It used to mean long days lying in the shade, listening to the distant hum of a lawn mower, waiting for Christmas and then school.
Nowadays it’s a whirlwind of organising and Christmas parties and Christmas shopping and end-of-year get-togethers.
Even my kids feel that time is moving quickly.
I do love all the get-togethers. Sitting in the yard in the cool of the afternoon with a glass of wine and in the company of good friends.
But all that entertaining can stretch the budget.
One of the best ways to save money on entertaining is the old Aussie standby “bring a plate”.
This takes the pressure off the host to feed a crowd.
For a BBQ you might be asked to bring your own meat. Or maybe to contribute a salad or a dessert.
But whether you feed a crowd or share the load, below are some ideas for enjoying a barbeque on a budget.
I’ve written about creating nibbles platters on a budget so that I won’t repeat the info here. For a full budget entertaining menu plan, check out the article on cheap appetisers here.
On to the rest of the meal.
BBQ on a budget
Here are some tips for hosting a barbecue without spending a lot of money on food and drink.
Cheap Meat for the BBQ
Meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal. And while hey, it would be nice to serve everyone up a nice piece of grilled porterhouse steak, you’ll need a pretty big budget for that.
Here are some cheaper meat alternatives.
Charred sausage is almost obligatory for a stubbies and thongs kind of BBQ. The one where the kids are running around under the sprinkler and parents are wilting in the heat.
Slapped on a bit of white bread, smothered in sauce and washed down with a beer, BBQ sausages make a great low-fuss, low-budget meal.
But they can be boring for a more formal get together.
This is where gourmet sausages come to the rescue, like these lamb and rosemary sausages from Aussie Farmer’s Direct. Just special enough to lift them out of the realm of the ordinary, but still cheap enough not to break the budget.
BBQ Sticks / Kebabs
Kebabs are my absolute favourite frugal BBQ food.
They give you the best of both worlds: little morsels of skewered meat sandwiched between plenty of vegetables to stretch that meat out. And with marinades, you can serve up a variety of flavours with very little cost or effort.
You can make kebabs with any meat you like (or create vegetarian kebabs). Cuts of meat that work great for skewers included:
- Beef: BBQ blade steak, rump or topside are great cuts
- Lamb: For lamb, leg steaks work well.
- Pork: shoulder or steaks
- Chicken: thigh
- Fish: firm white fish
- Select your meat and then cut your meat into bite-sized cubes.
- Decide on a flavour combo. The flavour of your kebab will depend on your marinade. Think red wine and garlic beef, Moroccan spice rubbed beef, Greek lemon and herb lamb, sweet and sour pork, hoisin chicken, chilli and lemongrass prawns, the combinations are endless. Google marinades, rubs or skewers for more ideas. Leave the meat to marinate for 24 hours before skewering and cooking.
- Pick your vegetables. Vegetables good for skewering include capsicum, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, onion and tomato. You could also use pineapple pieces for the sweet and sour pork. Cut your vegetables into bite-sized pieces, large enough so that they don’t cook long before the meat does.
- Skewer. If you are using bamboo skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes before making your kebabs. This prevents them from burning on the BBQ. Fill your skewer by alternating meat with the vegetables. Leave enough room at the bottom for a handle.
- BBQ. Cook the skewers, ensuring that the meat is cooked through.
Chicken wings are another favourite. Super cheap, everyone loves a chicken wing.
Marinade overnight and then throw in the oven or on the BBQ for a cheap crowd-pleaser.
Before marinating your wings cut them into drumettes and wingettes. This makes them easier to cook and eat. To separate the wings, cut the tip off the wing at the joint (save that for the stock pot), and then cut through the remaining joint to create two-piece. Here’s a video that shows you how to do it easily.
Looking for marinade ideas? Here are 31 ideas to whet your appetite.
The last cheap meat option is mince. And for something a bit different, you can create your own help yourself burger bar that incorporates the meat and the sides, and everyone helps themselves.
Serving a whole lot of delicious sides means you can get away with serving less meat. And as sides are a lot cheaper than meat, it will bring your BBQ budget down.
Rice or pasta salad, for example, can cost a couple of dollars, but they are a filling BBQ favourite.
Here are some cheap and easy side ideas:
- Bread: rolls, homemade focaccia or Turkish bread
- Grilled Corn
- Potato salad
- Potato bake
- Vegetable gratin
- BBQ potatoes
- Caramelised / BBQ onions
- Tomato salad
- Rice salad
- Pasta salad
- Green salad – this dressing is amazing, although my favourite is roast pumpkin and feta salad
- Grilled seasonal vegetables
Dessert can’t get easier than a tub of ice cream. You’ve served nibbles, marinated meats, made salads and everyone is full. It’s more than ok to let dessert be an afterthought.
But if you want to go to a little more trouble, here are some cheap and easy summer dessert ideas.
- Ice cream cones
- Ice blocks
- Pavlova – this is cheap if you make it yourself and not as difficult as it sounds. And if you do muck it up, you can make Eton Mess.
- Cheats Banoffee pie (crust, caramel, sliced banana and then topped with whipped cream)
- Seasonal fruit and yoghurt
- No-bake cheesecake
- Trifle – Mix up the flavours for a summer trifle with mangos and passionfruit jelly
- Banana splits
- Jelly and cream (make your own jelly and put seasonal fruit in it or try champagne jelly)
- Chargrilled seasonal fruit and ice cream
Last of all the drinks.
In my opinion, the best way to save on drinks is to ask your guests to BYO.
It’s just good manners in Australia to bring your choice of drink anyway.
But it’s also a good idea for the host to provide a few non-alcoholic drinks as well.
Ice water – still or sparkling – is a must for summer entertaining. A fancy cordial is a cheap and easy way to jazz up otherwise boring plain water.
For a more exotic alternative to alcohol – and one that kids and non-drinkers alike will enjoy – is a simple fruit punch.
Anything beyond that is up to your guests.
It’s possible to entertain this silly season and stick to a budget. Hope you enjoy the festive season this year and have many hours of good weather, good food and good conversation.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.