Food Money Saving Tips

10 Frugal Tips for a Perfect Summer Barbecue

10 Frugal Tips for a Perfect Summer Barbecue
Written by Oana Schneider

Summer is the perfect time for grilling burger patties, chicken thighs, steaks and other hunger-inducing meat dishes. Part of the experience is family members spending time on the grill to come up with perfectly grilled meat, and combining it with other home cooked dishes for a fun outdoor barbecue.

But if you are always playing host to such events for friends or family members, you would not want to spend too much money on the task. How can you hold the perfect summer barbecue without spending too much? It’s all about knowing which aspects of grilling you should invest in, and which ones you can easily scrimp on without affecting the taste of your grilled dishes. Here, we will be giving out frugal tips on how you can plan the perfect summer barbecue. 

How to Save Money for the Perfect Summer Barbecue

Your goal is to plan the perfect outdoor summer barbecue while producing excellent tasting grilled dishes but without spending too much. How can you do exactly that? Take a look at our top ten tips on how to save money for the perfect summer barbecue:  

1. Choose your grill wisely.

There are three major types of outdoor grills available: charcoal, gas, and electric. Here are a few basics about the three:

  • Charcoal Grill
    As the name implies, a charcoal grill will give the meat that smoky flavor, even if you will just use oil as a rub. This type of grill uses briquettes of burnt wood or charcoal, regular grilling wood or a combination of both. The only disadvantage of using charcoal grill is that food takes longer to cook, and the grill itself requires more maintenance.
  • Gas Grill
    Just like the regular gas-operated stovetop cooker in your kitchen, gas grills cook food more quickly. Gas grills open using a push button, a rotary control or an electronic lighter. Gas is cheaper than charcoal so using this type of grill, you will save more money on fuel. The downside is that gas tanks are heavy and require a lot of effort to set up initially.
  • Electric Grill
    Finally, you can go for electric grills. Fortunately for those who want utmost convenience, the technology behind using electric grills has greatly improved over the years. Electric grills will still give you that smoky flavor, although the way that the grill itself operates is a lot different.

Aside from the type of grill, you should also consider its size, sturdiness, and grill grate. If you love holding outdoor barbecues, you should go for a very sturdy and a large enough grill. When it comes to the type of grill grate, you can take your pick from cast iron, porcelain-coated, porcelain-coated cast iron and stainless steel. There are pros and cons to choosing any of these types of grill grates. For instance, cast iron cooks food well because heat is evenly distributed on the grill grates. The downside is that they are quite heavy, and maintenance is required to prevent rust.

Porcelain-coated grills grates prevent food from sticking, but the glazed part of the metal can easily chip and become rusty. A porcelain-coated cast iron grill grate does prevent food from sticking onto the surface and is rust-resistant. Finally, there’s stainless steel grill grates that are highly resistant to rust, but food can easily stick to the grates.

Just because a particular type and brand of grill is the most expensive does not mean that it will suit your needs well. You still need to consider your budget, the maintenance of the grill, the fuel source, and the way that it cooks food. Make a comparison of these things so that you can decide which outdoor grill can be considered as the best investment for you and your family.

10 Frugal Tips for a Perfect Summer Barbecue

2. Don’t spend all your money on meat.

Some cuts of meat and fish are more expensive than others. Just because you’re holding an outdoor barbecue does not mean that you have to dole out a lot of money on premium cuts of meat. Instead of spending your entire budget on porterhouse steak, look for a less pricey kind of steak like skirt or flank.

You can also substitute fancy boneless chicken breast with chicken legs and thighs, or even wings, which are a lot more flavorful. For fish, skip the most expensive catch of the day that supermarkets usually offer in favor of mackerel or blue fish, which are both perfect for grilling.

3. Don’t spend too much money on grill accessories.

If it’s your first time to set up a grilling station at home, you might go overboard in buying those fancy grill accessories. Although there’s nothing wrong in purchasing a good pair of grilling tongs, you can limit your shopping to that and a meat thermometer. Choose a pair of tongs with a long handle and a scalloped end to prevent grilled items from falling through the grill grates.

4. Grill enough for leftovers to save money on fuel.

Remember that every time you fire up that grill, you are spending money on fuel – whether it’s charcoal, electricity or propane gas. To maximize the use of fuel, grill enough meat for leftovers. Put the barbecued meat in the fridge and reheat by sprinkling the meat with some water or even more barbecue sauce. Wrap in foil, and cook over indirect heat for five minutes.

You can make pulled pork sandwich from those leftover steak pieces, or incorporate grilled chicken bits on your favorite salad recipe.

5. Use inexpensive ingredients and a bit of preparation.

What’s your outdoor barbecue menu like? If you are sticking with the classics like grilled chicken, hot dogs, sausages and burger patties, add some twist to make them taste expensive. You don’t even need to buy a lot of expensive ingredients.

For example, you can incorporate bits of blue cheese onto your burger patties or marinade those chicken thighs overnight to make them taste delicious. Even a special barbecue sauce from a family recipe will make all the difference when it comes to how those grilled dishes will taste.

6. Make your own rubs and sauces.

Those pre-packaged barbecue rub and bottled sauces in the supermarket cost a lot of money. Why spend a lot on them when you can make your own rubs and sauces at home. Rubs are simply a combination of spices, while sauces are basically ketchup or tomato sauce and a combination of other spices and liquid ingredients. You can use whatever spices you have in the pantry, experiment and come up with your own recipes.

7. Make friends with your local butcher.

What better way is there to get the hottest deals on meat cuts than befriending your local butcher? He or she will give you the inside scoop on when your favorite cuts of meat will be on sale. These meat experts can also give you tips on which unpopular meat cuts are as tasty as the more popular cuts of meat, but are less expensive.

