A bowl of green grass

Outdoor Grilling on a Budget

Getting our outdoor grill cleaned, polished, and ready for summer got me thinking about how much fun it would be to celebrate. After all, the first day of summer comes but once a year, so why not do things up right with an amazing menu and a few good friends to kick off the season even if that means grilling on a budget.

A bowl of green grass


What happened next I can only attribute to a momentary lapse of good judgment.

I visited the website of Lobel’s of New York, “the best source for the finest and freshest USDA prime dry-aged steaks, roasts, specialty meats, and gourmet products that money can buy.”

Unveiling the mother of all outdoor grills seemed like an event worthy of a few high-quality American Wagyu steaks delivered overnight on a bed of dry ice. I checked the price. Gulp! One 20-oz Porterhouse steak: $159.95—plus overnight shipping.



A close up of a slice of pizza sitting on top of a table

Photo: Lobel’s New York


Just the thought of forking out more than a hundred bucks on a single steak jerked me back to reality with enough force to cause whiplash.

Surely, there has to be frugal ground somewhere between Lobel’s and what’s left of the buy-one-get-one-free hotdogs sitting in the freezer.

Professional butcher, John Smith, and author of Confessions of a Butcher: Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget and Save $$$ says that the cheap cuts of beef are often the most flavorful. And also the toughest. But don’t let that discourage you from buying those meat-counter bargains. If you know the tricks you can buy the flavorful cheap cuts of meat without ending up with meat that is bland and tough.

Select first

Don’t get your mind set on what you’ll be grilling this weekend before you get to the store. That particular cut may not be on sale. Instead, go with an open mind. Zero-in on the cuts of meat that are in season, plentiful and well-priced. And if it’s really cheap? Buy extra for the freezer.

RELATED: Worst and Best Ways to Grill Chicken


A marinade is the secret to making a tough cut of meat as succulent and tender as a prime cut. Just make sure your marinade of choice contains acids like vinegar, lemon, and wine. Acid breaks down the meat to make it tender. Enzymatic action from wine, beer, cider, and soy sauce also help.

Here’s my favorite marinade for any cut of beef, even kabobs. This is so flavorful and loaded with tenderizing acids you’re going to understand why I call this a miracle in a jar.

All-Purpose Beef Marinade

    • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
    • 1/2 cup soy sauce
    • 1/2 cup white wine or balsamic vinegar
    • 1/3 cup lemon juice
    • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 tablespoons ground dry mustard
    • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
    • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Combine all ingredients in a jar or other container that has a lid. Shake well until fully mixed. Pour over meat and cover. Allow marinating overnight, turning often.

MORE: It’s All About the Sauce


The only way to guarantee that your meat will be moist, tender, and cooked to a safe temperature is with a food thermometer. Forget the “poke test” where you’re supposed to be able to discern a piece of meat’s level of doneness by poking at it with your finger. You need a decent thermometer that can get deep into whatever you’re grilling.

The easiest and most reliable way to serve a perfectly grilled fare is with a probe alarm. You simply insert the probe and then sit back and wait for it to reach the temperature you have designated.

ThermoWorks ChefAlarm is my pick for the best probe thermometer out there. It’s a few dollars more than the cheapest thing you could find, but this is the probe thermometer you will use and rely on for years—decades—to come. It is super accurate, reliable and durable, too.

 on a table

A less expensive, easy-to-use, and reliable option is the ThermoWorks ThermoPop digital display food thermometer. This pocket thermometer rotates the display in 90-degree increments. Hold the ThermoPop in either hand or read it when it’s upside down—any angle that’s convenient. To check the temperature, simply insert then wait for 3 to 4 seconds for a digital display. Comes in a choice of  9 cool colors.

First Published: 6-26-18 with a time-sensitive Giveaway opportunity. ▪︎ Last Updated : 5-5-20

Got grilling stories—good or bad? We’d love for you to share them in the comments below.

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There are affiliate links in this post. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks! Read more here

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179 replies
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  1. Tam says:

    My children won’t come to a bbq at my house because they claim that I overcook the meat till it is inedible. I’veonly done that a couple of times! Guess a thermometer would really help!

  2. Sandra Foster says:

    My husband thinks the way to discover if steak or hamburger us cooked enough is to cut it and look at it. That lets the juice run out and defeats letting the meat “rest.”

  3. Debbie B says:

    My husband can not cook a good steak, they are always too well done which is great for him because that’s the way he likes his but I like mine a little more rare. This would be a great help for both of us!

  4. Alisia says:

    I do not own a good thermometer so this would be awesome! Especially around turkey cooking time. Thanks for the chance to win & for all the great advice. ( :

  5. Terri Knoble Lannan says:

    Many years ago at a gathering at our house to celebrate my daughter’s baptism my husband very much under grilled some brats. I never heard of anyone getting sick but I think they were being nice by not telling us. Once we found out he recooked them…but it was still a horrible thing that could have been avoided with a good thermometer.

  6. barbara baird says:

    My husband of nearly 49 years was our grillmaster for the 1st 47 years but he now has 4th stage renal cancer. The chemotherapy that he has been on for nearly 2 years now causes him great fatigue . Due to this, after all these years, I am now the family griller & not very good at it. I’m still learning how to know when the meat is done. That thermometer would be a big help for this new grill cook so that meat would be cooked thru but not dry & overdone. Whether I win it or not, I love your newsletters & often pass them on to friends.Thanks!

  7. Linda Waud says:

    Our meat thermometer died, leaving us with a couple of grilling disasters. Not sure what happened but the thing reads all over the place. Since my husband just retired, I’m seeing a lot of grilling ahead that won’t include nearly setting the garage on fire (last summer). This would be an amazing gift to celebrate our new future. Thanks for the marinade. Shopping for “cheap” meat today!

  8. Birgit Nicolaisen says:

    My husband is our grill master. We joke that he puts my steak on 10 minutes before his. I like a well-done steak, no pink thank you very much. He marinates the meat in a teriyaki sauce with added garlic, then vacuum seals and freezes it. As the steak defrosts, the marinate soaks into the meat and makes it tender and delicious. I can’t eat steak out anymore, it’s just not the same.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      There you go! And I’ll bet it doesn’t have to be of the $159-a-pound variety to be awesome. Great tip about vacuum sealing before freezing. My FoodsSaver gets a workout every day.

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