Anyone looking for crowd-pleasing dishes that don't cost a fortune for a Memorial Day barbecue might turn to spiky-haired TV host Guy Fieri, 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." He also hosts NBC's primetime game show, "Minute to Win It."
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 two and a half years. Food prices are climbing and with gas averaging close to $4 a gallon, the budget for your summer kick-off may need some trimming.
Fieri's latest book, "Guy Fieri Food: Cookin' It, Livin' It, Lovin' It," can prove helpful; it includes more than 150 recipes tailored for parties. With Memorial Day fast approaching, Fieri shared five tips for throwing a no-hassle, budget-friendly party.
1. 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.
If kids will be among your guests, don't go out of your way to prepare a slew of separate dishes for them. If you keep your menu relatively simple, even the pickier kids will be able to find something they like.
"Short of screaming-hot Thai food, everything can be suitable for kids too," Fieri said.
2. 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 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.
It's a strategy that can give any standard party menu an interesting twist. If you're grilling chicken or serving some slow-roasted, shredded meat, for example, you should cook batches in a few different marinades or serve a variety of sauces. So your table might include shredded pork flavored with a teriyaki sauce, a Southwestern sauce or a more traditional barbecue sauce.
3. 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 said.
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.
"Slice it so thin it's only got one side," Fieri said. "No matter how tough the meat may be, it's going to be tender if you slice it thin enough."
4. 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. That could go a long way in curbing the sense of chaos as when you're gearing up for the party.
5. 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 said. "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.