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How to save money when grilling this summer

Budget-friendly barbecue tips and recipes to save you some cash.

- 07:02

In the US, nearly 50% of consumers whose jobs have been affected -- or who are being paid less -- as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, still plan on cooking outdoors more frequently once summer hits.

That's according to a report from the NPD Group, which is one of the largest market research companies in the world. The aim of this report, titled The Impact of COVID-19 on Outdoor Grilling, is to take a look at how people are thinking about grilling this season.

Since it's clear that people whose work has been affected by the pandemic are still planning on cooking outdoors, we wanted to take a deep dive into what the cheapest food items and meals are to grill, according to experts.

That way, those on a tighter budget can still get their barbecue going strong this summer. Check out these six tips from nutrition experts that will help you decide what's worth cooking when money's tight.

Avoid super expensive cuts of meat -- and learn which substitutes are best


If you're a grilling enthusiast, you're probably well-versed on which cuts of meat and protein types tend to be more expensive.

"Filet mignon and sirloin are pricey, especially when you go for grass-fed varieties," says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD founder of Real Nutrition NYC.

Shapiro adds: "Anything organic will be more expensive. Plus, anything deboned or skinless will be more expensive. When it comes to seafood, shellfish (lobster, shrimp, scallops), halibut and tuna or salmon can all be pricey, especially if caught wild."

If you're on a budget, these are the ones to avoid.

Luckily, cheaper cuts such as flat iron steak and flank steak are just as good. Ditto grilled clams, which can be much cheaper than other shellfish.

Compare price tags when grocery shopping

Just because you maybe can't afford pricier protein for grilling this summer doesn't mean you can't still cook out using other, more cost-effective cuts of meat.

Here are some more affordable cuts, accompanied by tasty recipes, to grill this summer:

Chicken thighs


Usually less expensive than chicken breasts, chicken thighs are delicious when cooked on the grill. For a recipe idea, try out these grilled chicken thighs with a delicious soy marinade. They only take 25 minutes from start to finish. You can also make chicken skewers from thigh meat.

Chicken wings


Also more affordable than your boneless cuts, chicken wings are worth considering when shopping for things to grill. Should you decide to go this route, you have to give these easy grilled buffalo wings a try. Once you pull these off the cooker, you'll feel like you're eating out at your favorite wing spot.

Pork chops


Another more affordable cut of meat is the pork chop, Shapiro explains. To make your usual grilled pork chop feel more gourmet, check out this grilled pork chop recipe with fresh plum sauce, this Tuscan grilled pork chop recipe or this grilled teriyaki pork chop recipe.

Chuck steak

Shapiro says chuck steak, which is a cut of beef that's part of the sub-prime cut known as the "chuck," is also a more cost-effective meat for grilling. You can use the chuck steak as is, or you can buy ground chuck for making burgers. (Or grind your own if you have a stand mixer with the appropriate attachment.)

Hot dogs


It likely won't shock you that hot dogs are on our list of more affordable meats. Try out CNET sister site Chowhound's spiral-cut grilled hot dogs in order to make "the best hot dog ever." And experiment with new hot dog toppings beyond simple mustard to make them more gourmet.

Go for grill-friendly meat alternatives

If you're OK with forgoing meat altogether -- but still want to grill something that's filling and protein-packed, "tofu and tempeh can be inexpensive vegetarian options," says Oz Garcia, a New York-based nutritionist.

To grill tofu, prepare a medium-hot grill. Next, brush the grill with oil and leave your tofu to cook for 1 and a half to 2 minutes per side, or until grill marks appear. Then, remove from the heat and serve with any additional marinade, condiment or sauce you'd like.


"Extra firm tofu can be marinated in a vinaigrette dressing with added herbs and garlic, and then grilled with onions, zucchini, carrots and other vegetables," says Rochelle Sirota, a NYC-based nutritionist. Or try our

When preparing tempeh, which is a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soy beans, you may want to steam it first for 15 minutes to avoid any bitter taste.

When grilling it, it's typically recommended that you marinate it first. Tempeh acts a lot like tofu in that you can pretty much season or flavor it however you'd like. Then, once you have it on a medium-hot grilling surface, cook it on each side for 2 to 3 minutes.

Veggie burgers are also a great staple when grilling out affordably. "Veggie burgers served with fresh, seasonal accompaniments scream 'summer,'" Sirota says.


Sirota adds: "After grilling, place them on top of a salad, or on a sprouted whole grain burger bun and top with mustard, tahini and lemon juice -- and serve with a side of cabbage slaw."

Veggies are your friend -- and more versatile than you think

You've likely made veggie skewers on the grill before. Now that you're cooking more affordably, it's time to get even more creative when using veggies at your next barbecue.

"All meats, including fish and poultry, are more expensive than fruits and vegetables," says Pamela Bonney, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, co-founder, Tried and True Nutrition, Inc. "Luckily, veggies, like portobello mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini and summer squash are all really great for the grill in the summertime."


Regardless of which veggies you choose to throw "on the barbie," as the Australians say, there are some cooking techniques to keep in mind.

"Before grilling, brush or spritz the vegetables with a hint of avocado oil or olive oil," Sirota says. "After grilling, top them with a sprig of rosemary or a leaf or two of other fresh herbs, such as cilantro or basil."

See more tips on great grilled vegetables.

Think outside the box


Jackie Newgent, RDN, chef, nutritionist, and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook, recommends thinking outside the box when grilling up veggie-centric meals.

"Don't just think of meat for the grill," Newgent says. "Consider unique meal ideas that feature seasonal veggies, such as grilled eggplant gyros or even grilled hummus quesadillas topped with a fresh Mediterranean-style salsa." Try these two recipes next time you fire up the grill.  

  • Grilled hummus quesadilla: "Fill tortillas with hummus and an optional pinch of sumac. Then, fold, brush with extra-virgin olive oil and grill on both sides until grill marks form … about 5 minutes total," Newgent says. "Then, top with a fresh salsa made with thinly sliced grape tomatoes, scallion, fresh mint, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and pinch of sea salt."
  • Eggplant gyros: "Brush slices of eggplant with extra-virgin olive oil and season generously with a mixture of sea salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powders, dried oregano, dill, rosemary and cayenne pepper. Serve in pocketless pitas with sliced tomatoes, red onion and fresh mint leaves. Top with tzatziki sauce or a homemade lemony tahini sauce," Newgent says. (This easy flatbread recipe is a good wrapper for these too.)

You can also make affordable dessert on the grill


As far as meal courses go, this category is appropriately last, but definitely not least. We give you: desserts on the grill.

For an affordable, fun dessert idea, "place cut fruit halves (apricots, plums, peaches or sliced pineapple rings) face down on the grill for a few minutes. Then, turn over to grill the other side and drizzle with a little honey, or agave or maple syrup," Bonney says. "Then, give it a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and serve!"

For more ideas, check out Chowhound's Heat and Sweet cooking guide, which will introduce you to all the simple joys of grilling desserts outdoors.

This story was originally written by Anna Hecht for Chowhound.