Budget Friendly Cookout Ideas: The Food

Summer is coming, you guys. And I don't know about you, but I'm super excited for all of the cookouts we get to have. I don't even care if it's just Mr. T, me, and lil' Brooklyn. I plan on grilling out and eating in our three seasons room all summer. That's what happens when you've spent nine years never being able to do it -- you have to make up for lost time. So I thought I'd share some budget friendly cookout ideas. Because if there's one thing I know in life, it's how to do awesome stuff on a budget. In my humble opinion, the recipe for the perfect cookout is equal parts food/drink, décor, and fun. People come for the food, feel comfortable because of the décor and atmosphere and stay for the fun. So we have a lot of ground to cover here. I figured I'd divide it into three parts to give you some good details/ideas for everything. First up is the food and drink.

Obviously the food is a super crucial thing here.  Here are some tips.

Provide the basics

Generally I figure meat, a salad, and a nosh or two. Sometimes I make more and sometimes I make a dessert, but it depends on my mood and how many people are coming. Hamburgers and hot dogs are always a win, of course.

Photo courtesy of The Recipe Critic

For sides I love to do an easy potato salad like this bacon ranch potato salad. I actually make the ranch mix from scratch using this recipe. It's easy to throw together and I find there's very little in this dish that people don't like (I mean, if you don't like bacon, I don't want to know you).  I've omitted the green onions before, used cream cheese, added a little mayo, and made it with Greek yogurt. So there's a lot of possibilities.

I usually stick to veggies and dip for the noshing. Just the basic veggies and then I make a ranch dip with the homemade ranch mix and sour cream or Green yogurt. Just grab a 16 oz container and mix in 3-5 TB of the ranch mix. It's so good.

Photo credit: Gabriela Pinto (Flickr)

Use your basic budget savvy grocery shopping principles

You can base your menu on what's on sale or what you have coupons or rebates for (Ibotta is a great place for rebates if you haven't checked it out, do it immediately. Here's a link to the website). Start buying stuff early if you can so you can take advantages of several sales and buy a little at a time. But definitely pay attention to the seasonal stuff -- lots of grocery stores have good sales during holidays and at the start of the season.

cookout food tips

Fancy it up with extras and condiments (rather than the dish itself)

Our family is filled with picky eaters so it always gets a little tricky when we're cooking something up for all of them. The last time we just went with basic hamburgers and hot dogs. Cheap and totally easy. But then we had a little fixins' bar so people could put whatever they want.

We made this chipotle mayo. Always a crowd pleaser and so easy to make. You can substitute the Greek yogurt for the sour cream if you like. A lot of herb/flavor mayos are super easy and just involve regular old mayo and a little seasoning. So check out Pinterest or get creative!

We also made this bacon jam. Also easy and who doesn't LOVE bacon?!?

Then we had assorted cheeses, pickles, olives, onions, lettuce ketchup, and mustard.

P.S. if you're using the bacon jam, I highly recommend putting chipotle mayo and bleu cheese on your burger. Holy hell it's a whole lot of wonderfulness for your mouth.

cookout food

Make what you can from scratch

I cannot stress this enough. I follow this principle in our everyday life, but I think when you're entertaining it's super important. You can make a lot of things for far cheaper than you would in the store and you get way more of it. That chipotle mayo only costs a few dollars to make because I already have most of it on hand (and a little goes a long way since it's spicy). Fancy mayos cost a whole lot more in the store.

cookout food drink tips

Serve teas, lemonades, etc. rather than pop

It's WAY better on the budget and you can offer more variety. I'd also rather use all of my calories and sugars on all the tasty food. It also helps if you're serving alcohol because everything doubles as mixers so you don't have to have both.

cookout yummy food tips

Ask people to bring a dish or BYOB

I know you're hosting, but the one thing that I love about cookouts is the fact that they're so potluck friendly. Most people are totally eager to bring a dish or a drink to share. You can have people sign up for different items or food categories. But, the other awesome part, is you don't even have to worry about that. I can honestly tell you that I've never been to a cookout where someone has made the same dish. And, let's all be honest, you can never have too many pasta salads.