Don’t Let Inflation Get All Up in Your Grill: 10 Money-Saving Cookout Tips

Money-Saving Tips for Grilling

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Money-Saving Tips for Grilling

Hot Weather Sizzle

Recent inflation may still cast a shadow over this year's Fourth of July cookouts. Most frugal cooks know the basics of how to save money. For carnivores, they involve cheap but tasty meats and DIY barbecue sauce and rubs. For vegetarians, it's all about the glory of grilled vegetables, seasoned with a dab of olive oil, salt and pepper, and maybe a squirt of lemon. And who doesn't love a low-cost grilled dessert? Even if you shy away from outdoor cooking because of the perceived fuss and expense, these simple barbecue tips should get the fires burning. 

Ground Beef

Understand Ground Beef Prices

Ground beef prices depend on the fat content: Less fat equals more money. But buying fat-loaded ground beef because it's cheap might not make sense for grilling. When hamburgers are prepared on a grill, most of the fat is cooked out. That means cheaper, fattier beef would leave you with less edible meat per pound than a pricier lean blend. 

Flat Iron Steak

Use the Best Cheap Steak

One inexpensive cut of meat that qualifies as grilling fodder is chuck eye steak. Slightly tougher and less flavorful than a rib-eye but still delicious, chuck eye sometimes is referred to as the poor man's rib-eye. Seasoning or marinating before grilling enhances the result, as does cooking the steak to medium, at most. Other inexpensive cuts that do well on a grill include flat iron steak and London broil, although the latter is fairly tough and definitely requires a marinade, preferably overnight. 

Pork Alternative
Andrey Starostin/shutterstock

Consider the Pork Alternative

Pork is another relatively low-cost meat, and pork butt or shoulder cuts are particularly good grilling options. A pork steak also rises to frugal grilling standards and takes less time to prepare.

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Cookout Classic

Don't Overlook This Cookout Classic

Hot dogs are an all-time budget grilling favorite, though they've experienced some pushback from consumers who wonder just what's inside. A taste test by Cheapism deemed Oscar Mayer Classic Beef Franks the best cheap hot dogs. Despite the appealing price of pork dogs, the panel generally agreed it's worth spending a little more for the beef variety.

Related: Think Outside the Bun With These 21 Creative Hot Dog Recipes

Buy Meat
Easy Coffee Rub
Sychov Sergii/shutterstock

Try Homemade Dry Rubs...

Store-bought rubs can quickly become favorites, but many grill masters have their own concoctions. Remember, fresh means flavor, and a trip to a market that sells bulk spices can save you a bundle — but buy only the amount you'll be using at its best. Most rubs are made up of sugar, salt, pepper, and a mixture of spices to taste. Ratios often depend on the type of meat: Pork takes more sugar, beef more salt and some heat, and chicken likes spice.  

Related: 12 Cheap Rubs and Marinades for Summer Barbecues

Barbecue Sauce Recipe
Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

… And Barbecue Sauce Recipes

Although barbecue sauces by the dozen line the grocery shelves, it's easy and cheap to make your own. Avoiding preservatives and high fructose corn syrup is an added benefit. Homemade barbecue sauces generally begin with a combination of ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, and spices. There are hundreds of recipes that can be tweaked until they suit your palate. 

Don't Forget the Corn
Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

Don't Forget the Corn...

Ears of corn can go for under a buck or so and make a delicious main dish for vegetarians or side for carnivores. They're also super easy to prepare on a grill: Leave on the husk and throw the entire ear into coals or set it on top of the grill. Rotate occasionally (with tongs) and peel off the blackened husk (with an oven mitt). Slather on a little butter and a sprinkle of salt. 

And Veggies
AS Food studio/shutterstock

… And Veggies

Other vegetables that take well to grilling include Vidalia and red onions, zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, green beans (wrapped in foil), asparagus, and bell pepper. A pound of vegetables often costs less than a pound of meat, and they're an important part of a healthy meal. One tasty and relatively cheap tip is to coat a whole portobello mushroom with a little olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper and place it on the grill. This edible fungus is packed with flavor that stands on its own or as an add-on to a regular burger. 

Grilled Pinapple

Finish on a Sweet Note

As an outdoor cookout winds down, it's time to sweeten things up with a quick and easy dessert. Keep the grill fired up and throw on pineapple slices or peach halves, fruits that often are sweet enough to satisfy dessert-aholics. (A dab of vanilla ice cream as a finishing touch doesn't hurt.) If you have skewers, fresh fruit kabobs with bananas, strawberries, apples, and any other ingredient that tickles your sweet tooth are a fun alternative. 

Related: 35 Foods You Wouldn't Think to Grill But Definitely Should Try