Cheap and Easy Recipes for Your Independence Day BBQ

Celebrating America’s birthday isn’t cheap. Americans will spend $6.8 billion on Fourth of July festivities this year, and the typical family will shell out $71 for food for their Independence Day BBQ, according to the National Retail Federation. Add in the cost of fireworks, American flag T-shirts, and other items, and you could be spending $100 or more to celebrate.

Fortunately, it’s possible to save money on your Fourth of July festivities without cutting back on the fun. If you’re part of the 65% of Americans who are planning a cookout or picnic on the Fourth, there are plenty of ways to make your party more affordable, according to Real Simple, from not wasting charcoal and lighter fuel to just buying the essential grilling equipment. But one of the easiest ways to save is on the menu itself. If you’re hosting a holiday barbecue on a budget, you’ll want to try one of these five cheap and easy recipes.

1. Grilled Chicken Thighs with White Barbecue Sauce

chicken thighs in white dish

Chicken thighs |

Chicken thighs are a budget-friendly alternative to more expensive chicken breasts, plus they’re perfect for the grill. Fattier than their all-white-meat counterparts, chicken thighs stay juicy and flavorful when cooked over an open flame, so you’re less likely to end up with a dry, flavorless piece of meat. The bone-in chicken thighs in this recipe from Southern Living are topped with a tasty homemade white barbecue sauce.


For the chicken thighs:

  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 10 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)

For the white barbecue sauce:

  • 1½ cups mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon coarse ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons horseradish

Directions: To make the barbecue sauce, stir together mayonnaise, vinegar, minced garlic, pepper, mustard, sugar, salt, and horseradish until blended. Cover and chill 2 to 4 hours. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Combine the thyme, oregano, cumin, paprika, onion powder, salt, and pepper until blended. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Rub seasoning mixture over chicken. Place chicken in a zip-top plastic freezer bag. Seal and chill 4 hours.

Preheat grill to 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (medium-high heat). Remove chicken from bag, discarding bag.

Grill chicken, covered with grill lid, 8 to 10 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Serve with white barbecue sauce.

2. Easy Slow Cooker Baked Beans

baked beans

Baked beans |

Dried beans cost just pennies per serving, which means they’re the ideal choice for a cookout if you want to keep costs in check for your sides. You will need to take the extra step of soaking the dried beans before cooking them, but that requires only minimal effort. Once you’ve soaked your beans, combine them with bacon, molasses, and seasonings in your slow cooker for a tasty, no-fuss dish. Recipe from Chowhound.


  • 1 pound dried navy or pea beans (about 2½ cups)
  • 8 ounces thick-cut bacon slices (about 6 slices), small dice
  • 1 medium yellow onion, small dice
  • 2½ cups water, plus more for soaking the beans
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup dark molasses, also known as robust (not blackstrap)
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions: Place the dried beans in a large bowl and pick through them, discarding any broken beans or stones. Cover the beans with at least 3 inches of cold water. Allow to soak uncovered at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Drain beans in a colander. Set the bowl aside. Place the beans, bacon, and onion in a slow cooker.

Whisk the remaining measured ingredients in the reserved bowl until combined. Pour into the slow cooker and stir until thoroughly combined. Cover and cook on either high or low heat until the beans are tender and the liquid thickens slightly (it will thicken more as it cools), about 6 hours. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Leftover beans can be frozen for up to 1 month.

3. Grilled Corn on the Cob with Garlic Butter, Lime, and Queso Fresco

corn on the cob

Corn on the cob |

Fresh corn on the cob is an Independence Day barbecue staple, and it’s usually cheap. Ears often sell for 50 cents or less, so you can feed a crowd for just a few bucks. While you can always serve your grilled sweet corn with nothing more than salt and a little butter, this easy recipe from Bobby Flay (via Epicurious) ups the flavor with a homemade garlic butter, fresh lime juice, and a some queso fresco.


For the garlic butter:

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the corn:

  • 8 ears corn, silks removed but husks left on, soaked in cold water for at least 10 minutes
  • 2 fresh limes, quartered
  • ½ cup crumbled queso fresco or mild feta

Directions: To make the garlic butter, combine the butter and garlic in a food processor or with a mixer until smooth. (To mix by hand, let the butter get very soft, then beat in the garlic, finely minced, with a large wooden spoon.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. (The garlic butter can be made in advance, covered, and kept refrigerated up to 2 days, or frozen for a week. Bring to cool room temperature before serving.)

To make the corn, heat the grill to high. Place the corn on the grill, close the grill hood, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally, until steamed through and hot but still crisp (test by carefully piercing with a knife). Unwrap the husks from the corn and immediately spread or brush with garlic butter. Squeeze the limes on top and sprinkle with cheese. Serve immediately.

4. Classic Lemon Bars

overhead shot of lemon bars with powdered sugar

Lemon bars |

You’ll want to cap off your Independence Day BBQ with dessert, and what better choice than these incredibly easy lemon bars from Betty Crocker? Aside from the fresh lemon, these bars can be made with ingredients you probably already have in your fridge and pantry. And with a prep time of just 15 minutes, you’ll be able to spend more time relaxing on your patio and less time in the kitchen.


  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In medium bowl mix butter, 2 cups of the flour, and ½ cup of the granulated sugar. Press into the bottom of ungreased 13 x 9-inch pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until center is set and edges just begin to brown.

In medium bowl, mix remaining ¼ cup flour and remaining 1½ cups granulated sugar with whisk. Add eggs, lemon peel, and lemon juice; stir with whisk until well combined. Pour over partially baked crust.

Bake 18 to 22 minutes longer or until center is set and edges are golden brown. The bars will firm up as they cool. Cool 1 hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. For bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows.

5. Sangria

glasses of sangria

Sangria |

A great barbecue needs great drinks. While there’s nothing wrong with a cooler full of beers, you can kick your drink game up a notch by whipping up a pitcher of sangria. This party-perfect beverage is both easy to make and inexpensive. A budget-friendly bottle of vino is a fine choice, since you’re going to add fruit, brandy, and sugar to the mix. If you’re making a red sangria, Food & Wine recommends fruity wines that aren’t too tannic, such as a garnacha, monastrell, or malbec. This recipe is from Minimalist Baker.


  • ½ apple, cored, skin on, chopped into small pieces
  • ½ orange, rind on, sliced into small pieces, large seeds removed (plus more for garnish)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons organic brown sugar (or 3 tablespoons organic cane sugar)
  • ¾ cup orange juice, plus more to taste
  • 1/3 cup brandy, plus more to taste
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry Spanish red wine
  • Ice to chill (approximately 1 cup)

Directions: Add the apples, oranges, and sugar to a large pitcher. Use a muddler or wooden spoon to muddle the ingredients for about 45 seconds. Add the orange juice and brandy and muddle for another 30 seconds.

Add the bottle of red wine to the pitcher and stir to combine. Taste and adjust flavor as desired. Stir again to combine.

Add the ice and stir again. Serve immediately, garnished with sliced orange. Leftover sangria can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

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