The 6 Cheapest Proteins to Pick for Your Summer BBQ
As inflation continues to rise (food prices increased a whopping 8.6% in the last 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), it may feel challenging to think about all the summer gatherings and family traditions that could now seem out of reach. While our wallets may seem tight right now, there are still plenty of ways to ensure we can gather, celebrate and revel in summer's incredible bounty this season. And that begins with shopping smarter.
One of the simplest ways to ensure the preservation of our summer BBQ traditions is by switching up our protein intake. We've rounded up six delicious, nutritious and satisfying proteins that will be excellent stand-ins for your usual steak, chicken breast and pork tenderloin. We've also offered recipes for each to help you get inspired, and that your family and friends will love, too.
1. Chicken Thighs
Chicken breast has reigned supreme as the cut of choice for too long, and we love that more and more folks are choosing delicious, nutritious chicken thighs as a cost-effective protein of choice. Similar to chicken breast, thighs are full of protein (each thigh boasts around 18 grams!), and if you leave the skin on, you'll also get a collagen boost. Plus, chicken thighs are great sources of zinc and selenium, which can help keep your immune system in tip-top shape, and you'll save a few bucks along the way. Chicken thighs typically cost less than $2 per pound, compared to over $5 per pound for chicken breasts.
If you're new to cooking with chicken thighs, we have plenty of tips and recipes to make them a seamless addition to your culinary regimen. Check out our Grilled Chicken Thighs with Summer Corn Salad to serve at your next BBQ.
Tofu is a very cost-effective protein, and one of our favorite versions is Trader Joe's Organic Sprouted Tofu, which can usually be found for less than $3 for five servings. While some of us might have eaten some less-than-appetizing tofu in the past, it can be absolutely delicious when properly prepared. While soy foods have received a lot of scientific scrutiny, tofu is a great source of plant protein, iron and calcium, and definitely has a place in a healthy diet.
When it comes to grilling, we like to start with extra-firm tofu and expel as much water as possible with a tofu press (or a makeshift press with cloth towels and a few heavy-duty cookbooks). You can let it press for 30 minutes or up to several hours. Afterward, you can boost the flavor by letting the tofu marinate in your sauce of choice—try it out in our Grilled Tofu with Korean BBQ Glaze & Stir-Fried Napa Cabbage Recipe. Let the tofu marinate for at least 30 minutes to properly absorb all the flavors, but you're better off with a few hours if you have the time.
Pork has fallen out of fashion in recent decades, but it's delicious and versatile—and it can still be a budget-friendly choice depending on the cuts you purchase. One of our favorite summer BBQ dishes is a pulled pork sandwich, and pork butts and shoulders are typically even lower in price than chops. However, they do require a bit more time to achieve that perfect juicy texture, so keep that in mind as you plan for your gathering.
If you're looking for something simpler but want to keep your grocery bill down, pork chops are still less expensive than beef steaks and look really beautiful on a plate. Satisfy all your guests with our Grilled Bone-In Pork Chops recipe or really dazzle a crowd with our Grilled Pork Chops with Chile & Pineapple. Pork chops are low in calories compared to most other animal proteins, and still offer 15 grams of protein per serving to keep you satiated.
4. Ground Beef
While beef has been heavily impacted by inflation as a whole, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, ground beef can still be found at a budget-friendly price point in many places for whipping up burgers, kebabs and more. Plus, if you shop for ground beef at stores like Aldi, you can opt for a grass-fed version without going over budget. According to North Dakota State University, you'll get the most nutrients by opting for leaner ground beef options, but the cheaper cuts with 70% to 80% fat will still offer plenty of protein, iron and zinc per serving.
One of our favorite ways to stretch ground beef is by combining it with mushrooms to make out-of-this-world burgers. Our Grilled Beef-Mushroom Burgers with Quick Pickles are sure to become a new favorite and our Kefta recipe is great for an easy-breezy build-your-own gyro night that the whole family will love.
While we're not exactly going to throw a can of beans on the grill, stocking up on a variety of legumes, from chickpeas to black beans, will help stretch your dollar and nourish all kinds of eaters at your next BBQ. Beans are one of the cheapest protein sources out there, as you can find cans for less than 75 cents at Walmart. Beyond offering an impressive 14 grams of protein per cup, you'll also get more than half of your daily fiber needs, plus a host of vitamins and minerals.
When it comes to grilling, you can swap out expensive faux meat burgers for a more nourishing, cost-effective bean burger. Our Cilantro Bean Burgers with Creamy Avocado-Lime Slaw are always a hit in the summertime, and you can also rely on beans to make hearty side dishes, as in our Chunky Black Bean Salsa with Corn & Bell Pepper or everyone's favorite baked beans recipe. The possibilities are endless!
5. Whatever's On Sale
We love staking out the deals happening at our favorite local grocery stores before choosing where to shop (check out the Flipp app to make doing so easy). Especially if you have a large crowd to feed, planning your BBQ menu around what's on sale could be a huge asset in keeping your bill as low as possible. Plus, it just might mean you get to opt for a protein you didn't think was in your budget otherwise.
Whether it's chicken, tofu or pork chops, any of these proteins will make a delicious and nutritious addition to your summer gathering. Plus, shopping for in-season produce will only help you continue the savings and will make for a more delicious meal. Then you can focus on what's most important: gathering and nourishing the people you love most.