15 Costco Steals for Picnics, BBQs & Beach Days

Whether you’re (finally) getting back to hosting parties or just hanging with the fam, Costco is always a good call.

May 28, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

It’s happening, friends! It’s really happening. Summer is upon us, and as long as we stay smart and follow the most up-to-date CDC rules, it looks like we are going to be able to enjoy the warm weather with our friends and family in familiar and welcome ways.

This also means it’s time to stock up on the things that make these outdoor gatherings the most successful (and delicious!). A leisurely meandering around a Costco in Brookfield, Connecticut, resulted in a laundry list of items that we all might consider for our upcoming get-togethers and day trips. There are treats to grill and glug, tools to keep us cool, and gadgets to make entertaining easier. Here are 15 Costco summer essentials I’ve got my eye on.

Note: Prices may be subject to change based on your location, and may differ online from in-store.

1. Water Balloons

C’mon, when was the last time you had a water balloon fight? Don’t you want to hurl one of those bad boys at someone in your household by now? You can pick up a pack of 420 Zuru water balloons for $19.99. They come in 12 bunches of 35 balloons, and since you can fill them up with a hose by the bunch, in minutes you'll have balloons for everyone.

2. Beach Umbrellas

A Tommy Bahama 8-foot beach umbrella in a summery royal blue will keep you in the shade for $24.99. It comes in a carry bag with an integrated sand anchor, so you won’t have to chase the umbrella down the shoreline when the wind picks up.

3. Coolers

If you’re entertaining a crowd and don’t want to mess with lots of small containers, consider dropping $99.99 on a ridiculously large 165-quart cooler. Plenty of perks come with that price tag: The cooler is fully insulated with an antibacterial liner, the lid stays open if you want it to, and if instructions are followed precisely, Igloo claims the cooler can keep things cold for up to 7 days—perfect for camping if you’re taking a car.

4. Plastic & Paper Products

It goes without saying that you should use paper and plastic products sparingly, and recycle responsibly, but there are moments where you just can’t break out the fine china and stainless silverware. A package of Reflections cutlery with 160 forks, knives, and spoons is just $9.49, and though the utensils are plastic, they have a nice heft and look like silver. Oh, and 80 of those utensils are forks, which is smart—how many times have we all run out of the forks way before the knives and the spoons?

5. 7-Piece BBQ Knife Set

If anyone in your world is a self-appointed pitmaster of sorts, then they know how important it is to have the right knives to cut all kinds of meat. The Canshan set comes with knife sheaths and a hard shell case, and with a recent sale, the price was down to $79.99. Wondering if the quality is good? Their brand ambassador is Thomas Keller. That’s what I would call a persuasive recommendation.

6. Beverage Dispenser

If you’re offering fresh lemonade, iced tea, or another house drink at your backyard festivities, it looks really cool and kind of professional to serve it in one of those large clear beverage dispensers. The Budeez dispenser comes with a drip tray and holds 3 gallons of your favorite drink. It sells for $14.99, and there was a promotion for $5 off when I was walking through. Try filling it with this Summer Fruit & Berry Sangria or Pomegranate Orange Mocktail With Mint.

7. Grills

Of course Costco has grills, so maybe this is the summer you treat yourself to one! You deserve it, after all. A Traeger Silverton 620 Wood Pellet Grill with a 620-square-inch cooking area, two-tier grate system, and programmable meat probe among other features is $799.99. A KitchenAid 4-burner Gas Grill With Side Burner supplies 689 square inches of grill for $499.97. And a Weber Q2200 Grill (available in some brick-and-mortar stores) with 280 square inches of cooking area is $299.99. Need grilling inspiration? Try tossing on some Mexican Grilled Corn, Marinated NY Strip Steak, or Provençal Chicken & Peppers.

8. Meat Thermometer

Do you have a meat thermometer? If you cook meat, you should. Few things are more frustrating than overcooking a piece of meat at a cookout, especially if you’ve splurged on a pricey cut of beef or lamb. And no one wants to cut into an undercooked piece of chicken, for sure. Pick up a Polder Deluxe Safe-Serve Instant Read Thermometer for $15.99 on sale (though it’s just $19.99 at the regular price). A 10-inch probe with a torch light provides an accurate reading in less than 6 seconds.

