How to BBQ on a budget and still impress your friends?

It’s been a long winter, December was minus something, February saw sleet and wind and the April showers were definitely out in full force this year. The memory of last summer is a distant one and the thought of sunshine warming the skin sends you into a desperate plea for sunny May days..

The glimmer of sunshine through the clouds sends everyone out into the open air at lunchtimes occupying every inch of parkland that dare lay vacant for a bottom to sit; to soak up the rays and send us back to work sleepy eyed, wishing we could just stay a few more hours, we’ve all been there. However, the weekend is ahead and the forecast is a sunny one! This can only mean one thing; The Great British Barbecue!

Us Brits love a barbecue, though other countries definitely do it better, possibly because, well, they have sunshine most of the year and in reality, they know how to do it through practise. So much so is the commonness of the barbecue they even have specific names, the likes of South Africa call it a Braai and Aussies a Barbi. Theirs, is very much an everyday staple, they tend to keep it simple, I know because my South African family have had many a BBQ of which I have attended and there is no fuss and flounce. Us Brits, well, we see it as a novelty, and a moment to savour (and why not!), it is a time the guys get macho with a beer in one hand and tongs in the other (piny of course because obviously this is a serious business and a messy affair), whilst the female gets the generous array of salad and accompaniments together, both have their duties of course. Usually guests will have been invited over and an ‘event’ formed.

When the weather is fine, you will automatically find the supermarkets jam packed with customers, buying very much the staples such as burgers, sausages, meat kebab sticks, baps, buns, sauces, salad items, beers, wine and then all the extras such as crisps, dips, pre packeted meat strips, mini gourmet sausages, deveined marinated spicy prawns, chocolate covered strawberries, meringue parcels, trifles etc etc….

Purchasing on a Friday night or Saturday morning before the event, is not ideal as often it is panic buying and if you leave it till late Saturday morning then you will often find they have sold out of the staple items. The only option so not to disappoint family and friends, is to buy the finest/ most expensive ingredients, especially when it comes to meat, you will spend more as the foods mainly left on the shelves are exclusive meats and ready-made ranges such as pre sauced and marinated.

Planning ahead is key!

It might surprise you but if you ask the majority of people what they like when having a barbecue, it is often the simplest of things done well, burger in a toasted bap, onions and fresh salad. Tasty chicken wings. Strawberries and cream. Going over board when there is a relatively small group of you isn’t going to score you extra brownie points, the simpler things done really well will!

It is easy to get carried away when purchasing accompaniments for the BBQ. When you glance at your shopping trolley, half is full with just the BBQ items and you’ll notice it is what your trolley normally looks like for a full week’s shop! Pure excitement can lead you spending well over the odds and when you get back home and unload the bags you realise this is just one meal!!

Here are some simple tips to ensure you don’t go overboard in terms of money, time, energy and stress.

As mentioned, the meat can form the most expensive part of your event. You can easily buy packs of chicken wings and burgers and other meats and freeze them, that way you only have the fresher ingredients to buy. Pre-purchasing and freezing meats ensure a) you won’t be left empty handed and red-faced in front of your guests b) you won’t panic buy and be only left with the most expensive cuts and packets. Ensure you buy the cheaper meats such as those on the bone; chicken wings and legs and also pre-made frozen burgers. In addition, always look out for reduced meat on your general weekly shop, you can freeze these ready for future and inevitable barbecues. Once frozen, the items can be used on the date of the BBQ, just remember to place it in the fridge the day before to defrost properly; of which is the healthiest, on that note, don’t ever use a microwave both for health and cost reasons.

In terms of what you use to cook your delights on, it very much depends on how often you plan to have a barbecue, if it is a one off then a charcoal barbecue using briquettes might be the cheapest, however if you love the idea of being a regular ‘barbecuer’, then a gas device would be beneficial. Research how to cook the barbecue meat efficiently, you don’t want to cremate all the items you want to cook; to avoid ruining and ultimately costing you the earth and another trip out to the supermarket! Some extra careful planning on how to cook meat well on the barbecue wouldn’t go amiss, once you have mastered this, every other time will be a dream.

