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Grilling on a Budget: Our Best Money-Saving Tips, Plus Frugal Recipes

Inflation. Rising housing costs. Higher prices at the pump and the supermarket. And…the holidays are coming. Do you know anyone who isn’t keeping a closer eye on their finances? (Just the other day, we read about a billionaire who always clips coupons and books seats in coach.) To help you trim the cost of grilling and smoking, we put our heads together and came up with our best tips for saving money. And we’d love to hear about any tips you have on Instagram, Facebook, or X (formerly Twitter).

Grilling on a Budget

Host Brunch Instead of Dinner: The time of day can make a huge difference in the cost of a barbecue for friends and family. A weekend brunch not only saves you money, but frees up a good chunk of the day for other activities. Brunch is less reliant on pricy proteins—eggs are still a bargain, and can be turned into a frittata or Dutch baby—accompanied by grilled sausages, bacon, ham, or pineapple. You’ll also save money on alcohol. Put together an inexpensive Bloody Mary bar if your guests like to imbibe.

Fire-Roasted Bloody Maria - Grilling on a Budget

Make Your Own Rubs and Sauces: If you’re an avid griller or smoker, it definitely pays to make your own rubs and barbecue sauces. We recommend purchasing spices at big box stores, discount stores, or restaurant supply houses. (Buying larger quantities online is an option, too.) Homemade rubs and sauces also make great gifts! For inspiration, we suggest Steven’s book, Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades.

Purchase Grilling Equipment When It’s on Sale: Like grills, grilling accessories and fuel often go on sale. Stock up on charcoal, wood, smoking chips, pellets, and other grilling equipment when you see it offered at a good price.

Stainless Steel Ultimate Rib Rack - Grilling on a Budget

Improvise: Your gas grill didn’t come with a side burner? For around $50, you can buy a tabletop butane burner similar to the ones Steven uses on his show, Planet Barbecue. Make your own chimney lighters by stuffing 3-inch lengths of cardboard paper towel rolls with oil-soaked paper towels or brown paper. Place under your chimney starter before lighting. Don’t have a chimney starter? You can fabricate one from a large tin can (instructions can be found online). A large pot lid (such as the kind that accompanies woks) can be used as a dome when you want to melt cheese on a burger or finish cooking proteins. While we love the charcoal baskets that help us set up our kettle grills for indirect grilling, coals can be corralled using a short length of firewood. Any other clever ideas?

Plan Menus Around Less Expensive Cuts of Meat or Fish: Bargains at the meat/seafood counter are getting harder to find, but we still love pork loin, pork tenderloin, pork shoulder and shoulder steaks, pork chops, pork temple meat, country-style ribs, chicken legs and thighs, chicken quarters, cod, and—especially this time of year—turkey. (The annual turkey harvest has not yet begun at this writing, and marketers will be eager to unload frozen whole turkeys, ground turkey, and breasts.) Frugal beef eaters will be well-served by buying cheaper cuts of steak like flatirons, skirt steak, hamburger, and one of our favorite cuts, petite tenderloins (also called teres major). Beef cut from the chuck can be amazing. As we’ve said so many times, make friends with your butcher, and let him or her know you love great meat, but are adaptable. Also consider using meat as a condiment, rather than the main event. One dish we love that illustrates this technique is Thai Grilled Beef Salad.

Thai Grilled Beef Salad

Serve Substantial Side Dishes: Your guests will eat less meat or other proteins if you give them options—pasta salads, smoked baked beans, smoked mac ‘n’ cheese (one of our most popular recipes), coleslaw, grilled vegetables, grilled bread sticks, baked potatoes, fruits, etc. This is a place where you can invite your guests to contribute. It invests them in the success of your party, and saves you money!

Barbecue Baked Beans

Head over to the BBQ500 club on Facebook. We have an amazing community!

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