8 tips for a budget-friendly cookout that will make your neighbors jealous

Jack Thompson
Grilled chicken for a crowd.

Have you ever walked outside on a beautiful afternoon and instantly inhaled the delicious aroma of someone grilling?

You know that immediate pang of jealousy that you felt, the one where you wished that it was you enjoying the relaxation and camaraderie of a get-together complete with melt-in-your-mouth barbecue and all the fixings?

If you want to be that person in your neighborhood who makes all of the neighbors jealous with the delectable smell of grilling food, but your budget screams ramen noodles, don’t stress. A budget-friendly cookout is in your immediate future with these eight tips.

Starting with the beginning planning stages and ending with the last course, here are eight easy ways to plan a relaxing, friendly cookout without breaking the bank.

Skewers make for good grill-out fodder.

Prepare your invitations and decorations yourself

Technology is amazing. It lets us do things inexpensively and efficiently.

Years ago if you wanted to throw a party you had to buy invitations, mail them, and wait for an RSVP. Today you can instantly and simply set up a group event on Facebook, send out social media e-vites, or download a free template and make the invitations yourself.

Your decorations can be cheaply made, too. Check out Pinterest or Youtube for a million DIY ideas on how to decorate for a cookout. You can even theme it based on the closest holiday coming up (or even recently passed, if it was that month).

Use grocery ads to plan your meals

Instead of stressfully scanning through millions of recipe ideas on the internet, check out your local grocery ad for that week. Make a list of what you can afford, scour for coupons, and then plan your recipes based on those ingredients.

Don’t forget about instant-money saving grocery apps like Ibotta and Checkout51. You can use these apps to see what items you will get money back for buying and include those in your grocery list and menu planning.

Let your guests chip in on the food

It is common and widely accepted to ask each guest to bring their favorite dish. Some people go completely relaxed with this and just ask everyone to bring one thing, while others specifically design who is bringing a dessert, an appetizer or a side dish. How strict you are regarding this planning is totally up to you.

Consider your grill purchase wisely

While many people want to buy charcoal smokers and gas grills, those types of grills, while excellent for cooking, require the purchase of some form of fuel to power them.

Electric smokers use electricity as their power source, which eliminates the extra cost of preparing for your barbecue. As long as you have a power outlet, you can use these smokers. This review guide can help you choose the best electric smoker for your needs and your budget.

There is no rule that says everything served at a cookout has to come from a store.

Use your hunting and gathering prowess

There is no rule that says everything served at a cookout has to come from a store. If you, or someone you know, is an expert hunter or fisherman, serve up some of those hard-earned rewards as a tasty treat on your grill. 

Organization counts

Instead of leaving out bottles of condiments, pour portions of them into serving dishes that can be spooned onto plates. This limits people who might normally squeeze out excess amounts and then throw the extra into the trash. Conserving this way allows you to keep using those condiments after the cookout is over.

Similarly, consider how you are serving beverages. Cans and bottles of sodas or water tend to get set down, forgotten about, and then replaced by a new one before they are even halfway empty. Instead, buy paper or plastic cups and a Sharpie and have guests write their names on their cup. Choose two-liter bottles of soda or make pitchers of tea for them to pour themselves.

As long as they are cooked right, burgers, hot dogs and chicken can easily replace steaks and more expensive meats as perfectly acceptable cookout fare.

Use cheaper cuts of meat

As long as they are cooked right, burgers, hot dogs and chicken can easily replace steaks and more expensive meats as perfectly acceptable cookout fare. Similarly, traditional barbecue choices, such as pork shoulder, are also more affordable — they just need to be cooked low and slow.

Don’t forget dessert!

If you aren’t planning to take advantage of the potluck option, be sure to include dessert as part of your menu. This doesn’t have to be expensive, though. For less than five dollars, you can bake a homemade cake, cookies, or even throw together some Jell-O.

With these tips, it can be your delicious grilling aroma that all of your neighbors are salivating over.