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Experts Share the Best Ways to Save Money When Grilling

Budget-friendly barbecue tips to keep your belly and bank account full this summer.

CNET staff
David Watsky Senior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's logged more than a decade writing about all things edible, including meal kits and meal delivery subscriptions, cooking, kitchen gear and commerce. Since earning a BA in English from Northeastern in Boston, he's toiled in nearly every aspect of the eats business from slicing and dicing as a sous-chef in Rhode Island to leading complex marketing campaigns for major food brands in Manhattan. These days, he's likely somewhere trying the latest this or tasting the latest that - and reporting back, of course. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
Expertise Kitchen tech, cookware, small appliances, food innovation, meal delivery and meal kits.
David Watsky
5 min read
brizzle basting shrimp on grill

There are simple ways to cut your grilling budget and still eat well this summer.


Inflation may be going in the right direction but that doesn't change the fact that many homes are still working with tight budgets. A July survey by LendingClub revealed that 61% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck; a number that is unchanged from a year ago despite grocery prices cooling a bit. 

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The good news for those tightening their pursestrings: summer can be done deliciously and on the cheap if you know how to stretch your dinner dollars. Grilling outdoors is about as summer as summer gets and you can rip off a tasty barbecue summer for a lot less than taking the fam out to a restaurant or ordering takeout. Plus, grilling is fast and requires very little prep work if you do it right.  

Below you'll find tips from a slew of nutrition experts on the best healthy and budget-friendly grill toppers to make, along with tips for saving money when grilling this summer. 

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

sliced ribeye steak

Good steak doesn't have to be expensive.

Snake River Farms

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 ribeye are pricey, especially when you go for grass-fed varieties," said Amy Shapiro, MS, RD founder of Real Nutrition NYC.

"Anything organic will be more expensive," Shapiro added. "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 of beef such as flat iron steak and flank steak are just as good. Ditto grilled clams, which can be much cheaper than other shellfish.

Read more: With Unusually High Beef Prices, These Cheaper Steak Cuts Shine on a Budget

Learn how to spot deals


ButcherBox and other online butchers will gladly tempt you with a deep discount or free gift to try the service.

Porter Road

Many of the best online butchers run sales and deals on meat, especially for new customers. Take advantage of these summer discounts to stock the fridge and freezer. 

You can also save a bunch by shopping at a bulk discount store such as Costco. Here's how much you might save in a year and a breakdown of Costco Executive membership and our take on if it's worth it or not.

Compare price tags when shopping

kirkland sign

Kirkland is Costco's budget in-house that has garnered its own customer loyalty. 


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. Shopping online either from one of our top meat delivery services or grocery delivery services is a good way to price compare without stepping foot in a crowded supermarket. 

If you're wondering, we crunched the numbers to find the cheapest place to buy groceries online

Here are some more affordable cuts to grill this summer:

Chicken thighs

grilled chicken drumsticks

Chicken thighs and drumsticks are cheaper than beef, in general. 


Usually less expensive than chicken breasts, chicken thighs are delicious when cooked on the grill. For a recipe idea, try out grilled chicken thighs with a jerk rub or teriyaki marinade. You can also make chicken skewers from thigh meat.

Chicken wings


Chicken wings


Also more affordable than your boneless cuts, chicken wings are worth considering when shopping for things to grill. 

Pork chops


Another more affordable cut of meat is the pork chop, Shapiro explains. To make your usual grilled pork chop feel special, add a fun spice rub, marinade or sauce.

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

bahn mi hot dog

Get creative with your hot dogs, a wallet-friendly grill food.


It likely won't shock you that hot dogs are on our list of more affordable meats. And experiment with new hot dog toppings beyond the obvious options, although we'll never refuse a healthy squeeze of ketchup and mustard.

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," said 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 1.5 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.

tofu burger

Tofu burgers require sound seasoning but they make a budget-friendy alternative to pricey beef.


"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," said Rochelle Sirota, a New York-based nutritionist. 

When preparing tempeh, which is a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans, 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 said.

veggie burger on bun

Eating plant-based burgers is good for you and the planet and can save a few bucks over beef.


"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," Sirota added.

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," said 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."

barbecue portobello mushrooms over corn

Mushrooms make a very budget-friendly choice for the grill.


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 said. "After grilling, top them with a sprig of rosemary or a leaf or two of other fresh herbs, such as cilantro or basil."

Think outside the box

veggie fajitas

Grilled veggie fajitas for a surprising twist on summer fare.


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 said. "Consider unique meal ideas that feature seasonal veggies, such as grilled eggplant gyros or even grilled vegetable quesadillas topped with a fresh salsa." 

More money-saving kitchen intel

This story originally appeared on Chowhound.