9. Squeezy Snacks

When you are on the go (in the car, on a hike) or even settling in for an afternoon of lounging on the beach, especially if you have kids, you know the benefit of having some single-serve treats at the ready. Gluten-Free Kirkland Organic Fruit & Vegetable Pouches are $10.99 for 24, and come in a box of two flavors: Apple Strawberry Yellow Carrot and Apple Mango Yellow Carrot Peach, all with no added sugar. Kirkland Organic Applesauce is $8.69 for 24 pouches. And GoGo Squeez Organic Fruit Pouches in Apple, Apple Strawberry, Apple Banana, and Apple Cinnamon come 28 for $14.99.

10. Pasta

I pretty firmly believe there has never been—and never will be—a summer menu that isn’t improved upon by the addition of a pasta salad. They’re portable, sturdy, often colorful, and a great way to introduce a substantial vegetarian dish into the mix. Keeping a pasta salad in the fridge also means that an outdoor lunch is ready to be packed and toted at a moment’s notice. A seven-pack of Barilla pasta is available for $8.49 in pasta-salad-friendly shapes like farfalle (bow ties), elbows, and rotini. Flex your pasta salad muscles with this Mayo-Free Vegan Pasta Salad, Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad, or Pasta Salad With Tomatoes, Feta & Herbed Mayonnaise.

11. Meat

Costco has long been renowned for high-quality meat at very reasonable prices. So if you’re feeding meat-eaters, think about stocking up. In the pork department, pork loin back ribs are $4.49 per pound, St. Louis ribs with the brisket bone removed are $3.69 per pound, pork loin is $1.79 a pound, and pork shoulder is $2.19 a pound.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Wow. Such self righteous accusations about an article! Lighten up and enjoy for a change and get out from under your rock. If you don't like something move on as they say. Just flip the page and move on. Psychobabble? Really? A bit of overkill remarks on many points of easy picnic alternatives I think. I enjoyed the article and how lucky we are to actually think about having picnics and entertaining again. ”
— Jane

In the chicken arena, wings are $2.99 per pound, thighs $2.19 per pound, and boneless breasts just $2.89 per pound.

For beef, you might go for boneless rib eye steaks at $12.99 a pound, flank steak at $10.99 a pound, or New York Prime steaks for $15.99 a pound. If you’re feeling ambitious (and generous), go for a whole USDA Prime beef top loin for $11.99 a pound—a 17-pound piece hovers at around $200, but feeds a lot of people.

Lamb loin chops are also great on the grill and only $7.99 per pound. Boneless leg of lamb is very well priced, at $5.99 a pound: a nice surprise if you avoid cooking lamb at home because you thought all lamb was pricey!)

And of course, there’s lots of ground meat for burgers: Turkey is $2.59 a pound, and 85 percent lean ground beef is $2.99 a pound.

If you want to get a head start on your grilling, you can opt for items like the marinated Mesquite Party Wing Tray With Blue Cheese Dressing for $5.59 a pound, St. Louis–style ribs prepared with a dry rub for $4.19 per pound, or Flank Steak With Lime Cilantro Marinade for $11.99 a pound. Onto the grill they go!

12. Pizza Dough

If you’ve never made pizza on the grill, your world is about to change for the better. Store-bought pizza dough makes the process quite simple, and you can take home a 5.5 pound ball of dough for a mere $4.49. Seriously, make it happen this summer, and let me know if you see the light. Now it’s time for a Grilled Pizza party.

13. Premade Barbecue

Feeling like eating barbecue classics, but not feeling like doing all the work? I can hardly blame you. You'll find Old Hickory Smokehouse Brisket Burnt Ends or Smoked Pulled Pork for $10.49 per pound. Just grab some buns, heat, and eat. (Pick up some coleslaw while you’re at it—or make a batch, because now you have the time.)