If you opt for a charcoal barbecue then buy your charcoal in advance to avoid missing out altogether or running yourself ragged trying to find another shop that sells charcoal which is often the case come sunny weather. Better still, at the end of the season stores can often be found selling it off cheaply, so stock up ready for next year if you have room in your home. Lets have a look at the prices for briquettes at the major supermarkets (prices as of 30/05/2019):

Sainsbury’s Home Charcoal Briquettes 6kg£6.50
Asda Bar-Be Quick BBQ Charcoal Briquettes 5kg£5.00
Morrisons Big K BBQ Charcoal Briquettes 5kg £5.00
Tesco Charcoal Briquettes 5kg£5.50

You can still make the BBQ delicious without spending money on items which are likely to be left. A crunchy fresh Mediterranean salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber with a drizzle of olive oil should suffice and please all. One dip is sufficient instead of the multipack. Caramelise the onions in the kitchen to save room and time on the BBQ.

Plan your marinade, don’t buy expensive marinade sauces for the meat, more often than not you will open the jar and it will sit in the fridge door festering till the sunshine comes out again… possibly…. in a month or so!! So, create your own, get the kids involved and make it fun, and to be honest you cannot go wrong with rubs and marinades for meat……Mix some mustard, smoked paprika and garam masala in a bowl and spread over the chicken legs/ wings for a smoky kick, again don’t buy the ready-made meat already marinated it is another expensive product and possibly full of sugar and preservatives. In addition, homemade marinades generally taste better anyway. Even better still after taking your meats out of the freezer, spread on the marinade and let them absorb into the meat overnight, this will also save you time on Saturday.

You might have family and friends who are vegetarians or pescatarians and you will want to cater to them as well. Pescatarians are those that will eat fish but not meat, so purchase cheaper cuts of fish that you can barbecue well, forget the salmon and prawns which are expensive, buy some bream, dorado or whiting and marinade in some garlic, lemon salt, pepper and parsley. Again, you can do this the night before once you know who is attending.

You might feel you need to pad out the barbecue with fancy salads, such as those you find in tubs or those assortments you find at the deli counter, you know the ones with quinoa, feta and pomegranate, rice black bean and pistachio, chickpea 3 bean salad with walnuts, you get my drift! Instead make your own bean salad; beans and legumes are very tasty and super cheap. Take a can of chickpeas, a can of kidney beans, a can of butter beans and place in a bowl, sprinkle a good glug of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, parsley and a handful of toasted almonds, delicious! You can easily end up paying a tenner for extra salad items that you really don’t need and invariably are the items that get left.

Vegetarians can savour some vegetable kebabs (and even add to your carnivore’s experience), vegetables are relatively cheap in comparison to other meats and fishes. Buy whole vegetables and chop them up at home, don’t buy the ready chopped vegetables, they are pricier and you get less! Taking some metal skewers add some chopped onion, peppers of all colours, aubergine and courgette slices, drizzle with a little honey and salt and share on the barbecue. Remember if you have strict vegans to ensure you keep the meats separate.

You know it is going to be hot so don’t buy large packs of ice, realistically how much ice do you need, guaranteed not as much as a bag from the supermarket, fill up 3 ice cube trays in advance and place in the freezer ready. Bags of ice after a while if left can taste ‘fridgey’, and you’ll end up chucking the rest.

Who really likes paper and plastic plates, they are floppy and you always have to take two for support and if you want seconds forget trying to reuse them, bare the bug of washing up as it will save you some money and the environment.

Another moment we have all shared, come 5pm after everyone has gone into a food coma, the salads and dips look like they have seen better days with remnants of someone else’s crisp ends mushed in to the dip, the uneaten pomegranate and goats cheese salad, wilted and browned at the edges. Be mindful of what is being left out in the sunshine, any cheeses and salads that you can eat again the next day, ensure go back into the fridge so they don’t go to waste. If you are bringing out the dips put half from the tub into a bowl, don’t put the whole tub out, chances are it won’t get eaten and if you do need more you can always get more out cold from the fridge. That goes for the bowls of crisps as well.

If you want to be a little showier and also add a healthier slant, do the gourmet burger thing to impress your loved ones, cut up some avocado and cheddar slices and add to your creations. (cut your own don’t buy pre-sliced cheddar it is much more expensive that way), also take out of the fridge as you need them, don’t leave these expensive items out in the sunshine.

If you are inviting family and friends over and you are happy taking care of the food, ask them to ‘bring a bottle’ beers, or wine, or get someone to bring a bottle of pimms, the fruits and mixer, these items can be expensive and why not leave these to others to take care of whilst you concentrate on the food. In addition, you could ask each person to bring something different, that way you are sure to cover all taste bases when it comes to alcohol and not be lumbered with the same on offer bottle at the local supermarket!

Remember planning is key and simple done well is invariably better. Your wallet will also thank you for it.

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