Grilling on a Budget: How To Stretch Your BBQ Buck

Who doesn’t love a cookout in the warm summer months? But with the rising cost of food, grilling can be a little tough on your wallet, particularly if you have a large family or are grilling for a crowd.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of eggs, meat, poultry and fish are up 13% in the USA compared to 2021—that’s the largest annual increase in more than 40 years. Whether you’re grilling for yourself, your family, or for a crowd, cookout costs can add up quickly. Fortunately, there are ways to cut costs and BBQ on a budget, from where you shop to what you buy and when.

Keep reading for our best tips on:

  • Cutting the cost of chicken
  • Grilling beef on a budget
  • Penny pinching pork
  • Best fish for grilling
  • Grilling for a crowd on a budget

Let’s sink our teeth into some meaty tips for grilling on a budget.

Cutting the Cost of Chicken

Grilled chicken goes with everything and is a BBQ staple, especially for large parties and cookouts. You can eat grilled chicken hot or cold, topped on salad, in a bun, or as the star of your meal. Enjoy it for lunch or dinner, or just keep it on hand in the fridge for a quick snack.

Here are some ways to cut down on the cost of grilled chicken:

  • Choose dark meat cuts: You may find lots of chicken breast recipes online, but white meat cuts are typically far more expensive than dark. Plus, dark meat (legs, thighs, drumsticks and wings) are much tastier on the grill because they stay juicy and moist when grilled.
  • Buy the whole chicken: It’s often cheaper to buy the entire chicken than it is to buy specific cuts. Ironically, boneless, skinless chicken breasts can actually cost more than a whole chicken. If you shop around and keep an eye out for sales, you should be able to find whole chickens for under $2 a pound—or about $8 per bird. Buying the whole chicken gives you more options, too; you can cook it whole—on an upright roaster or rotisserie—or break it down into pieces for tasty grilled chicken. Either way, one chicken should produce about 4-5 servings of meat (or more, depending how hungry you are).
  • Look for sales and buy in bulk: When you see a bargain, stock up! Also keep a lookout for “enjoy tonight” stickers and other price reductions. Grocery stores will mark down meats as they approach their best before dates, so take advantage and buy in bulk. If a best before date is looming, be sure to freeze them right away—or better yet, grill them up and then freeze individual portions for a quick and easy homemade meal anytime.
  • Make chicken soup or broth: The best thing about grilling chicken is that you can use every last piece of the bird, including the remains you might normally throw out. Get the best bang for your buck by simmering the bones to make homemade bone broth, or slow cook the carcass and add in all those leftover vegetable scraps along with your favorite spices for delicious chicken soup. If you grill whole chickens regularly, the carcasses freeze very well and can be saved and thawed out when you’re ready to simmer some stock.

Grilling Beef on a Budget

Beef is undoubtedly one of the most versatile meats you can buy. Sadly, it’s also one of the most expensive. Here are some ways to cut the cost of beef:

  • Eliminate the middleman: While it costs about the same, the quality of beef you get from the butcher far exceeds what you’ll find at the supermarket. Plus, butcher shops tend to have a larger selection of cuts, and you can order any size you like, large or small. Buying beef in bulk can save you a lot in the long run.
  • Opt for lower-cost cuts: It doesn’t take an expensive T-bone steak to make a great cookout. Sirloin, hanger, flank, flat iron, and skirt steaks are all delicious (and affordable) grilling options. Or, for something a little different, you can also try smoking a brisket low and slow to mouthwatering perfection. Check out our tips on how to turn your gas grill into a smoker.
  • Use a tenderizing marinade: Some lower-cost cuts of beef can be a little tougher. Fortunately, all you need to do is prep it with your favorite tenderizing marinade before grilling for a silky, melt-in-your-mouth meal. Look for acidic marinades that contain wine, vinegar, or lemon juice. The acids help to break down the fibers of the meat, which is what makes it tender.

Penny Pinching Pork

Pork is one of the more affordable cuts of meat, and we think it makes some of the best cookout meals. Even though pork is (sometimes) cheaper than other meats, there are still opportunities to save when buying pork:

  • Buy in bulk: We mentioned buying in bulk earlier, but it’s worth a second mention. Ribs, chops, loins and tenderloins, shoulders, and sausages are all great options to buy in bulk. So when you see a sale, don’t be afraid to load up your freezer.
  • Try new cuts: It’s easy to get into a rut when choosing cuts of meat. Step outside your comfort zone next time you shop for pork, and try things like pork picnic shoulder, shank, or bone-in shoulder. Try back bacon instead of bacon strips, or buy a pork loin roast and cut your own chops. Just be sure to do a little research before you grill—like beef, some cuts of pork benefit from a few hours soaking in a brine bath or are best cooked low and slow.
  • Buy a share: Small, local farms sometimes sell animals in halves, quarters, or eighths, giving you the option to buy “a share” of the animal at a significantly lower price than pre-packaged cuts sold by the pound at the supermarket. This is a good tip for buying beef, too.

Best Fish for Grilling

Fresh fish on the grill—like salmon, rainbow trout, and perch—is one our favorite go-to meal options in the summer months. But when you can’t catch and grill your own fish, there are some options that are just as tasty and relatively inexpensive.

White fish, like haddock, grouper, bass, cod, tilapia and snapper, tend to be less expensive than salmon, mahi-mahi, halibut, or swordfish. White fish is also milder, easy to season with your favorite herbs and spices, and grills to perfection relatively quickly on a plank or in a rotisserie basket.

Grilling for a Crowd on a Budget

Now that you have some new and exciting cuts of meat for your next big cookout, let’s look quickly at some ways to stretch your dollar even farther and bbq on a budget:

  • Go heavy on the veggie: Grilled vegetables are delicious, healthy, and filling—and they’re often far cheaper than meat. When you’re grilling for a crowd on a budget, serve lots of hearty veggies, like peppers, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, and asparagus. Grill them on skewers or in a vegetable basket, or cut wide strips and lay them directly on the grill until they’re charred all over.
  • Don’t forget the sides: No cookout is complete without side dishes like potato, pasta, caesar or garden salads, coleslaw, rice, bread, and snacks like chips and dip or cheese and crackers. Hosting potluck-style events and asking your guests to contribute salads and sides can help keep your costs even lower.
  • Finish with dessert: Something cold and sweet after a hot grilled meal is the perfect finish. Affordable options include a bowl of ice cream topped with fresh fruit and cool whipped cream. Or, if the BBQ’s still hot, try grilling bananas, peaches, apples, pineapple, mango, pears, or plums, and serve with a chilled yogurt dip.

#GrillHack: When you’re grilling on a budget, buy seasonal fruits and vegetables—not only are they fresh, but out of season fruits and veggies have to be imported from long distances, which hikes up the price. You’ll also find better prices when you buy direct from the producer and avoid grocery store markups.

Wrapping Up

It doesn’t matter why, when, or where you’re having a cookout—there’s always a way to grill on a budget. Use the tips we’ve shared, try different cuts and combos, and get creative with your menu. Looking for new ideas? Check out our grilling recipes!