Eat Well, Spend Less: How to host a BBQ without breaking the budget

I'm excited about July's Eat Well, Spend Less theme of "Entertaining on a budget"!

As I've mentioned before when I've shared our weekly menu plans, we have dinner guests regularly (4-6 times per month). Since I'm used to cooking from scratch, buying things on sale (or at Costco), and planning frugal meals (most of the time!) we have plenty of food to share and can even splurge and serve extra nice meals to guests. :)

This year, we've hosted quite a few BBQs. No, I don't have secrets for a fabulous summer BBQ for pennies per person. I do have a few tips on how we host a BBQ for less, though!

This first tip is a no-brainer: Buy food on sale. Or in bulk. Making homemade is even better, but I'll be honest: I've been buying Costco's 24-pack of hamburger buns. It's $3 that takes a weight off my week. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not Superwoman and I love to go to bed on time at night... or sleep in a little on the weekend -- even if we're having company. :)

And of course, serve what YOU can get affordably! I'll tell you some of the things we serve, but these could very well be expensive for you, so put on your thinking cap and serve what YOU got on sale last week or last month! :)

Some of our menu choices have been:

Grilled burgers, the quintessential summer BBQ food. We have served salmon burgers and beef burgers.

Buying beef burgers, buns, and toppings at Costco runs just over $20 for 24 huge burger sandwiches. Maybe a couple dollars more depending on the kind of cheese you use. (We've been using the pre-sliced American, Costco's cheapest.)

I know, that sounds like a lot of money, and it is! It's also a main dish that takes 15 minutes to prep and 8 minutes to grill, and I guarantee your guests will love a decked-out burger!

Serving burgers has been one of the easiest ways for us to host a BBQ. Joshua loves taking some of the load of hospitality off my shoulders, and I can actually relax instead of spending an entire day preparing for guests. Which is a good thing, since we're homeschooling and doing lots of other stuff too! I love hospitality, but unless I take a few shortcuts it can become overwhelming.

I haven't found time to make black bean burgers for 15+ people and my food processor broke recently, but I want to some day! I'm guessing that homemade black bean burgers would slash the price of BBQ burgers by about 75%, since I buy my ingredients in bulk!

Grilled chicken breast. We buy chicken breast on sale and it's an easy meat to grill that guests love. (Joshua's grilled chicken breast is so tender and delicious -- I really need to pick his brain for all his tips on grilling great chicken breast!) Serve grilled chicken over or with a green salad or some cooked rice to help stretch it a little.

Grilled Half Chicken recipe

Grilled Half Chicken. Joshua's latest frugal grilling endeavor was to grill a fryer chicken. You know, the kind that go on sale for under $1 a pound. Joshua's Grilled Half Chicken is fabulous and frugal! I've been able to pull a chicken out of the freezer that was purchased on sale for $0.69/lb making it under $4 for a 5-pound chicken that easily serves 6. The only problem with making such great food is that your guests will want to eat extra large servings! ;)

Consider also grilling cheaper chicken portions -- like drumsticks, wings, or leg quarters.

Grilled fish. This is economical for us because we're able to get discounted fish through Joshua's employer. (I love that perk of his job!) We serve grilled fish fillets over cooked rice. A few of our friends or guests were unsure about trying grilled fish (we asked them first to make sure it was okay to serve!) but we've NEVER had a guest not like Joshua's grilled fish of any kind! (Check out Joshua's fish recipes if you need a tried-and-true way to grill seafood!) In fact, we've had several guests tell us "I don't even LIKE fish, but this is awesome!". I can't tell you how happy that compliment made us! :)

Grilled kebabs. These are a good choice because you can stuff them with whatever's on sale or fresh from your garden. Zucchini, carrot or potato chunks are all frugal choices to add to your kebabs!

Serve Sides

If you're grilling meat, be sure to have some side dishes available to help the main dish go further. Serve potato salad with grilled burgers, cooked rice with chicken or fish, and a lettuce salad with anything!

Homemade garlic bread like Italian Cheese Bread or Grilled Cheese Loaf are two fairly easy breads you can serve that are affordable to make. (96% of people like or LOVE garlic bread, so it's a great choice!)

You can easily make a gluten-free grilled meal by serving a grilled meat with rice and lettuce salad. (That and taco salad are our two go-to gluten-free meals for guests!)

