecue options are very affordable. Quarters of chicken legs are routinely under a dollar. Some grocery stores have them in 10-pound bags that come in at 69 cents a pound—allowing you to feed 20 people for $14. The problem now is availability.
This perennial food, the hot dog, is another cheap option. They’re more affordable than hamburgers, they’re more kid-friendly than ribs, and they’re the easiest thing to grill. Hey, some people even better have a little charred ones. Buy sausages – and donuts – on sale at a discount and you can spend $14. Spices can hit you with a few dollars.
Side dishes can be pricey if you buy them at a deli or snack aisle, but some of the more classic picnic sides are low-cost and easy to prepare from scratch.
Chopping up one very reasonably priced cabbage and tossing it in vinaigrette can yield a generous amount of cabbage for $3. Potatoes, especially fermented ones, are inexpensive. Egg prices have gone up, but they are still affordable. Combine it with a little mayonnaise and you’ll have a filling potato salad for about $6.
Then there are the beans. Start with dried beans and you can spend as little as $2 for a crowd-sized vegan bean dish. Add sausage or a small bag of real bacon bits, and you can make it even more meaty for a total price of about $6. Or maybe the three bean salad is your thing. It’s the easiest salad to make—just two cans of green beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and some Italian dressing make a big bowl for $5.
Depending on availability and sales, fresh corn might be a great way to go, but corn salad might be cheaper. A large bag of frozen corn can be flavored with fresh onions, peppers, and tomatoes, or just a jar of salsa that’s already mixed in. Let it sit overnight, and you can get people to beg for veggies for just $7.
Then there is the candy. The easiest and most crowd-pleasing option is the scream of summer. Buy a watermelon, chill it to perfection and freeze it. Watermelons are now selling for as low as $4 a piece. Kids can also take pleasure in these plastic tube pops that are available at dollar store prices.
If you want something a little fancier, look no further than donuts. Easier to decorate than a larger cake, it has built-in portion control. With cake mix and canned frosting, you’re looking at about $5. From the start, it could be less, leaving room for more luxury than just vanilla.
This brings us to bargaining over drinks. The perfect choice for all ages is lemonade. Make it from scratch with lemon and sugar or shorten it with a mixture. It is affordable either way. A bag of lemon and sugar can keep your audience hydrated for just $5; Use a can of sugar-free drink mix, it can be as little as $2 for 3 gallons.
Maybe you want to indulge in some adult-only drinks. Stick to plenty of alcohol to save time while wasting. Mix fruit with lemon soda and lemon with vodka—definitely not the good stuff—and you can have a fun option for as low as $10.
Tip: Use a brightly colored drink in a different shade than your kid-friendly one, so you can be sure the little ones won’t get any by accident and the teens can’t sneak some red into the lemonade unnoticed.
Altogether, your party can cost up to $96. If you simplify it with just one or two options for appetizers, main dishes, sides, and dessert, you can bring the total down to $47—a good choice if your crowd of 20 includes more young children.
But the best way to save money at a backyard party is to spread the cost by using the barn. Hosts can do the heavy lifting with main dishes and drinks for a total of $48 and ask other guests to fill up on sides and desserts.
Whatever the options, the most important thing is to find a way not only to save money but to have fun.
Laurie Waltz is the community engagement editor for Tribune-Review. You can contact Lori at [email protected]