In D.I.Y.,

How to: Host a Simplified Summer Dinner Party on a Budget {DIY}

It’s finally almost Summer BBQ-ing season! Want to host a get-together with your friends, but feel overwhelmed at the prospect?  Keep reading, take a few deep breaths, and dream about balmy evenings and the smell of fired-up grills…

Ok, we’re gonna need:


Providing alcohol for a large group can get expensive, but the whole BYOB thing is a liiiittle “poor-college-student” for me.  However, we want people to have a good time, without having to bankroll an open bar, all-you-can-chug fest.  We balance the two extremes by grabbing a variety pack of beer at Costco (the newest Sam Adams Summer Brew box is our current fave!)




…and cracking open a box –yes, a box — of this:


[buy it at your local Cost Plus World Market!]

Wine4 Sangria is one of my go-to favorites for quenching the thirst of a crowd.  Simply cut up some fruit (I got some fresh strawberries from a truck in Malibu Canyon) and toss it in.  I also used frozen fruit (Trader Joes’ “Mango Chunks” and “Pineapple Tidbits” from the freezer section) to double as ice cubes.  Pour into your favorite pitcher or dispenser, and serve. [note: also comes in a white sangria, which tastes amazing with frozen peaches!]


Music is an obvious must, but if you have a speaker with Bluetooth capabilities, download the music app Songza on your phone.  I like to go to the category “Activities,” and Songza chooses playlists according to what I’m doing [check out “Barbecueing,” “Casual Dinner Party,” or “Cooking with Friends”].  No ads! Awesome!

Lawn games are quickly becoming the new ‘thing.’ Some of our favorites are Cornhole (beanbag tossing game), LadderBall (pretty much the only one I’m good at), and Beersbee (beer + frisbee.  I know, right? awesome!).  Plus, they keeps the guys entertained while the girls drink all the sangria and eat appetizers.  win-win.


Want to cook for a crowd, but don’t have an industrial-sized kitchen?  I know the feeling.

It can get overwhelming, planning main courses, side dishes, dessert, appetizers… the list goes on.  Guests are usually eager to help out or offer to bring something — so, delegate!  Tell guests they are welcome to bring a side salad or an appetizer to contribute, if they are able.  This takes a lot off the host’s plate (see what I did there?!) and makes for a communal atmosphere.

My signature “Build-Your-Own-Burger Bar” is a fun, easy way to feed family and friends without having to slave away over a stove all night. People always tell me, “This is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had,” and I always reply, “That’s because you made it!”

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Prep the mix-ins

Chopping up the add-ins ahead of time means more time with friends, and less time away from important things [like having a beer while playing lawn games].  Place the mix-ins in different bowls, and stick them in the fridge with some saran wrap until it’s time to unveil the goodness.  My favorite add-ins to have available are:

  • bacon (cooked & crumbled)
  • blue cheese
  • feta cheese
  • chopped mushrooms
  • green chilies (already chopped in a can for max convenience!)
  • jalapenos
  • diced onions
  • garlic
  • spices [we usually put out salt, pepper, garlic salt, lemon pepper, 21 Seasoning Salute, Cajun seasoning, steak seasoning, Sriracha sauce, Tabasco/Tapatio, and pretty much any spice blend you can find in your pantry!]


2. Prep the Meat

For simplicity’s (and affordability’s!) sake, we headed to our local Costco to grab a large package of ground beef [refrigerated section near the butcher].  Conveniently, they had a package already separated into equally divided burger-sized pieces, so it was a no-brainer on how to distribute the burger meat.  Bonus – this feature was the same price as the regular bulk ground beef – score!

Take each burger piece, and place it into its own Ziplock bag (sandwich size works just fine).  Set aside in the fridge until go-time.  If you’re feeling extra benevolent, you can also grab a pound or two of ground chicken or turkey as an option for guests who don’t want to indulge in red meat (it’s only one night, people — live a little! ;).  The package we got included 15 pre-shaped burgers, which was perfect because we were expecting a total of 14 guests – only $22!  Not too shabby.


3. Gather other burger necessities

Of course, you’re going to want to have plenty of hamburger buns on hand, as well as a head or two of iceberg lettuce (to put on the burger, or as a protein-style wrap for bun forgoers).  Grab a few beefsteak or roma tomatoes, a variety of sliced cheeses (another Costco purchase – Swiss, cheddar, Monterey jack, and Colby cheese in one pack!], pickles, onions, mashed avocado, and whatever else people like to put on their burgers.

Now, for the sauces.  Get a little creative here — it’s a small effort for a big impact.  Make sure to have the regs available (ketchup, mayo, and mustard), but also set out BBQ sauce, honey dijon, random spreads, and dressings that you forgot about in the fridge door [check expiration dates first! yikes!].

If you’ve got some extra time on your hands, let me introduce you to the art of aioli: mix mayonnaise with pretty much ANYTHING, and it becomes another gourmet sauce.  Trust me – you’ll look like a chef extraordinaire.

4. Provide Instructions

After you’ve nicely laid out your mix-ins and burger ziplock bags, gather yours guests ’round, and let them know how to make their burger!  Each guest should grab a burger-in-a-bag, pouring their desired ingredients and spices right into the ziplock.  Then, they seal it up, and squish the bag around to fully mix the meat and ingredients.  See – look how much fun they’re having!


Once they’ve mixed the burger, they can grab one of these slips of paper (that you have printed and cut out ahead of time – download the customizable document here!). BBQBurgerBar


{love the font? me too!  become a member and download the emily font for FREE at Jones Design Company}

It provides a place for their name, cheese preference, and how they like their burger cooked.  Have tape available so they can tape the slip to the front of the bag, and deliver it to the BBQ grill master (a.k.a., my amazing husband Brett).  Believe me — after a few rounds of doing the burger bar, we realized that this was a necessity.  We also put up a piece of cardboard, so we could correspond grill placement with which burger belonged to whom (after they start cooking, they all start to look the same, so save yourself the confusion!).


While their burger is grilling, guests can feel free to start prepping their plate with buns, if they so choose.  Then, when BBQ Brett calls out their name, they will be ready for their burger!



We also made some fresh sweet potato fries with my handy-dandy Zoodle maker!




Ready to throw your own Build-Your-Own-Burger Backyard Budget Barbecue?  (sorry, alliteration really does it for me)

Here’s your shopping list:

  • Ground beef
  • Buns
  • Cheese slices
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Blue cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Jalapenos
  • Green chillies
  • Avocado
  • Beer
  • Wine4 Red (or White) Sangria box
  • Frozen fruit (strawberries, mangoes, peaches, pineapple)
  • Condiments
  • Specialty seasonings
  • Propane for the BBQ (always make sure it’s full before you start the party!)
  • Sweet potatoes


Any other must-dos for a backyard soiree?  Comment below!


Nicole {LL805}

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  1. Kristie Christie
    5 years ago

    Love this Nicole! What a great idea!! I’ll add this idea to my repertoire!

    1. locallove805
      5 years ago

      So glad you like it! It has always worked out nicely 🙂 Especially now that we’ve [almost] perfected the routine!

  2. This Week's Edition {Eat.Shop.Play.Explore} - all things local in 805
    4 years ago

    […] Day weekend means a BBQ is definitely in order. Check out our post on how to throw a simplified BBQ party – friends, burgers, lawn games and beer. What else could you […]


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