Barbecue season is almost upon us. Before you fire up the grill, though, better reassess your budget.
The wholesale price of USDA cuts of choice beef hit all-time highs earlier this month, and the costs for ground chuck, chicken and other common grill staples have also been rising.
These eight strategies will let you barbecue to your heart’s content and still have money left over to burn:
Consider a used grill
“There are dozens and dozens of gently used grills on Craigslist,” says grill collector Troy Redington, the founder of WeberKettleClub.com.
“Used Weber charcoal grills are often posted for $20 or less, sometimes even free.” A replacement grille might add another $20.
Hold off on new gear
If you really want a new grill, wait until later in the summer.
“The beginning of the season is not the best time to buy a grill,” says Kendal Perez of CouponSherpa.com. “Hold off until August when stores are eager to rid their floors of seasonal inventory.”
Watch for meat markdowns
“Ask your butcher what time of day they typically mark down meat,” says Jeanette Pavini, a consumer savings expert for Coupons.com.
“This is generally overstock or meat approaching its sell by date, but it is still possible to stock up if you freeze it immediately,” says Pavini.
Markdowns usually happen either in the morning or at night, but some stores cut prices twice, she says.
Load up the grill
Veggies, fruit, bread, desserts — you can grill them all.
So as long as you have the grill fired up, take advantage.
Stock up during sales
“I stock up on steaks when ‘choice’ is featured on the front page of the sales circular,” says Teri Gault, chief executive of TheGroceryGame.com. That’s usually 50% off the regular price.
For charcoal, holiday weekends including Memorial Day, Labor Day and July 4th often have the best sales, Redington says.
“Stores like Home Depot and Lowes will offer twin-packs of 15- or 20-pound bags for a price equal to or lower than the price of a single bag,” he says. “Buy a year’s worth!”
Turn trash into treasure
Home cook Greg Palomino gets his pecan and oak wood for smoking from the trimmings neighbors cut down and leave curbside for “brush pick up days.”
“It seems weird, but in Texas — home of the best BBQ — some of that wood through a re-seller can be $10 per six pieces, which may only last two to four hours,” he says.
He adds, “ I save about $50 to $100 in wood when I wait for those days.”
Pick the right cuts
Usually, a large cut of meat will be cheaper than the same amount cut into smaller pieces, Pavini says. (A whole chicken, for example, is often cheaper per pound than boneless breasts.)
Redington says cheaper cuts often work well on the grill.
Among his favorites are chuck-eye steaks (“They have a lot of marbling, which translates to lots of great flavor.”), pork butt steaks (“They’re considerably cheaper than the center-cut pork chop, and they’re also less lean, which means they won’t dry out as easily.”) and pork butts (“If you’re entertaining a big crowd, you’ll get the most meat for your money.”).
Soak wood chips
It’ll get the most smoke out of them, says Jay Ducote of BiteandBooze.com. “Soaked chips won’t burn as quickly and will produce more smoke for the meat,” he says.
He continues, “If you don’t soak your chips, they’ll burn too quickly, meaning you’ll have to throw more money on the fire.”
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.