Serve veggie sticks with homemade Dill Dip, or apple slices with Cream Cheese Apple Dip. Having dip makes these fresh foods more palatable for guests. The apple slices and cream cheese apple dip can function as a dessert for a busy day!

Ice water

Serve Water

Don't be afraid to serve water to your guests. Obviously, you need to choose where to spend YOUR food budgeting dollars, but for our family, we tend to spend those dollars serving higher-quality foods and skipping expensive drinks. Most beverages have lots of empty calories, anyway! If we do want a nice beverage for guests, we make homemade sparkling juice.

We also make our own ice! True, it's only a dollar or two, but I find it easy to make ice and we like the taste of our own ice! And, we have a chest freezer so there's really no excuse for me to not have ice on hand. :) It's all about deciding where to save and where to spend... and for us, water and ice is where we usually choose to save. :)

Our reusable "large group" dinnerware
My basket of reusables (except napkins)

Run the Dishwasher

We also use reusable dishes whenever possible! Formerly, I had dinnerware (Corelle) for 14 people. When we had larger groups, I would use paper plates. But I would rather make use of having a dishwasher, so this year we got some inexpensive reusable plates.

Instead of spending a few dollars on disposable dinnerware, I just run the dishwasher an extra time. This also fits well with our trash pickup service, since we pay for the smallest service possible and have room for about 2 medium bags of trash per week.

If you do go with disposable dinnerware, I've found that Costco's prices, combined with a coupon offer from one of the monthly coupon flyers, is the cheapest way to get NICE disposable dinnerware. It's probably not cheaper than, say, Wal-Mart's cheapest disposable options, but definitely much higher quality!

Consider what you're serving. If it's finger food and grilled burgers, then cheap-o plates might be just fine! But I've made the mistake of buying cheap paper plates and then trying to serve food that either shredded up the plate or made guests want to use 3-4 plates at a time. (There went any of my "savings"!)

I do use paper napkins, since napkins tend to get greasy and hard to clean. (If you use cloth napkins when hosting large groups, I'd love to hear your tips!)

Read More!

Here's the latest from the fabulous Eat Well, Spend Less team! They're covering more on the topic of hospitality on a budget:

Budget-Friendly Potluck Meals from Jessica at Life As Mom

Simple, Inexpensive Hostess Gifts from Katie at GoodLife{eats}

Throwing a Party on a Budget from Mandi at Life... Your Way

The Gift of a Meal from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship

...and watch for more (will be linked here) from:

Aimee at Simple Bites

Alyssa at Keeping the Kingdom First

Carrie at Denver Bargains

Shaina at Food For My Family


We made your apple dip with sliced apples for snack at VBS this week and it got thumbs up from the kids.

Yay! :)

I haven't been here in a while, but when I do find time to stop by, I love trying to catch up! These are some great ideas that I will definitely keep in mind whenever we cook-out.. or just invite people over :) Thanks for a great post, as usual!

Thanks, Tiffany! :) Glad to "see" you again (apart from Facebook). :)

I am going to have to try your sparkling juice recipe! Now I can't wait until shopping day. =D These are great tips that I'm going to come back to when we get a grill! My cousin-in-law has a friend that grills pizza, too! I had never heard of that before.

Thank you! :) ...I love having a grill (and a husband who uses it)! I hope you like the sparkling juice! :)

We cook out and entertain what feels like every weekend ... and I love Costco too for the variety and quality. I do have to agree with the disposable factor. A huge pet peeve of Hubby's is wimpy plates so I always buy the Chinet or Dixie brands at Costco. They just hold up so much better and seriously, takes out the borderline embarassment of a plate collapsing. Not to mention, we usually have a lot of teens around and well, I'd rather have them take the paper plates to the pool and dock instead of my good "breakable" ones :) Excellent post by the way!

I do feel a little better about having a re-usable plate option or nicer disposable bowls that are not my good Corelle plates... as we have had guests' children leave Corelle bowls in the garage (?!) after being served homemade ice cream in them! :)

Joshua dislikes wimpy paper plates too, so the ones we have are from Costco (with a coupon) and the big bag has lasted "next to forever" since we don't use them often! :)

I always serve ice water (in a nice jug or pitcher) and one of plain, unsweetened iced tea or Sweet tea (depending on the guests). Cheap and easy. If someone brings wine--that's great! But I don't buy it. I also don't supply a cooler full of soda. I'd rather feed them well.

Lisa @

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

User login

Subscribe for free recipes, menu plans, and kitchen tips!