The Los Laureles dam, which supplies with potable water one million inhabitants of the capital Tegucigalpa, at a critically low level due to the drought, on March 27, 2014.

How to BBQ for Less Despite High Meat Prices

California’s drought is driving up costs but you can minimize them with these tips.

The Los Laureles dam, which supplies with potable water one million inhabitants of the capital Tegucigalpa, at a critically low level due to the drought, on March 27, 2014.

The lack of water in California is having an impact on food prices.

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We just kicked off the barbecuing season with Memorial Day weekend. With graduation parties, end-of-the-year parties, Fourth of July and Labor Day still on the calendar, barbecue planning is at its peak. Chances are you’ll be hosting one or attending a few this summer.

As you know, the star of every barbecue party is the protein. From steaks to hot dogs, they are the main attraction of the day. Unfortunately, with the drought crisis in California, everything has gone up steadily, especially meat.  And it looks like prices will continue to rise.  

As a result, many barbecue fans are wondering if our favorite summer activity is still affordable. For answers, I reached out to Erin Chase of $5 Dollar Dinners (5dollardinners.com), who knows a thing or two on creating fabulous food without going over budget. Here are her top five tips on how we can throw a yummy barbecue without going over budget:

Loss leader meats: Whatever meat is on sale at your local store will be the star of your backyard bash this season. Take advantage of the “loss leader” savings and grill those ribs, pork chips or steaks, and you don't have to feel guilty about the $100 you just spent on meats. 

BYOD or BYOM. Turn your party into a “bring your own” when it comes to the meat or drinks. Meat and drinks are the most expensive part to any barbecue, and they're also the part of the meal about which guests can be most particular. Have guests bring their favorite meat or brew, and you can fill in the rest of the meal with the sides and desserts. 

Split the sides. Keen on making your favorite steaks for all your guests? Ask everyone to bring their favorite barbecue side dish to share at the party.

Simplify the menu. Keep the menu at your backyard barbecue simple, such as one meat to grill, three favorite side dishes, some garlic bread and one red-white-blue patriotic dessert. 

DIY decor. Get the kids busy drawing or coloring flags to hang out on the deck. Print out some coloring pages that can double as place mats out on the deck. They'll be busy creating the decorations while you man the grill or work in the kitchen. And you'll have some adorable decorations to boot. Win-win.

As for sales, Chase recommends checking around. “Different grocery stores will offer different cuts of meat on special leading up to the holiday weekend. Most shoppers can expect to see their favorite steaks on sale, as well as sausages or brats and pork chops. Be sure to check the Favado app to see which grocery stores are offering the best prices on your favorite meats for the grill,” she says.

Another thing we’re often guilty of when throwing a barbecue is buying things at a higher price for the convenience factor, which can break your budget easily. “Prepared deli foods can be skipped this year. It's cheaper, healthier and tastier to make your own coleslaw, potato salad or barbecue beans. Search around online or on Pinterest for some homemade recipes and save yourself the added cost,” Chase says.

“This is the time of year to be stocking up on your condiments and meats. It's time to replenish the stockpile of mustard, mayo, relish and pickles, as well as barbecue sauces and ketchup. Make sure to grab enough bottles to last your through the summer and beyond,” Chase adds.

Finally, we all want to know how far in advance we should start planning on buying groceries for our barbecue. “I have found over the years that most grocery stores offer the very best prices and discounts the week before and the week of the holiday. If you're planning a party, there’s no need for tracking or watching prices closely until the week you need to buy your groceries,” Chase says.

With those tips, I think this summer barbecue season on a budget will be one that we can all enjoy without eliminating some of our favorite foods. Have a wonderful summer of barbecuing!