Keep your cookout simple and cost worries will fade

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri says sticking with a simple, low-cost menu doesn’t mean a party can’t be fun. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri says sticking with a simple, low-cost menu doesn’t mean a party can’t be fun. (Harry How/Getty Images/File)
By Candice Choi
Associated Press / May 22, 2011

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NEW YORK — An awesome barbecue doesn’t have to cost a lot. Just ask celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

Anyone looking for crowd-pleasing dishes that don’t cost a fortune this Memorial Day might turn to the spiky-haired TV host, who’s known for his turbocharged personality and surfer-like vocabulary. Fieri hosts several programs on the Food Network, including the popular “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.’’

His appreciation for down-to-earth food should prove popular this summer, with expenses set to continue climbing across the board. Consumer prices have risen 3.2 percent in the past year, the biggest 12-month gain in 2 1/2 years. Food prices are climbing and with gas averaging close to $4 a gallon, the budget for your summer kickoff may need some trimming.

Fieri’s latest book, “Guy Fieri Food: Cookin’ It, Livin’ It, Lovin’ It,’’ includes more than 150 recipes tailored for parties. With Memorial Day fast approaching, Fieri shared some tips for throwing a no-hassle, budget-friendly party.

Know Your Guests As you begin to map out your menu, keep the guest list in mind.

Even if you want to share your love of a pricey seafood recipe, for example, the cost will be wasted if your guests would prefer something heartier.

“You wouldn’t invite my buddies over and serve finger sandwiches,’’ Fieri points out.

The same philosophy applies when grocery shopping. As much as you want to impress your guests, consider when it makes sense to shell out for high-end ingredients and when it’s smarter to go for the lower-cost cut of beef. In some cases, subtle differences may be lost in a party environment.

Dress Up Basics Burgers, hot dogs, and chicken don’t cost a lot, but you might fear they’re too basic. That’s when it’s time to play a little dress-up.

Setting out a few unexpected toppings can transform the atmosphere of a barbecue or pool party. If you’re grilling hamburgers, for example, Fieri suggests laying out a spread of bacon strips, a couple of cheeses, arugula, romaine lettuce, and sliced yellow tomatoes. If you add a few mustard options, you’ll have a gourmet burger bar.

It won’t cost much more, but it will make a big difference.

Portion Pricier Dishes If you want to offer a higher-end dish, consider serving it as an appetizer or a side. For example, serving baby back ribs as a main course might destroy your party budget.

But passing around a platter as appetizers is a lot more affordable.

You could then serve a more affordable cut of meat as a main course, Fieri says.

When cooked correctly, even the most modest cuts of meat can outshine the priciest ones. Fieri points out that slow roasting and proper seasoning in particular can work wonders. And if you’re serving up sandwiches, remember to slice meat as thinly as possible.

Keep Sides Simple One way to keep side dishes simple is to serve one vegetable in a variety of ways. So you might buy a big batch of asparagus and make a marinated asparagus salad, asparagus wrapped in bacon, and a simple sautéed batch for more finicky eaters.

This could help minimize your spending on groceries because you could work with the spices and ingredients you have in your kitchen.

The presentation comes off as sophisticated and the strategy will keep the prep time in check.

Set Out the Party Ice Beverages are often an afterthought when drawing up party menus. Hosts often set out some bottles of soda or stock their refrigerators and let guests help themselves.

But even for a casual get-together, Fieri suggests going the extra step and sticking bottles and cans in a big cooler filled with ice. Bagged ice from the supermarket doesn’t cost a lot, and Fieri notes that the mere visual of the cooler will make a statement.

“When you look at a cooler of beverages, it says you really planned for this,’’ he says. “It says it’s a party.’’

On a more practical level, putting the drinks in ice will ensure they’re kept crisp and cold. It’s a touch your guests will appreciate, particularly as the weather warms up.