14. Sandwich Stuff

One of my fondest memories is standing in the kitchen of a rented Cape Cod house making sandwiches to pack up for a day at the beach. Make your own sandwich assembly line with Dietz & Watson organic sliced turkey ($12.99 for a 1.7-pound package), prosciutto di Parma ($11.49 for 12 ounces), Columbus Herb Turkey ($7.49 a pound), Dietz & Watson uncured "lite" ham ($10.99 for 2 pounds), Kirkland signature roast beef ($7.69 a pound), and sliced Adams Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar ($7.99 for 2 pounds).

Or if you don’t feel like prepping, order a tray of premade sandwiches like the Croissant Sandwich Platter, which feeds 16 to 20 people; or the Chicken & Swiss Roll Up Wrap platter, which serves 20 to 24, each for a shockingly cheap $32.99.

15. Ice Cream

There’s always a nice selection of well-priced ice cream at Costco, but as warm weather approaches, I have to single out the one that shouted “summer!” the loudest on my last visit: Nestlé Drumsticks, in a variety pack. The flavors include plain vanilla, vanilla fudge, and vanilla caramel. A box of 16 was on sale for $6.99 in late May, and you can just imagine how happy people would be if you pulled that out of the freezer on a hot afternoon. I think it’s a necessary purchase. Two more shoutouts: GoodPop Orange n’ Cream, which are like dairy-free Creamsicles, and some very intriguing Brown Sugar Boba Ice Milk Bars.

What summer gems have you discovered at Costco? Sound off in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Author of The Mom 100 Cookbook and themom100.com blog. A New Yorker, cook, and mom, I don't sit still very much.


[email protected] April 29, 2022
It’s April 2022. Why is this outdated article being pushed, reprinted, and redistributed in today’s email from Food52? Surely, you can do better. Very out of touch and disappointing.
Jaimie S. June 11, 2021
Sorry, folks but I concur with the complainers. We need to protect our planet and a long hard journey begins with the smallest of steps. Curtail the use of plastics and paper goods if at all possible. Yes, recommend products that don’t fill our bodies and all creatures with micro plastic particles. Every human on this planet needs to get on board so we can enjoy picnics for thousands of years.
stacey H. June 11, 2021
I like costco. I like summer.

What kind of monster is advocating single use plastic? Water balloons are irresponsible. Surely there's other fun stuff at costco to recommend? I don't think this is eating thoughtfully or living joyfully. I love walking on the beach and the amount of plastic bits even in Oregon is awful.
Jane June 11, 2021
Wow. Such self righteous accusations about an article! Lighten up and enjoy for a change and get out from under your rock. If you don't like something move on as they say. Just flip the page and move on. Psychobabble? Really? A bit of overkill remarks on many points of easy picnic alternatives I think. I enjoyed the article and how lucky we are to actually think about having picnics and entertaining again.
Darby June 10, 2021
I am so angry right now. I know it seems like a small deal but this post was irresponsible enough for me to change my password (because I forgot it) just so I could post. Seriously, Food 52? Advocating for two non-sustainable, environment ruining items just because?? Advocating for poisonous plastic because “ they have a nice heft and look like silver” plastic cutlery? Water balloons???Ugh. I expect so much better from you. We just came out of a pandemic that ultimately is a comment on how we care for our planet and each other. Let’s do better, okay? I won’t cancel my subscription or boycott your products. But I am seriously concerned.
Sue June 10, 2021
No one should be buying and using plastic silverware..And single serving squeeze applesauce?? Too much for the already overburdened landfills..You should be recommending more socially responsible products.
brandyk June 10, 2021
I am horrified to read an article that in the first paragraph is telling me that if I am smart and follow the CDC rules? That I can enjoy summer. Keep your freaking psychobabble to yourself and don't try to drag others in to your psychosis. For your information, the CDC is not a law making body and does not make rules. They offer guidance. Like they did from the 30s-70s in the Tuskegee experiments. This is about food, lets keep propaganda out of it.
Pete M. May 30, 2021
I'm pretty happy with my 10yo 370 square inch Weber kettle! I even managed to smoke 3 racks of back ribs at once. The only modification needed was a grill thermometer. And the price is still under a hundred bucks on sale.