When it comes to a good Fourth of July party, keeping your costs down isn't too hard, if you know what to focus on. Here are a few ways to make the most of your celebration without spending too much at the checkout counter.
If you can't imagine a summer get-together without some ice cream, you're in luck -- July happens to be National Ice Cream Month. Look out for special sales starting on the first of the month, and keep your eyes open for cost-cutting coupons online and in store circulars.
Of course, there's nothing like a good BBQ at July Fourth parties, but not all meats are good for your budget. Beef is particularly expensive. According to the USDA, prices right now are at an all-time high, up more than 56 percent since 2010 alone. So, try using cheaper cuts like chuck short ribs or beef back ribs.
Another good alternative is to just use chicken, which is not only healthier, it has a lower price per pound. You can also lower your grilling costs by making shish kebabs. With these, you can make a little meat go a long way.
Lastly, don't think of desserts as just after-party sweets. They can do double-duty as decorations, too. Think red, white and blue frosting, or, for an inexpensive delight, bowls of blueberries and raspberries topped with whipped cream.
While we're on the topic of berries, make sure to avoid varieties that aren't in season, which will be more expensive. Instead, use cheaper berries of the same color or simply buy frozen ones, which work just as well.
Those are just a few ways you can free up your budget this Fourth of July. Give them a try, and see the savings for yourself.
Frugal Fourth of July Ideas -- Savings Experiment
It's easy to see why breasts are the most popular chicken parts: while relatively low in fat (and flavor), they are also tender and adapt beautifully to most recipes. But if you're looking to save money and don't mind something a little more, well, chickeny, try thighs. They are a little higher in fat, which makes them more flavorful. And, if you have time, precooking makes them very tender: simply place a few pounds of thighs in a greased cooking pan, lightly season with salt and pepper, cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 325ºF until cooked through. Afterward, let the chicken cool, brush with the sauce of your choice, and sear on the grill.
A cheap, flavorful cut, shoulder is the basic ingredient in pulled barbecue pork. A whole shoulder weighs around 16 pounds, but it is often subdivided into two smaller portions -- the picnic roast and the Boston butt. To cook it, give it a spice rub, then smoke it on a low grill (225ºF or thereabouts) for about 75 minutes per pound of meat. Here's Alton Brown's recipe.
Unlike cute little riblets or dainty pork spareribs, full-size beef short ribs look like something Fred Flintstone would order. But if properly cooked, those gargantuan slabs of meat and bone pack a similarly gargantuan amount of flavor. Korean barbecue recipes thinly slice the bone and meat, marinate it for several hours, and quickly cook it. American recipes, on the other hand, cook the ribs slowly, giving the fat and connective tissue time to melt and soften. Either way, the end product is tender, flavorful and fairly cost effective.
Given its low cost and big taste, it's hardly surprising that so many cultures have embraced the wonders of beef brisket. The basic ingredient for corned beef and braised Jewish brisket, it's also the cornerstone of Texas beef barbecue. This recipe cooks it in the oven, instead of the grill. Given the flavor, chances are that your guests won't complain that their barbecue came from the kitchen!
Once upon a time, flat steaks -- hanger steak, flap meat, skirt steak, and flank steak -- were cheap, largely because their tough, muscly texture made them unattractive for basic cooking. However, those same attributes enable them to stand up to a marinade, which makes them a great choice for London broil, tacos, and carne asada. And even with their growing popularity, it's still possible to find deals on these cuts.
Pit beef, the official barbecue of Baltimore, is basically a rubbed, grilled beef roast. It tends to be a bit tough, even after a slow roast, so the best way to serve it is thin-sliced, ideally on a roll with a lot of onions and horseradish sauce. The mix of old-fashioned roast beef, barbecue spices and smoke is a little odd, but the low price and high flavor pretty much guarantee that you'll come back for seconds. Here's a great recipe.
Taken from the shoulder of a cow, this steak tends to be well marbled, and has a gristly line in the center that turns off many consumers. When it's butterflied without that line of gristle, it's called a flatiron steak -- a cut that's a bit more popular. Either way, it sears up nicely and can be very tender.