They say that Labor Day is the official end of summer. “They” obviously don’t live in Durango, because otherwise they’d know September is the best month of the year. Still it sounds like a pretty good excuse to throw a killer backyard bash. And, just because you’re hosting doesn’t mean you have to break the bank, either. Here are our favorite inexpensive party ideas for Labor Day. So call up your friends and invite them over, or just throw a party for yourself. We don’t care.
Make it a potluck event.Just because you’re hosting the barbecue doesn’t mean you have to provide all the food. It’s always awkward to ask people to show up with cash, and if they forget, you know you’ll never hound them for it. So, ask people to bring side dishes, desserts, or drinks instead. That means you can provide the main event without going broke in the process. Plus, you’ll all benefit from the variety of food (unless everyone shows up with buffalo chicken dip, of course).
Cook up a pork shoulder.A pork shoulder is one of the most economical cuts of meat you can buy. Plus, who doesn’t love a good pulled pork sandwich or taco? Throw that shoulder on the smoker and let it cook until it’s nice and tender. Or, chuck it in the slow cooker with a bottle of root beer. (I’m actually being serious – it might not be fancy, but it’ll be one of the best pulled pork dishes you’ve ever had.) After it’s finished cooking, a 5-pound shoulder will feed about 6 to 10 people, depending on how hungry everyone is. That’s only $1 to $2 per person.
Or, make gourmet hot dogs.Fancy up your inexpensive franks by dressing them up with fun and funky toppings. Sriracha-spiked mayonnaise and pickled vegetables make a Banh-Mi dog; bacon, avocado, and ranch will please even the pickiest eaters; or go classy with barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, and Funyons. You could even create a make-your-own-hot-dog bar and let your guests get creative. The possibilities are endless, so have some fun with it.
SangriaYou can always ask people to BYOB, but you could also provide an inexpensive drink without subjecting your guests to a pitcher of Jungle Juice. Pick up a bottle of inexpensive brandy (like Korbel), some boxed red wine, and orange juice. Mix it all together and top it off with chopped apples, oranges, or berries. You can make it go slightly further by adding some soda water to the mix, too. Voila. A delicious and slightly fancy drink. Sangrrrrrrrria! (which clearly must be said with a rolling series of r’s).
Pull out the Christmas lights.You don’t have to pick up expensive patio lights just to keep things bright and cozy in your backyard. Go through your storage boxes, find those Christmas lights, and string ’em up. You can wrap them around trees or string them up around the deck. You’ll be surprised at how bright and festive they’ll be. If you want to amp-up your lighting game, pick up a few tiki torches and fill them with mosquito-repelling citronella oil. Just don’t let anyone pull them out of the ground and go for a march around town.
Don’t worry too much about extra seating.If you don’t have enough chairs for everyone, don’t sweat it. Not everyone is going to want to sit anyway, so it’s not worth buying extra seating for just one event. Channel your inner Martha Stewart and build a makeshift table using a pallet, a few table cloths, and oversized pillows as the seats. Or, skip the building-things-part all together and go picnic style, creating a few seating stations around the yard using blankets or sheets.
Forget doing the dishesDon’t even think about serving up dinner on your own plates. Yes, you’ll save some money if you don’t have to buy paper plates, but you’ll be mourning the loss of your dinnerware when something breaks. You can buy a pack of cute-looking paper plates for less than $5, so do yourself a favor and skip the dishwashing party.
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at [email protected]