The #1 Way to Host a Budget-Friendly BBQ

·3 min read
a family having an outdoor dinner together
a family having an outdoor dinner together

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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make Earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

It's officially summer, and BBQ season is upon us. No matter the season, I relish the opportunity to host (thanks for that trait, Mom), but there is something special about summer gatherings. That said, times are tough when it comes to prices, especially on food. Inflation is affecting a lot of cookout staples like sausage and beef. As much as I'd like  to seem like an easy-breezy host who can do it all on their own, that's not always realistic, especially on a budget. That's why my No. 1 tip for hosting a budget-friendly BBQ is simple: Make it a potluck-style party, and delegate.

Related: 10 Tips for Beating Inflation at the Grocery Store, According to Experts

If you're hosting, focus on the main part of the meal (check out the best budget-friendly proteins for a BBQ to help you decide). Prepare something in advance to save you day-of stress, like our Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork. Or, choose a crowd-pleasing, simple entree like Easy Grilled Turkey Burgers to whip up on the spot. Some of my favorites mains to make for omnivores include our Spatchcocked Chicken with Sweet & Spicy BBQ Rub and our Hoisin-Glazed Pork-&-Nectarine Kebabs, both of which rely on less-expensive proteins, seasonal produce and pantry staples, plus they're loaded with flavor. For a vegetarian or vegan crowd, I often lean on our Marinated Grilled Vegetable Kebabs, but can't wait to try our new Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Fried Chiles and Mint.

If you're providing the main, then your guests can be in charge of bringing the rest. This could include side dishes, desserts, beverages or even party paraphernalia. When asking people to bring party supplies—food or otherwise—there are a few important things to consider. First, make sure that everyone is aware of any dietary restrictions or allergies and is clear on what the allergy or restriction actually means (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, etc.).

Secondly, make sure you're asking people to help out in ways that match their skills and comfort level in the kitchen. Your old college roommate who never cooked is probably not the best fit to bring an elaborate dessert, but they would be great at bringing a bag of chips and a case of beer. I know asking for help can feel awkward (I am learning to be more comfortable with it myself), but remember that most people will probably be excited to chip in.

On the other hand, if you really can't relinquish control of the menu (I see you and I am you), ask attendees to chip in a reasonable amount for the food and drinks you'll provide (I try to keep it between $5 and $15). Two important things about this: First, set the precedent before the actual party. That way it's not a surprise you spring on people when they arrive (some people might even chip in before the party, which can help with buying supplies). And, if someone is really opposed to this idea, they can decide to skip.

Regardless of whether you're asking attendees to contribute food or money, don't be shy about sending reminders: a day or two before the party to confirm with those who are bringing food, or a day or so afterward to gently nudge any guest who has not chipped in. A potluck-style BBQ is not budget-friendly if you decide to let that slide—likely they just forgot.

You can host a really great BBQ on a budget (I promise; I did it recently!). After several summers of avoiding or limiting gatherings, it has felt pretty cathartic to be able to share food with friends in the sun. But if providing every menu item is not realistic for you, make it a potluck, or ask attendees to chip in, so your gathering can be enjoyed by everyone—including you!