Make-at-Home Vs. Takeout: Summer Barbecue

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Backyard barbecues are staples on the Fourth of July and just about any summer weekend. In our house, they present the opportunity to enjoy the smoky taste of salmon grilled on soaked cedar planks or burgers cooked with applewood flavored chips (is anyone else getting hungry?). It’s a great way to cook dinner without heating up the kitchen and lower level of the house.

The grill is a working parent’s best friend in the summer, and efficiency is one of the things my family loves most about grilling dinner. In the time it takes to run out to a drive-thru and back, we can grill burgers and several ears of corn while roasting rosemary and garlic potatoes. (If you’ve never had them, they’re amazing … feel free to ask me for the recipe.) As a bonus, my family eats a meal that’s much healthier than one we’d dig out of a bag.

In the name of efficiency, my local grocer, Wegmans, has a slew of premade sides like coleslaw and potato salad as well as pre-formed hamburger patties. However, while shopping for supplies for our Fourth of July cookout, I stopped to wonder if the premade items I frequently toss in my cart are as big or a bargain for my wallet as they appear to be a time saver.

So I set out to see what’s cheaper: making our barbecue fixings or picking up premade grill fare. Here’s what I learned.

The meal: grilled cheeseburgers for seven, potato salad, grilled corn and lemonade.

My make-at-home ingredients:
• For the burgers: To feed three men (one of which is my teen son) and four women, I need 2 pounds of ground beef. I like 95 percent lean ground sirloin which costs $5.99/pound.
• For the potato salad: Five pounds of golden potatoes, mayo, mustard, celery, onions and eggs. I have spices and vinegar on hand, so I won’t count those in the cost.
• For the lemonade: One bottle of lemon juice and sugar
• I’m not including the price of the corn in the tally because there isn’t a premade option for those.

The cost of ingredients: $35.54.

The variables: You know you’re going to use utilities like electric and gas anytime you cook. It’s tough to know the exact cost, but my best guess is about $0.65 (based on average usage) to boil the potatoes and eggs. Of course, there’s gas to go to the grocery store, my time to shop and cook, but let’s keep things simple and stick to numbers we can actually add up.

The total make-at-home price: $36.19.

At Wegmans, several different styles of potato salad are available in 5-pound tubs that cost $8.50 each. I chose the American style because it’s the closest to my grandmother’s secret recipe. The pre-formed hamburger patties were only available in 8 percent lean beef and cost $6.99/pound. They’re typically packaged in twos. I bought two bottles of lemonade.

Either way, I’d have to drive to the grocery store to pick up the food, so there’s no delivery charge or gas to tack on.

The takeout price: $27.46

The bottom line: Making burgers at home is definitely the way to go. Not only is it more economical, it’s better for your heart (the leaner the meat, the happier your ticker). Plus, you can customize each burger’s thickness and size to each diner’s taste.

But making potato salad at home was the big budget-buster here. You just can’t compensate for the grocery store’s ability to buy — and prepare — food in bulk. However, you’re limited to the ingredients and seasoning used by the grocer, so buying premade doesn’t generally garner the rave reviews from friends and family about the delicious potato salad that reminds everyone of grandma or your favorite great aunt.

Next month, I’m going to break out my wok and try my hand at Chinese food for the make-at-home vs. takeout price test. Just about anything Chinese is high on my list of food favorites, which means our local takeout restaurant owner and I are on a first-name basis. OK, I admit it: The staff has my address memorized. So it’s no wonder I’m hoping to pare down the price by whipping up dinner at home.

What’s your family’s favorite meal to eat out or takeout? Wondering if you can make it cheaper at home? Drop me a line and suggest a make-at-home price test. You just might be surprised to learn which option truly is cheaper.

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

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