July 4th barbecue sides on a budget


We usually think hot dogs, burgers and barbecue on the 4th but your appetizers are just as important. So wow your guests with some healthy, easy and inexpensive snacks.

Entertaining on a dime? No problem, says chef Aaron McCargo, Jr.

"I'm one of those chefs that's all about saving a buck," he said.

Take for example, a vegetable tray.

"A lot of times if you are going to the supermarket, you find yourself one of these expensive trays, $15 to $20 at the minimum," McCargo said.

But you don't have to splurge on a shortcut. Chef McCargo says you can make a nicer, more interesting tray at more than half the price.

"So I grab me some broccoli, some celery, a couple of zucchinis, a cucumber -- pretty much anything you would put in a house salad is what I would put in my crudités," he said.

You can just break off the broccoli florets or try this trick:

"When you cut the crown, try to hold it together, so when you plate it up it's simple. It sits right on the plate and it looks like it was never cut," McCargo said.

He slices the zucchini on the bias about a quarter inch thick. To break up all that green, McCargo adds yellow squash for color and then celery for texture.

"I like to cut it on the bias and I'll tell you why. A lot of times when you go to dip your celery, it has no way to scoop. So when I slice it on the bias, it's longer, I can dip in," McCargo said.

Then he slices his cucumbers in different shapes to make the tray look more interesting. To display the ranch dip, he uses a tomato.

"Scoop it out, put your dip in the middle of one of those tomatoes and just put them sporadically around the table," he said.

Another popular party staple is the salsa. But McCargo says don't buy it in a jar. He suggests you shop your pantry and fridge for some ingredients.

"Maybe it's a quarter of a bag of frozen corn that I can thaw out, or maybe it's some of those kidney beans -- whether they're red or black that I had leftover from making a chili or stew," he said.

Take a big bowl and add corn, beans and fire roasted tomatoes.

"You don't want to get whole, because that means more work. Look for the diced," McCargo said.

Then add fresh cilantro, and onion. Just be sure to dice your onions into small cubes.

"I always say there's some things in salsa that should be chunky and some things that shouldn't. Onions is one of those things you should taste and not see," he said.

Then add some lime then it's time to finish with some spice.

"I'm adding a little bit of cumin, just a pinch of salt. For the big dogs in the house that want to bark, some cayenne pepper," he said.

And it can all save you cash.

"You are talking cutting costs and making sure you are making the budget, this is the way to do it."

Vegetable Tray

  • Think about colors, use broccoli, zucchini, celery, red bell peppers, and squash.
  • Don't just break off the broccoli florets, instead cut them while holding the crown of the broccoli in your hand. Then, turn it over and the shape will stay on the plate.
  • Cut zucchini on the bias, to make it longer and stronger, so it can hold dip.
  • Cut celery sideways - instead of just cutting it straight across (like it comes on the prepackaged store trays)
  • Hollow out a tomato and use it to display the dip
  • When cutting the vegetables, especially carrots, celery or anything with a crunch - store it in ice water. it allows it to be nice and crunchy.
  • Make smaller trays and keep a few refrigerated so when one is empty you can bring a fresh, cold tray out for your guests.


  • 1 cup of corn
  • 1 cup of kidney beans
  • 1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes (use juice)
  • 1/4 cup of cilantro
  • 1/2 an onion
  • 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • pinch of salt
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  • 3-4 scallions
Directions: Combine corn, kidney beans, and can of tomatoes with juice. Cut cilantro and use the stems. Aaron says the stems give the salsa a more lime flavor. Cut half of a white onion into tiny, diced pieces. Add cumin, salt and cayenne. Cut a lime in half and squeeze the juice into the mixture. For color, cut the green stem part off the scallions and add that to the mix.

For more information visit aaronmccargo.com.

Find Patricia on Facebook at ABC13PatriciaLopez or on Twitter at @patricialopez13

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.