BBQ on a Budget: 10 Things for the Perfect Cookout
It's time to put out the grill and plan that perfect barbecue. It's going to be a whole lot of fun, but it won't be cheap.
According to a survey done by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the ground chuck you'll need to make those juicy burgers costs 12 percent more this year -- about $4.61 per pound -- compared to a survey conducted a year ago. Grilled beef sirloin tips will cost you even more -- up 14 percent to $5.71 per pound.
Planning ahead, you are more likely to find the items you want in bulk or on sale. If a good deal is found far in advance, you can always freeze the beef beforehand. You can also just scrimp on the burgers and throw more hotdogs and bratwursts in the mix. Go healthy and grill more chicken instead. The same survey found that the price of chicken breast is down 7 percent to $3.28 per pound.
But the cookout shouldn't just be all about the grilled meat. If you're hosting, here are 10 things to consider for a fun, safe and budget-friendly barbecue.
1. Lawn Games
Lawn games are commonly forgotten additions to a cookout. It's not until the guests have arrived and begun to settle in that the absence of lawn games becomes apparent.
Games such as cornhole, bocce and croquet can be enjoyed by nearly all age levels and can be as competitive or casual as the players would like. These games are great for socializing, so guests don't need to focus too much on what's cooking. If you don't have any lawn games, you can suggest guests bring their own favorites, which increases the options without hurting your wallet.
OK, beer itself is rarely overlooked at a cookout. The possibility of running out of beer (and food) is a concern of nearly every host. As a result, there is often an excess of both. Hosting a BYOB barbecue is an easy way to cut down on your costs. Many guests even prefer to bring their own drinks, since their beer (and other drink) preferences often differ. Beer can also add an entertainment aspect to your cookout. If you're looking to impress your guests, try grilling an entire chicken with a beer can inside of it.
3. Ice Cream
Give your guests something cold and sweet to look forward to after an afternoon in the sun. While serving the burgers, you can always say, "leave room for dessert." That should keep your guests from having too many grilled meats.
Ice cream is a cheap and easy-to-serve addition to any barbecue. If clean up and extra utensils aren't an issue, buying a tub of ice cream is likely to be your best option on a budget. Otherwise, single-serve ice creams like popsicles, king cones and cookie sandwiches are easier to pass around. Breyers, Good Humor, Klondike, Magnum, and Popsicle have all introduced new and interesting flavors in time for summer -- from Hershey's Mini Kisses Caramel to Girl Scouts Thin Mints.
Kids at your barbecue will enjoy the flavors and packaging of Popsicle Frozen, inspired by the Disney movie, which retails for $3.99 for a 16 or 18-count box.
4. Sturdy Tools
Where I come from (the Northeast), the word "barbecue" usually refers to the grill itself, a gathering of people or a method of cooking. Enthusiasts, especially from the Southeast and Southwest, refer to barbecue as meat smoked for hours; chopped, sliced or minced; and served with a sauce that's thick and sugary, vinegar or ketchup-based.
Whichever type of barbecue you're going for, it's important to have sturdy grilling tools. You wouldn't want to waste a good steak or burger because of a flimsy set of tongs. If you're not using the right tools, you'll likely have to buy new ones year after year. So spend a good amount of time researching what gadgets you'll need for your next barbecue.
After the food has been cooked, it's important to keep your grill clean for the next time you use it. A clean grill also keeps future food from sticking to the grate, and keeps bugs from hanging around your grill. Brushes with steam cleaning, like the Motorized Grill Brush with Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaning Power from Brookstone, loosen the remaining grease and grime from a hot grill. Since this brush is also motorized, it does all the heavy-duty scrubbing for you.
Just as regular kitchen tools aren't meant to be used with a grill, neither are the oven mitts you usually use while cooking. Grills can be unpredictable and dangerous in an instant. A burst of flame at an unexpected moment can mean a trip to the ER, so having a fire-resistant glove is essential. The Ove Glove uses the same materials used to make firefighters' flame-resistant clothing, and can be used in temperatures of up to 540°F, so there's no need to ruin your oven mitts trying to flip a burger.
6. Wood Planks
Cooking food on wood planks is a unique way to use your grill. Most people associate the planks with cooking salmon, but it can be used for pork, chicken, beef, shrimp and many types of fish. Wood planks are also a great way to cook food that you found on sale that might otherwise be a less interesting dish than food traditionally found on the grill. Just make sure you're familiar with the kind of wood being used, as each is distinct and will flavor the food being cooked on it.
7. Meat Thermometer
Meat thermometers are an incredibly handy tool to have. It doesn't take long for meat to go from undercooked to overcooked, and there's no guarantee that different pieces of meat will cook at the same rate, even when placed next to one another. A meat thermometer can take the guesswork out of grilling. A leave-in thermometer, such as the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm, enables you to monitor the temperature of the meat without repeatedly checking it. For those looking for a more budget-friendly alternative, instant-read thermometers work just as well with the meats you cook on the grill and in the oven.
8. Portable Speakers
Put on the music while you put on the barbecue show. Make it fun and interactive by allowing your guests to choose the music or suggest a play list. You can even have "name that tune" as one of your barbecue's highlights. Newer portable speakers like the Beats Pill can be connected by Bluetooth, which allow them to be controlled from afar.
9. Citronella Candles
While there are some people who seem unaffected by mosquito bites, others are not so lucky. To make sure all of your guests are comfortable as the sun goes down, reusable citronella candles look great and add extra light, all while keeping the bugs away. Having a few citronella candles around also means that no one needs to be covered in bug spray, which we can all be thankful for.
10. Hand Sanitizer and Sanitizing Wipes
Hand sanitizers are always good to have when you're serving lots of finger foods. Guests with kids will appreciate this and will keep them from using too many of your paper napkins. For final clean up, sanitizing wipes work wonderfully. It's always a good idea to wipe down areas that have been near raw meat as soon as possible to keep bacteria from spreading.