Backyard BBQ on a Budget: 5 Grill Master Approved Cheap Cuts for Grilling
Breaking out the grill is a time-honored tradition of warmer weather and weekend barbecues. However, getting your grill on isn’t all good vibes. Even though it’s not filet mignon, throwing another shrimp (or ribeye) on the barbie can put a bigger dent in your budget than expected.
Although soaring food inflation has stabilized, certain cuts of beef remain a serious investment, even for committed grilling enthusiasts. Thankfully, professional chefs and grill masters confirm you don’t need expensive cuts to achieve superior flavor.
How Much Does Grilling Cuts of Beef Cost You?
As with most things, the cost of meat will depend on which beef cuts you buy and where and when you shop. While the average cost of a backyard barbecue used to tip the scales at just over $100 in 2020, rising prices for most steaks and even pricier ground beef mean that cost has certainly increased.
We connected with grill masters across the country to discover how they’re still hosting budget-friendly shindigs without skimping on all the rich flavor grilling brings to the table. Their advice? Watch the sales, buy in bulk and think outside the traditional BBQ box.
“When you entertain can help you save money,” says Steven Raichlen, James Beard award winner and author of The Barbecue Bible. “Host Sunday brunch, for example. Prepare egg-based dishes and breakfast meats like sausages or bacon — maybe add grilled fruit. And unless you hang with the bloody mary and mimosa crowd, your liquor bill will be lower, too.”
5 Grill Master-Endorsed Cheap Meats That Don’t Sacrifice on Flavor
Before you head to the supermarket to snag cheap steak cuts, consider these affordable beef alternatives. And as Kita Roberts of GirlCarnivore.com reminds us, your deep freezer is always your barbecue budget’s best friend.
“When it comes to feeding a crowd, or your family, on a tight budget, go old school and scan the weekly flyers from your nearby grocery stores,” Roberts advises. “If you can’t wait for a sale, buying in bulk is usually cheaper if you have the freezer space.”
1.Thick-Cut Pork Chops
Forget the chuck eye. Well marbled, bone-in pork chops are economical cuts of pork that are perfect for the grill. If you’re worried the chops will turn out dry when cooked, use the grill master’s secret sauce and brine before grilling.
2. Affordable Fish
Don’t skip the seafood when planning the main course for your next backyard barbecue. Avoid expensive catches like lobster and go for similar fish with the same qualities.
“Substitute cod, mackerel or fresh sardines for lobster, sole, shrimp or tuna,” Raichlen advises. “Mussels or clams make great appetizers.”
3. Pork Butt or Pork Shoulder
Value cuts like pork butt often get overlooked as barbecue meats, but Roberts says these slow-cooking stars can have a tender texture when prepared properly.
“Don’t overlook a pork shoulder when on sale for great smoked pulled pork. It can look like a lot, but if you smoke it until it pulls apart, you can serve what you need for pulled pork sandwiches and freeze leftovers in batches for carnitas and nachos later on, getting several meals out of one cook.”
4. Chicken Thighs
“Because of their popularity, chicken breasts and wings are still pricey,” says Raichlen. “But chicken legs, thighs and chicken quarters (legs and thighs attached) are still a bargain — sometimes as little as 99 cents per pound.”
Remember to buy a little extra to feed your crowd since these chicken cuts will still have the bones attached.
Why choose beef when you could get more gobble on the grill? Turkeys aren’t just for Thanksgiving. You can save money by buying these birds off-season or putting these inexpensive cuts on ice for a few weeks.
Brine the turkey as you would before a holiday meal, then take it out and throw it on the grill with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Or even mix it up with Mediterranean flavors for a slice of the world at your next shindig.
If a Slab of Beef Is Your Jam, Try These Cheap Steak Cuts
You don’t have to buy the most expensive cuts of beef to get the best steak for your next barbecue. Try transforming one of these alternatives into a tender cut for your next summer celebration.
Chuck Eye Steaks
Sometimes called the poor man’s rib-eye, Roberts says a chuck or chuck eye steak is one of the best cheap substitutes for real rib-eye.
“Make friends with your local butcher: They can often give you a heads up when great cuts go on sale,” she says.
Confused by the difference between eye steaks? And what’s a top blade? Check this guide to learn more about different cuts of steak.
Flat Iron Steak or Hanger Steak
Less expensive cuts like flat iron steak or hanger steak make meals that stretch farther than one steak. They are less desirable than Denver steak or petite tender filets because these cuts can be tougher, but it’s nothing a marinade and a quick sear at high heat can’t solve.
Skirt Steak or Flank Steak
When you think of carne asada or even the kind of steak in stir-fries, you’re probably imagining the versatile steak known as a skirt or flank steak. This type of steak has more connective tissue and is best prepared medium rare.
“Our go-to cut for getting the biggest flavor and feeding everyone an amazing meal is flank steak,” says Roberts. “It’s a lean cut that, when marinated, can be grilled quickly with no fancy pellet smoker or high-tech grill required. It’s perfect for fajitas, salads or sandwiches.”
These bone-in cuts of beef are less expensive than steak but require extra preparation and cooking time. Like beef brisket, beef shank cuts are considered the holy grail of grilling as they demonstrate considerable skill by the chef and respond well to smoking and a little reverse sear.
Creating the best grilled burger on the cheap is a contentious subject for grill masters, but one thing is clear: Don’t skimp on the fat. The meat-to-fat ratio on your ground beef should hit between 70-75% to achieve the juicy mouthful your barbecue guests will rave about.
If you’re looking for a cheap alternative to a boneless short rib (or short ribs in general,) a chuck roast is your best bet. This cut of beef will benefit from braising and cooking to an internal temperature of about 200 degrees over the course of 4-6 hours.
Budget-Friendly Cuts Make Great BBQ With the Right Preparation
As any good grill master will remind you, the best barbecue is about cooking, not cost. And unfortunately, many novices make the mistake of trying to grill the way they grew up.
“Many people grew up on food that was direct grilled, i.e., cooked directly over high heat,” Raichlen explains. “A new world opens up when they learn about indirect grilling — cooking low and slow — the very definition in North America of the word ‘barbecue.’”
Roberts also likes to remind barbecue beginners that you don’t have to jump into fancy equipment to get rich flavor.
“There are a lot of great grilling products on the market right now, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed and intimidated by the choices,” she says. “But you don’t need fancy equipment for an amazing barbecue. Our favorite method of cooking is right over the campfire, live fire grilling.”
Kaz Weida is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder covering saving money and budgeting. As a journalist, she has written about a wide array of topics including finance, health, politics, education and technology for the last decade.