Like parades and fireworks, Independence Day cookouts are a holiday tradition. But hosting one can get pricey if you don’t watch your budget. Here are some tips for hosting a fabulous cookout this Fourth of July without going broke, courtesy of Sarah Spigelman Richter, a food reporter based in Manhattan.
1. Think quality over quantity
You may think you’re getting a deal on that discount meat, but chances are the pricier goods are a better value, said Richter. Though you’ll have fewer burgers to go around, you’ll feel better about eating meat that was raised ethically and sustainably — it’s better for your health, the environment and animal welfare. Of course, “sustainably sourced everything does cost more,” Richter said, so don’t feel pressured to serve up a steak. “Go for any sort of poultry that’s interesting to you,” she said, or choose sausages, fish or ground meat. The latter is often cheaper and more delicious.
2. Serve veggies
“You don’t want to forget people who don’t eat meat at your cookout,” said Richter, who advised hitting the farmer’s market to stock up. “My general rule of thumb is, whatever looks best that day, get it,” she said. Veggies usually taste good either right off the grill or when they’ve cooled down, so they’re a perfect snack for after the pool. Try loading kebabs with veggies and a small amount of meat, or serve up meatless grilled mains like beans and tofu. “Things that can fall through the grates like asparagus can always be put in a foil pouch placed directly on the grill,” Richter said.
3. Grill fruit
The surprising, smoky flavor of grilled fruit is like “dinner theater,” said Richter, who explained that grilling brings out the natural sugars in fruit, which makes them sweeter, like caramelized onions. Remember to brush whatever you’re grilling with a little olive oil and keep a close eye on your fruit so it doesn’t go up in flames (indirect heat is best). Richter advised grilling stone fruit like peaches, plums, nectarines, pluots and apricots. Leave the skins on, then peel afterward and serve with a dollop of cool whipped cream. “It’s a really easy dessert,” she said.
4. Ask friends to BYOB
We won't dissuade you from stocking up on basics like water and soda, but it never hurts to ask your friends to pitch in. If they have particular tastes — yes way, rosé — encourage them to round out the offerings. As Richter jokingly put it, "Get your friends to bring exactly what they like so you don't wind up with three bottles of white zinfandel that nobody drinks and eventually turns into vinegar in your pantry."
5. Use rewards credit cards
If you're going to go shopping, you may as well get a little kickback for it, which is what rewards credit cards are all about. You can earn points toward perks like gift cards, account credit and discounts at your favorite stores. Just remember to check your credit before you apply, as many issuers require decent credit in order to qualify. (Not sure where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
6. Keep side dishes simple
"Don't drive yourself crazy trying to make a risotto in the kitchen while everyone's outside enjoying themselves," said Richter. "Grab a bag of chips and some coleslaw and enjoy the day."