Grilling without breaking the bank is possible if you plan your menu carefully. We've put together this comprehensive guide to grilling on a budget, so you can create the cheap BBQ party of your dreams. You'll find money-saving tips for grocery shopping, smart ways to stretch ingredients, and easy grilling recipes to wow your family and friends.
Choose Affordable Cuts of Meat
When choosing a protein for your main course, avoid overspending by selecting less expensive cuts of meat. For instance:
- Skip pricey boneless chicken breasts and opt for less expensive bone-in thighs, legs, or drumsticks. (As a bonus, these chicken parts are more flavorful, too).
- Similarly, bone-in pork will stay juicier on the grill and can often be bought on sale.
- Pick up a package of sausages and grill them for topping with mayo and mustard on submarine buns.
- If you want to serve steak, choose affordable flank or skirt steaks, which can be stretched by slicing and serving the meat in tacos and fajitas.
- If you're lucky enough to live near a coast or lake, browse the fresh catch at your local fish market. This is a great way to find deals on fillets that cost way less (and often taste better) than farmed fish sold at supermarkets.
Make Your Own Burgers
Making your own burgers is a fantastic way to serve a cookout crowd. Ground chuck is typically inexpensive and homemade burgers are way more delicious than store-bought ones that might include a laundry list of preservatives or shrink to half their packaged size on the grill.
You can make a great burger using only ground meat and simple seasonings or stretch your meat mix with sneaky ingredients that make it go further. Try adding a 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs or rolled oats to each pound of ground beef. This not only maximizes your food dollar, but adds a nice texture and flavor to finished burgers. (If the meat mixture feels dry when forming patties, you can add a beaten egg to help with binding).
Once burgers are grilled, get creative with toppings. There are tons of ways to dress up a basic burger and make it feel like an event aside from the usual classic condiments. Here are just a few ideas:
- Fresh herbs such as mint and cilantro
- Cole slaw
- Sliced jalapeno peppers
- Diced avocado
- Refried beans
- Warmed chili
- Nacho cheese
- Crumbled bacon
- Sauteed mushrooms
- Grilled pineapple
- Roasted red peppers
- BBQ sauce
Colorful grilled kebabs are visually appealing and a versatile way to feed cookout guests. Make kebabs using beef, chicken, lamb, or pork, and load up skewers with more veggies than meat to extend your food budget. Or skip the meat entirely and use cubed firm tofu, tempeh, or paneer.
Thread your protein onto skewers, alternating with lots of hearty veggies that can stand up well to the grill, such as whole small mushrooms, chopped bell peppers, brined eggplant slices, red onion sections, zucchini rounds, and cherry tomatoes. Add extra flavor by marinating skewers in a quick homemade vinaigrette for 15 minutes before grilling.
- Use inexpensive bamboo skewers, soaking them in warm water for at least 30 minutes before grilling (this helps to avoid scorching). You may also wish to spray skewers lightly with cooking spray before you add ingredients to them, so food slides off easily after grilling.
Use Pantry Ingredients for Dry Rubs
Add flavor to grilled meats and kebabs by making your own dry rubs. You can do this using ingredients you probably stock already in your spice rack. Not only will you save money on premade seasoning mixes, but your homemade concoctions will probably taste better. Here are some easy dry rub recipes to try:
- Dry Chimichurri Steak Rub
- Dry Jerk Rub for Poultry
- Chipotle Dry Rub for Ribs
- Sweet and Spicy Dry Rub for Chicken or Pork
- Garlic Dry Rub for Pork
- Cajun Fish Seasoning
- Lemon Pepper Seasoning for Fish or Chicken
Make Your Own Marinades and Glazes
Add flavor to meats by making your own marinades. Many store-bought sauces are nothing more than doctored ketchup or tomato sauce, which are easy (and cheap) to duplicate at home. You can make mouth-watering glazes for grilled meat and vegetables with common pantry staples, including maple syrup, soy sauce, and white or balsamic vinegar. Here are some budget-friendly recipes to try:
- Apricot-Chili Glaze for Chicken
- Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar Marinade for Fish
- Mexican Marinade for Meat, Poultry, or Fish
- Whiskey Cola Marinade for Beef or Pork Ribs
- Jamaican Jerk Marinade for Beef, Seafood, or Poultry
- Tandoori Marinade for Meat, Fish, or Vegetables
- Lemon and Rosemary Marinade Recipe for Chicken
- Pineapple Marinade for Chicken
- Mediterranean Marinade for Chicken or Pork
- Korean BBQ Short Ribs Marinade
- Easy Soy Marinade for Steaks
Round Out Plates With Easy Homemade Sides
Serving filling side dishes is a time-honored way to save money on mains, while satisfying hungry cookout guests. You need only a little time and effort to make tasty BBQ sides at a fraction of the cost of store-bought platters. Pasta salads, potato salads, coleslaws, and other inexpensive side dishes are always popular at parties, and complement just about any cookout main.
Serve Budget-Friendly Desserts
After a big plate of food groaning with sides, your guests may be ready for something cold and sweet. Keep them smiling with simple desserts that will satisfy their sweet tooth, without requiring much money outlay or effort. You might choose to serve bowls of homemade ice cream topped with grilled fruit or a no-bake treat.