How to feed a big BBQ crowd on a budget

One of the best parts of summer is gathering with friends and family for a backyard BBQ. But how do you get your party going when inflation is driving food prices higher than hot summer temperatures?

You don’t have to do without the barbecue evening. You just have to plan carefully to stay within budget. Here are some tips for hosting the best summer soiree for 20 people while keeping the cost under $100 — or even as low as $50.

Let’s start with appetizers. Devil eggs are a time-honored picnic favorite that can feed your crowd for around $3. Pop your own popcorn and flavor it with your favorites for just a few bucks. Carrots and celery are only a dollar or two and can easily be sliced ​​up for a quick crudité with a homemade dip for $5 total.

The most expensive part of a barbecue, unsurprisingly, is the meat. Find out these proteins to start your menu. This way you know exactly how much money you have to fill the rest of the table.

Luckily, some great, delicious BBQ options are very affordable. Chicken thigh quarters routinely cost less than a dollar. Some grocery stores have them in 10-pound bags for just 69 cents a pound — so you can feed your crowd of 20 for $14. The problem right now is availability.

The perennial cook-off, the hot dog, is another cheap choice. They’re cheaper than hamburgers, more kid-friendly than ribs, and the easiest to grill. Hey, some people even like them a little charred. Buy your francs — and buns — on sale and you could be spending $14. Spices could add a few bucks to it.

Side dishes can be expensive when you buy them from the deli or snack aisle, but some of the most classic picnic sides are inexpensive and easy to make from scratch.

Shredding up a super-cheap cabbage and tossing it with a vinegar dressing can make a lot of coleslaw for as little as $3. Potatoes, especially red cabbage, are inexpensive. Egg prices have gone up, but they’re still affordable. Toss them together with some mayonnaise and you have a filling potato salad for about $6.

Then there are beans. Start with dried beans and you can spend less than $2 for a bulk size vegetarian baked bean dish. Add sausage or a small bag of real bacon bits and you can make it meatier for a total cost of about $6. Or maybe three bean salad is your thing. It’s the easiest salad to make—just a few cans of green beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas and some Italian dressing makes a sizable bowl for just $5.

Depending on availability and sales, fresh corn can be a good choice, but lamb’s lettuce could be even cheaper. A large bag of frozen corn can be spiced up with fresh onions, peppers and tomatoes, or simply a jar of salsa with all of this already mixed in. Leave it overnight and you can get people begging for their veggies for as little as $7.

Then there is dessert. The simplest, most people-friendly option screams summer. Buy a watermelon, chill it to icy perfection and wedge it. Melons are currently on sale for just $4 each. Kids can also enjoy these plastic tube Freezer Pops, available at dollar store prices.

If you like something a little fancier, opt for cupcakes. Easier to decorate than a larger cake, they have built-in portion control. With canned cake mix and frosting, you’re looking at about $5. From the ground up, it could be even less, leaving room to go fancier than just vanilla.

And that brings us to cheap drinks. The perfect choice for all ages is lemonade. Make it from scratch with lemons and sugar or shorten it with a mix. It’s affordable either way. A bag of lemons and sugar could hydrate your audience for as little as $5; Use a canister of sugar-free drink mix, and it can cost less than $2 for 3 gallons.

You might want to treat yourself to a few adults-only drinks. Stick to a big alcohol punch to save while you splurge. Mix fruit punch and lemonade with vodka — definitely not the good stuff — and you could have a fun option for as little as $10.

Tip: Use a colorful drink in a different shade from your kid-friendly drink so you can be sure little ones won’t accidentally get it and teens won’t be able to sneak some of the red into their lemonade unnoticed.

Overall, your party could cost $96. If you tweak it with just one or two options for appetizers, mains, sides, and a dessert, you can bring the grand total down to $47 — a good option if your crowd of 20 includes more young kids.

But the best way to save money at a backyard party is to spread the cost with a potluck. Hosts can do the heavy lifting with entrees and drinks for a total of $48 and ask other guests to fill the side dishes and desserts.

Whatever the options, the most important thing is to find a way to not only save money, but also have fun.

Lori Falce is the community engagement editor at Tribune-Review. You can contact Lori at [email protected]

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