How did you spend your Labor Day weekend in North County? I ended up with a few lessons I’d like to share.
I sent about a dozen texts to close friends to see who would like to come over my house for a barbecue, and wasn’t sure on how much food to purchase.
I’m not a big fan of the traditional burger BBQ — cooking burgers requires someone to stand over a grill for most of the party, and I needed to play host.
Burger meat is also really pricey, and burgers require so many additional components (tomatoes, cheese slices, onions, lettuce, et al) and customization options (veggie patties) that I thought I’d skip all that and plan a far cheaper menu — Baja chicken street tacos, salad, and Spanish rice, with other simple appetizer dishes coming from friends.
I shared my Baja chicken recipe in my last column, but it’s a very simple marinade you can use with any cut of chicken. I chose drumsticks and thighs.
Chicken is far cheaper than beef patties — about 79 cents a pound versus $4 a pound. You can make a lot of Spanish rice cheaply — it’s just white rice, canned tomato sauce, garlic, onion, salt and pepper.
I found three cups of rice was plenty for my party — that was probably something like 18 to 20 servings. My cheap salad was made from a large pack of romaine lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.
For those BBQ traditionalists, I bought two packs of generic hot dogs and hot dog buns, probably $7 total.
Now, every backyard party needs games, and I like cornhole (bean bag toss) and jumbo Jenga. Running short on time, I was really considering buying these games on Amazon, which would have been more than $200 for a two-day shipment. But that’s just foolish. I asked a friend to bring his cornhole set, and went off for some DIY experience by making a jumbo Jenga set that I’d like to share with you.
First, purchase six 2-foot by 4-foot by 8-foot pieces of plywood; I chose from the whitewood pile at my local Home Depot. Pick out the straightest pieces with the fewest knots.
There’s no need to rent any power tools; Home Depot offers free in-store lumber cutting for customers. Knowing it would take some time to cut my wood, I went in on an early Sunday morning. Ask a sales rep to cut each piece to 10.5 inches. This should net you 54 pieces.
Take the pieces home and sand them using 100 grade sanding paper (I ended up using six sanding sheets). Next, use food-grade oil to finish your pieces of wood; I decided to buy a bottle of butcher block mineral oil at the store.
Sanding and finishing took me three hours. In all, I spent about $24 and a few hours to save me $80 to $100. You can continue to customize your set with wood staining, or painting the ends with extra house paint you may have tucked away in your garage.
Well, I’m happy to report that the jumbo Jenga set I made was a huge hit at my barbecue.
It’s such an easy family-friendly game to play, and it’s actually quite competitive once you get into it!
So, some clear lessons here: an inexpensive BBQ menu is possible; and when in doubt, borrow or build it yourself. Here’s hoping you have a great barbecue this fall — there’s still plenty of great sunshine and time left over!
Vince Vasquez is an economist based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.