The sun is (often) out, the tinnies are on ice and it is time to get grilling! Barbecues are the best way to get all your mates together for some al fresco entertaining, but they’re not cheap once you’ve been to the butcher, made all the sides, lugged home the bottles and cans and remembered the charcoal.
Mike advises: "With grilling, much like anything in life, sometimes less is more. So often everyone is looking for the next big thing. How do we make something 'better?' How do we 'take it up a notch?' How do we 'elevate our game?' Here's a crazy idea, how about we concentrate on the basics? How about we savour simplicity?" Wise words, Mike.
Look after your kit
Too often we buy a barbecue, forget to clean it then leave it out in the rain to go rusty over the winter. Then we have to buy another one and it adds to the expense. Even the cheapest DIY store barbecue will last for years if you clean it, get rid of the ashes and oil the grill before and after you use it. And stick it in the shed in October.
Learn to use your grill properly
Nothing screams ‘Grilling noob!’ like a charred sausage or hockey puck burger. Before you host your barbecue, make sure you’re competent in barbecue cooking so you avoid cremating food. Don’t use too much charcoal, and wait for the coals to glow red, with a light grey dust coating. You can also learn to use your barbecue as an oven for long, slow cooking, especially if it has a thermometer. The only equipment you’ll need is a decent pair of tongs.
Avoid cheap meats
You really don’t have to stoop to the cheapest sausages and burgers to barbecue on a budget. More unusual, less expensive cuts of meat, such as flat iron or Denver steaks, marinated chicken thighs, lamb ribs, calves' liver and oily fish – mackerel, salmon and tuna - all taste great grilled quickly outdoors. With a selection of imaginative sides, a little goes a long way.
Make your barbecue a potluck
Nobody minds bringing a bottle and something to stick on the grill, be it a packet of sausages or Auntie Doreen’s famous jerk pork, so ask. In fact, you’ll probably end up with too much food, which means lots of yummy leftovers. Order a keg of beer, throw together some imaginative salads with garlic and cheese breads and wait to see what turns up.
Concentrate on the main event
You could go for a single, slow-cooked joint of meat, rather than lots of smaller pieces, and ask guests just to bring sides. Chef Michael advises: "Making the main item and then giving your friends a list of things to bring is gonna save you a ton of money and get everybody involved; just make sure that you tell them what to bring so you don't end up with 25 potato salads."
If you do your budget barbecue this way, you could slow grill a cheaper cut of meat, such as pork shoulder or beef brisket, and produce an ample, show-stopping succulent feast to go with your guests’ delicious accompaniments.
BBQ Pizza? Yes you can!
Pizzas are always a great budget standby, and you can make them on the barbecue. Mike says: "I love to set up a grilled pizza bar. Guests can work the toppings and you can manage the grill." Make up a set quantity of pizza dough, roll out into rounds and slap on the grill until they puff up. Top with the usual toppings and put them back on the grill with the lid down until they are bubbling. Great for vegetarians, who tend to get a little sidelined at traditional barbecues.
Don’t forget the veg
Vegetables take on new, sophisticated textures and flavours that belie their budget origins when they’re grilled – the Italians are maestros of this. Finely slice seasonal courgettes, peppers, onions, chicory, radicchio and asparagus, brush with oil and grill until softened and slightly charred. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. You can also grill sweetcorn and carrots – just boil them for 5-6 minutes before lightly charring them on the grill.
And finally… switch on the dishwasher
Nothing cheapens a budget barbecue like a soggy paper plate and plastic cutlery. For the sake of a couple of dishwasher loads (cheaper to run than disposables cost), use real plates, knives and forks. Or invest in some funky melamine tableware (pack it away with your clean barbecue in October) for years of sophisticated outdoor entertaining.
And, as Mike concludes: "As much as we love to entertain, it takes the help of friends to really pull off a party." And you can’t put a price on that.