Backyard barbecues are a great way to entertain, but even when you host a potluck, they can be a pricey way to party. Whether you are entertaining a small or large crowd at your backyard barbecue, you can still stay on budget. Here is our guide to cooking on the cheap for a crowd at your next cookout.
Where to buy bulk meats at big savings
Unless you’re an entirely vegetarian crowd, meat is likely to be the main attraction at your backyard barbecue. If you’re buying pounds of steaks, sausages and pork, the costs can add up. Use these tips to save when you purchase your proteins.
- Buy whatever is on sale and build your menu around it, whether it is beef brisket, pork ribs, whole chickens, hot dogs or ground beef.
- Shop at a restaurant supply or wholesale grocery store that is open to the public (such as Cash & Carry on the West Coast or Market Grocery in Georgia).
- Consider a membership at a store like Costco or Sam’s Club if you will use it often enough during the year to recoup the membership fee. (And check out our stories on whether Costco and Sam’s Club memberships are worth it.)
- Check out local butchers and small farms in your area to see if they offer a bulk purchase or hanging weight beef or pork purchase.
Cuts of meat that save you money
Not all meat costs the same, which you know if you’ve ever ordered filet mignon or Wagyu beef in a restaurant. You don’t need five-star steaks to host a successful backyard barbecue, so use our tips to find the cheaper cuts of meat that will still taste delicious when grilled or smoked.
- Buy a roast and cut up steaks yourself, such as tri-tip roast, beef rib roast or even beef tenderloin for filet mignon. Cutting your own steaks can save you 60% or more off regular retail prices for steaks.
- Cook up inexpensive cuts like beef brisket, beef chuck pot roast or pork shoulder to create a batch of shredded meat that you can stuff inside burger buns or taco shells, or serve over steamed rice.
- Buy ground beef (or grind your own from chuck roast) to make hamburger patties or buy whole chicken and cut it up yourself.
- Ask your local butcher for seasonal deals on meat cuts.
Barbecue recipes for cheap cuts of meat
Use these recipes to make any cut of meat into a crowd-pleasing main.
- Texas oven-roasted beef brisket
- Barbecued beef chuck roast
- Mexican Style Shredded Pork
- Kalua Pig in a Slow Cooker
- Grilled Hawaiian Huli Huli Chicken
- Grilled Chicken Thighs Tandoori
- Grilled Chicken Adobo
- Basic Easy Chicken Wings
Recipes for affordable barbecue side dishes
You want to watch your budget when assembling your barbecue side dishes as well. The cheapest way to handle sides is to have a potluck and get your guests to bring an appetizer, salad or dessert. Assign the dishes by alphabet, so you don’t end up with five desserts and no salads. (For example, last names ending in A-F bring an appetizer, G-L bring salad, M-Z bring dessert.)
If you’re handling the side dishes, your best bet is to make your own rather than buying prepared potato salad and cole slaw. The least expensive sides include potatoes, beans, macaroni or pasta, and grains such as rice. Fortunately, many of these ingredients make delicious, hearty dishes that are easy on your budget.
Depending on your menu, don’t overlook sauces from barbecue to teriyaki, vegetable salads and a simple pot of steamed rice — it is the perfect backdrop for grilled foods. Fresh, local produce is abundant and affordable in the summer, so take advantage of fruits and vegetables at the grocery stores and farmers’ markets in your area. I like to make one or two sides that I know everyone loves, plus one or two that offer something unexpected. So don’t be afraid to cook out-of-the-box while you are hosting a party outdoors.
Potato salads are the ideal picnic food because they’re made from cheap ingredients and pair well with summery mains. Here are two ideas for potato salads you can make.
Baked beans are filling, inexpensive, and easy to make — just throw a few ingredients in a pot and let simmer for maximum flavor. Use these recipes to get started.
Macaroni and Pasta Salad
What’s a barbecue without pasta salad on the menu? Use these ideas for a refreshing, classic dish.
- Old-Fashioned Macaroni Salad
- Mexican Macaroni Salad
- Mediterranean Orzo Salad
- Tomato Feta Pasta Salad
Rice and Grain Side Dishes
Impress your guests with a flavorful grain dish that will have them reaching for more. Use these recipe ideas to create a unique and tasty side item perfect for all palates.
Vegetable Salads and Slaws
Take advantage of your in-season or farmer’s market veggie purchases by transforming them into a delicious side. Even the kids will want more.
- Grilled Vegetable Salad
- Summer Vegetable Salad
- Three Bean Salad
- Asian Style 3 Bean Salad
- Aw-some Cole Slaw
- Cabbage-free Slaws
Complete your summer backyard barbecue with the perfect drink. Your guests will appreciate the option of flavored waters, and you can’t get much cheaper than water! If you want to serve alcohol, sangria is a budget choice; cheap wine is fine when you’re mixing it with fruit juice anyway.
Now for everyone’s favorite part of the meal – dessert. These recipes create easy-to-serve desserts perfect for eating off a paper plate while the sun sets.
- Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake
- White Texas Sheet Cake
- Peanut Butter Sheet Cake
- Golden Rum Cake
- Chocolate Mint Brownies
More tips for cheap and elegant summer parties:
- How to throw a picnic for less
- Got barbecue leftovers? Use them in these delicious recipes
- How to save money on a summer party
- Best vegetarian burgers using cheap and tasty beans
- How to barbecue safely
- Tasty recipes for cheap and abundant zucchini
Love this! Found the link on Twitter and just shared it on my FB page. Always looking for new ideas that do not break the bank! Thank you for sharing.
K.W. Keene says
Great info but I will have to disagree on buying meats from places like Sams’s.I buy from Winn Dixie and local places where they know where the meat comes from.Here is my point: So I was shopping a few weeks ago at Sams for supplies I buy in bulk.I was watching as they were stocking up the meat dept and the meats looked fresh.So I asked “where do your meats come from”.The butcher looked at me and says” I have no idea”.He didn’t say let me get my manager or I’ll find out.Friends who have worked with Wal Mart tell me their fresh meats come frozen and who knows where it comes from.Not trying to slam any business but I am going to be careful when it comes to meats.Once again great info !!
Carole Cancler says
Thanks for your insightful comments, K.W. Keene. You have interesting perspectives on buying meats that I’m sure our readers will want to consider. I’m a Seattle native and huge fan of Costco, which of course started here. I tend to trust them, but also seek out local products that will vary from store to store. Don’t know much about Sam’s and we have no Winn Dixie here. But I also shop a local organic market and local farmers markets to buy locally grown meats and wild fish. So I definitely agree on knowing your source.