We haven't had a barbecue since before M was born because it always seemed like a lot of effort or dangerous. Clearly all I was missing was a good enough reason though because when I was approached by Moneysupermarket.com to take part in The Charcoal Challenge I started planning straight away. They said they would give me £50 so I could invite some friends over and have a barbecue. It would have been rude not to.
The idea of the charcoal challenge is to show that barbecues don't have to break the budget and you can have a brilliant time at an affordable price. This was a bit of a challenge for us as our normal barbecue food consists of steak, king prawns and other items that aren't exactly budget cuisine. However, we managed it and we had a fantastic afternoon.
Here are my 10 tips on how to have a barbecue party on a budget:
- Bring the inside out. We took our tables, chairs and toys into the garden. Having our living room in the garden was a brilliant way to create an atmosphere and keep the children entertained. No one even noticed our lack of garden furniture.
- Buy a cheap barbecue and slow burning coals. Disposable barbecue trays are great if you are just going to cook a few bits, but the charcoal burns out really quickly. A bag of slow burning coal works out at much better value for money.
- Invite all your friends. My friends seem incapable of turning up to a party empty handed. I told people that we had all the food and drinks, but they still came with bags of booze. If you are on a really tight budget suggest which food you would like them to bring and then you can just supply the barbecue and atmosphere.
- Stay safe. Even if you don't have a load of toddlers running around like we did barbecues require a little bit of care. We put the fire in the corner of the garden and sectioned it off with furniture. I then made sure that someone sober was on 'hot watch' at all times to keep unsteady feet away from the flames (children and tiddly adults).
- Do it yourself. The ready made barbecue meat packs in supermarkets are always tempting because they look tasty and make things easy. They can also make things expensive. If you need a lot of food your money will go further if you avoid ready made packs. I made super simple kebabs with pieces of chicken thigh (which is more moist than breast) and slices of pepper pushed on to skewers and a homemade marinade (a mixture of soy sauce, some form of booze eg whisky, wine or vodka, tobasco sauce, tomato purée and garlic in a bowl) which was used to baste the ribs as they were cooking.
- Bulk out the meat. I cooked a whole bag of pasta and added a value jar of tomato pasta sauce. A tasty way of filling people for around £1 for a massive bowl. I also barbecued thinly sliced courgettes, aubergines and corn on the cob and cooked jacket potatoes in the oven. The corn and pasta were a particular favourite of the kids.
- Don't go crazy. For some reason at a barbecue people try and eat their own body weight in meat. At a dinner party people generally won't eat 6 sausages, 2 burgers, some ribs and a load of sides so don't feel you need to offer that much food at a barbecue. Stick meat in a bun and serve with sides to slow people down and fill them up.
- Keep everyone refreshed. Make up big jugs of squash with plenty of ice and cut up fruit. Posh squash is much cheaper than juice or soda and you can spend any spare cash on alcohol.
- Play it cool. Get a big bucket and fill it with ice and water then use it to quickly cool down bottles or cans of drink. We had enough left over from our £50 to buy a couple of cases of lager on offer. You can either make the ice yourself or buy big bags in most supermarkets for around £1.
- Avoid food waste. On a sunny day food can quickly dry up and become unpalatable in the heat. I kept all the food on a table in the house with the bread rolls covered and pasta & salad on ice packs. This meant that leftovers were fine to eat the next day (we stirred left over veg into the remaining pasta, sprinkled on some cheese and baked for 20 minutes: a tasty pasta bake).