How to throw a summer barbecue for friends on less than $20

From our Bitchin' Bites on a Budget series

How to throw a summer barbecue for friends on less than $20
Samantha wohlfeil photo
You, too, can barbecue on less than $20.

It's getting to be that hot, uncomfortably sweaty part of summer, when outdoor cooking is the only kind that's bearable. So, with only $20 in my pocket and the goal of having a cheap barbecue with some friends, I wanted to see if I could fix a filling feast for four.

Not only did we end up making some delicious potato salad, corn on the cob and cheeseburgers from fresh, hand-formed patties, but with a last minute addition to our group, I managed to feed five people, with plenty of ingredients to spare.

Assuming you have a few condiments on hand in your fridge — ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard — you can comfortably barbecue for five for less than $20. That said, for good measure I even bought some fancy mustard to make sure the list was realistic. It's doable.

Before getting to the recipes, here are a few quick things I've found key for budget shopping:

Shop the sales

All grocery stores offer deals, even those that seem pricier.

Case in point: While picking up a beefsteak tomato, yellow onion and red leaf lettuce on my list at My Fresh Basket in Kendall Yards, I checked prices on other things I knew I'd need and found more than a pound of Painted Hills' leanest ground beef on discount because it was the "sell by" date. For $4.45, I saved more than 50 cents from what I had expected to spend on similar organic ground beef that's reliably been $4.99/lb. at Grocery Outlet. You could stretch your dollar even further by buying some lower quality meat, but hey, ya gotta live a little, right?

Over in the dairy aisle I had more luck: Eggs on sale, a dozen for $1.50.

Total bill: $9.20

Know your store

It's also good to know what your store or stores offer regularly, so you can have a general idea of what you're in for price-wise. When it comes to living downtown, Grocery Outlet on Third is pretty much at the top of the game, but Winco is likely up there if you happen to live closer to one than I do.

Because I'm at Grocery Outlet all the time, I knew they typically have sliced cheddar cheese for $1.99, as well as potato buns for the same price. That's also where I picked up a 5-lb. bag of russet potatoes for 99 cents, four ears of corn for 50 cents each, some fancy mustard for $1.49, and even some popsicles for dessert for $1.49.

Total bill: $9.95

In the end, I came in just under $20 with a major bonus: many of these ingredients will leave you with leftovers! Cheese! Buns! Eggs! Potatoes! Lettuce! Take those spare ingredients and use 'em to make egg salad, breakfast hash, whatever — it's up to you. Each meal you make after the barbecue just spreads that dollar further. 


Here's what you'll need to recreate the feast, including items I bought, and cabinet staples*:

For the burgers

  • 1(ish) pound ground beef
  • 1 yellow onion, divided
  • 1/4 cup ketchup*
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper*
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt*
  • 2 to 3 teaspoon garlic powder*
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin*
  • Sliced cheddar
  • Sliced tomato
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Potato buns

For potato salad

  • 6 eggs
  • 6 potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup mayo*
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons brown or dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard*
  • 1 tablespoon creamy horseradish*
  • Salt to taste*
  • Pepper to taste*
  • Optional dessert: Popsicles

Burger patties

  1. Finely dice 1/3 of the onion (slice the rest in rings or dice and save for burger toppings later) and combine in a bowl with the ground beef, ketchup, pepper, salt, garlic powder and cumin.
  2. Use your hands to do the mixing, then divide the mix into into fourths (or, in this case, fifths) and then gently form each ball into a patty.
  3. Spread each patty evenly on a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap or waxed paper, making sure they're uniformly thick, then throw the pan in the freezer.


  1. Start roasting the corn on the barbecue, husks still on, as it may take as long as 30 minutes to cook.

Potato salad

  1. Boil six eggs in water for 15 minutes, then transfer to an ice bath to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, boil water in another pot large enough to cover six large diced potatoes. I like to wash my potatoes and leave the peel on, but you could also peel them if you prefer. Cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, leaving them a little firm so you don't wind up with mashed potatoes. Drain, and set in the fridge to cool.
  3. After cooled, peel and dice the hard-boiled eggs and mix them with potatoes, mayonnaise, both mustards, horseradish, and seasonings to flavor. Cover and return to fridge to cool while you cook.

Once the corn is done, grill up the burgers, add toppings and enjoy!

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...