Whether you're sticking to the classics or reinventing the genre (grilled watermelon is a thing now), you probably want to host a backyard barbecue this summer. But that doesn't mean you have to go broke in the process. After all, it isn't how much you spend — it's how well you eat!
Here are 11 ways you can "trim the fat" and throw a budget-friendly cookout.
Don't Overdo It
This is possibly the easiest way to save money: Don't buy more supplies than you'll need. Resist the temptation to fill the cart with every cut of meat that looks good, and stick to one or two servings per person. For example, 1.5 pounds of ground hamburger can make roughly four 6-ounce burgers once cooked.
Consider the Cheaper Cuts
Different cuts of meat vary widely in price. To keep things affordable, opt for cheaper cuts like chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts, or flank steak instead of sirloin.
Save Your Leftovers
If you have leftovers, save the food and repurpose it into a different meal the next day. Leftover chicken can be reworked into anything from burritos to sandwiches. Leftover hamburger goes great in soup, and leftover pork is the perfect taco base. To keep food from tasting "left over," reheat slow and low in a Crock-Pot or low-temperature oven. Zapping food quickly in a microwave or high-temp oven gives it that reheated taste.
Create Your Own Sauces and Rubs
Homemade barbecue sauces and rubs are unbelievably easy to whip up and can be cheaper than the bottled stuff. Plus, you probably already have most of the ingredients on hand. Most barbecue sauces start with ketchup or vinegar as a base, while rubs typically begin with paprika and brown sugar. Find a good recipe — like this one from Smitten Kitchen — and build on it to make it your own.
Stuff the Menu With Vegetables
Whole fruits and vegetables are often cheaper than meat. For an inexpensive menu, plan on having one or two meat options and three or four fruit and vegetable options. Practically everything can be grilled (and tastes amazing!).
Make Your Drinks
A cooler full of beer or soda will give guests options, but you'll save money if you make a large amount of punch, sangria, or lemonade yourself.
Cut Down on the Ice
Odds are you don't have enough ice at home to fill those coolers, but you may not need to run out and buy any, either. Instead, freeze water bottles a day or two ahead of time and use those in place of store-bought ice. Added bonus: Once the ice starts to melt, you've got cold bottled water on hand.
Skip the Disposables
Plastic cups, plates, and utensils might make for easier cleanup, but you're literally throwing money away (especially if you're hosting a lot of cookouts this summer). Instead, pick up a set of inexpensive plastic dinnerware you can use again and again. Target has 21-piece sets like this one for less than $25.
Don't Waste Fuel
If you have a gas grill, don't turn all the burners on high. You only need the high setting when you first start cooking. (And depending on what you're grilling, you may not need the high setting at all). Don't overdo it on the burners either. If you can get by with one or two, push your food to the side and turn the other burners off to save fuel.
If you have a charcoal grill, skip the expensive starter kits and use plain old newspaper to get things going. And don't stack too high! Kingsford recommends filling a chimney to as low as 50% for medium heat, but check your grill manufacturer's instructions for the perfect amount.
SEE ALSO: When is the Best Time to Buy a Grill?
Clean Your Grill
Sure, it won't save you money right now, but cleaning your grill will extend its life, saving you money in the long run. Dump ashes as soon as things cool down, and use a coarse grill brush to scour the grates.
Go Cheap and Rustic on the Décor
If you want to fancy things up, you can still save money. Use inexpensive citronella candles or string lights for lighting. For centerpieces, try picking flowers from your garden and popping them into simple mason jars.
Readers, what are your favorite tips for hosting an affordable barbecue? Let us know in the comments below!