10 Frugal Tips for a Perfect Summer Barbecue

8. Stop using too much fuel.

If you have a charcoal grill, you might end up buying or using too much charcoal. A little goes a long way once the grill is already fired up, so do not dump all the contents of that ten-pound bag of charcoal on a medium-sized grill, especially if you are only cooking lean cuts of meat.

A good rule of thumb to follow is for you to use three pounds of charcoal for the amount of meat that it will take to feed four to six guests. For propane grillers, set it on high for the first five minutes, then turn it down to let the meat cook slowly. Turn the gas off right away as soon as you’re done cooking.

9. Prolong the life of your grill.

If you have invested good money on buying the perfect grill, you would not want to purchase another one so soon. Make sure to prioritize its maintenance so that you can prolong the life of your grill. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on what you need to do to keep the grill grates from rusting.

Before and after every use, get rid of the ashes. You can also oil the grate and if you treat your grill right, it can last you for more than two decades of barbecuing.

10. Turn everyday objects into a DIY grill.

Finally, you can’t carry your grill everywhere you go – so if you’re braving the outdoors during the summer season, there are everyday objects that you can turn into a DIY grill. A ceramic flowerpot, for example, can be used as a grilling station.

The drum of an old washing machine, old tires, a baby carriage, a tin can, a wagon, a wheelbarrow – be creative and combine these everyday objects with aluminum foil, a metal grill, and some charcoal so that you can have that grill fired up in no time!

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About the author

Oana Schneider

Oana Schneider is a published author located in Chicago, Illinois and was part of our team as a communication specialist and blog editor. She writes about lifestyle, family budget and has a degree in Communications.


  • I know a lot of people who buy too much meat and then it all ends up wasted because there is nobody there to eat it at the end of the night. So you should think about how many people are going, and count the amount of each item you will need, assuming that everybody will want some of something. That’s what I always do, and will then put some more food out as well, like nibbles, so that those who want more food can definitely have it. I love a good BBQ – if it is planned to perfection, everybody can have a really great time!

  • These are excellent points on great ways to be frugal during a summer BBQ. We’ve been using the same grill for quite some time and don’t overuse the gas. We make leftovers as well just to have them. And don’t book just meat. We throw on onions, potatoes and peppers sometimes. Our town has a shop with meat always at a good price so luckily we can save money by going there.

  • Reducing your fuel usage is great, not only for saving money, but also for the environment in general. Not that barbeques are really that huge of an offender in the overall scheme of things, but not burning more fossil fuels than necessary is a good policy to have in all areas of your energy usage.

    I also like the tip on making enough for leftovers. I use this method with pretty much all my cooking, in part to avoid heating up the kitchen every single hot summer night just to get food prepared when everyone is too hot to want to eat it until it has sat on the plate a while and cooled down. Eating cold leftovers is really a great way to save as well as making summer dinners more pleasant by not causing your body to practically overheat due to consuming hot food in hot weather.

  • Alot of great ideas in here. Making your own sauces is a genius idea and i would have never thought to do so. I could also use some more tasty spices on my ribs too. Also i like the idea of cooking enough for leftovers to save money on charcoal. And there would also be more food for me to eat. This site offers great tips in barbecue. Thanks

  • It’s interesting that most of your tips are about saving on fuel. I think you’re right about not needing as much as you think you do. I’d be willing to bet that most of us overuse fuel when barbecuing. It’s also good that you mentioned maintenance of your grill. That’s especially true for propane-fueled grills.

  • I am very new at grilling! I just learned how to use a grill this last summer and I just love the crispy, juicy, delicious meats and veggies I grill. Marinating meat overnight is something I did not think about so I look forward to trying that. Heck, maybe I will toss in some veggies as well!

    The idea of making enough for leftovers was inspiring to me. It made me think maybe I can have a meal prep day where I fire up the grill and cook enough meat and veggies for lunches all week! How could you fail a healthy diet with that tip on your side?

  • I got a small grill last year, since it’s very hot here, and I figured I’d only use it a few times a year. I’m happy with it, but eventually will want a larger one. I like the idea of building my own out back eventually, using bricks or concrete blocks and a grill. I just found out about wood chip boxes, and am surprised at how affordable they are, so that will also be something I’ll be using. I definitely cook as much at one time as I can, of meat and vegetables, also, since they’re delicious grilled. I love barbecue leftovers, and it saves on cooking indoors for several days.

  • Usually when I cook meat on the grill, I put the temperature on fairly high to make sure that everything is cooked through properly; however, this technique is using more propane than I would like. I wasn’t sure what else to do until I read your tip about cooking on high for a few minutes and then turning the grill down to let it cook the rest of the way. I image this would take longer, but it would overall save more propane, which saves more money. With summer still in full swing, these grilling tips with propane will make the summer much better and much less expensive.

  • I didn’t realize that propane costs less than charcoal. I do love the taste of a charcoal-grilled steak, but I am all about saving money. I know I should know this answer, but can any of these kinds of grills be operated in the rain?

    • Hi Rachel. I can’t tell if anyone replied to your question. I know it’s been over a year, but I just saw it and figured I would reply.

      Gas and charcoal grills can be used in the rain. (It depends on how hard it’s raining tho. If a heavy rain, you’ll get your food all wet and can’t have the lid off the grill (esp. the charcoal grill) for a lengthy time or it’ll extinguish the coals. If it’s a drizzle, then yes. Just be quick when the lid is open and cover your food immediately upon taking it off the grill so not to be water-logged.)

      I would not use an electric grill in the rain. While it’s rated for outside use, it’s still an electrical appliance – and you should never use electrical devices in water/rain.

      Hope all is well!

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