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.

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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

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  1. Sharon Bolderson says:

    I would love a Thermapen MK4 because I do all of the everyday BBQing in between running back and forth to the kitchen to finish off stuff on the stove or get condiments out, etc. I like my steak well done and my husband and daughter like it medium and it’s hard to get everyone’s just the way they like it. Sometimes I get it right, but more often someone’s is too well done or not done enough and sometimes when I run back out to the BBQ there’s been a flame up and someone’s steak it getting BLACK! Grilling would sure be a lot easier with the Thermapen MK4 to tell me exactly when to take everyone’s steak off the BBQ. Thanks for the giveaway Mary. I love all your posts, you give a lot of precise information so there are not questions. Love your books too!

  2. Deb says:

    Mine isn’t a disaster that happened, it is a disaster waiting to happen. I want to grill chicken, but am scared to death of serving raw chicken and have my husband bury it under a napkin like he did with his mom’s chicken. I would love to have a fast reliable meat thermometer.

  3. bonmarche says:

    I agree with Janet, everyone deserves a Thermapen. Although I’m not as young as Janet, (72 here), I’d like to have a success or two before I hang up my spatula. I can relate to every grilling disaster imaginable. But Chicken seems to be the meat that usually gets away from me. I have the right grill marks and the outside looks great, then I cut it open and the middle is raw! I usually end up microwaving it so we can eat it. If I leave it on a few extra minutes, it isn’t red in the middle anymore, but it’s so dry you need a gallon of iced tea to get it down. Needless to say, I also need ones of these “newfangled” thermometers.

  4. KLB says:

    My husband thinks he can tell when the meat is done just by looking at it…..we all would appreciate it if he had a ThermaPen!!

  5. Carissa Harvego says:

    My worst grilling experience was when I was grilling chicken breasts. The outside of the chicken ended up black and crusty, and the insides were dry and disgusting. A good thermometer would have saved that dinner for sure!

  6. antiemelinda says:

    I always guess when the meat is done when I’m grilling so this thermometer would be helpful to ensure that I grill my food to the proper temperature.

  7. Jessica Gipson says:

    I cannot cook chicken on the grill at a good temp. The outside will be crisp but the inside tough. The last grill chicken I made it went into the trash and I vowed never to try it again HOWEVER with this thermo pop/pen this will save me. Thank you for the opportunity.

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