It's summertime, and the living is easy. Warm weather, late sunsets and fireflies (or lightning bugs, if you prefer) give us the itch to head outside, light up the grill and throw on some burgers, ribeye steaks and andouille, washed down with a cold brew.
But grilling (or barbecuing, in the non-culinary sense) for one or for the neighborhood can be an expensive proposition. However, that's less the case in certain parts of the U.S. According to the Council for Community and Economic Research, a steak for the grill averages $12.14 per pound around the country and a six-pack goes for an average of $10.13, but there are a number of places where you can stack the fire for a lot less.
We took cost of living data and ranked 257 cities on affordability for steak, ground beef, sausage and beer. Each category received a score of based on the average price in that area, with 1 being the most affordable and 257 being the most expensive. We then added up the four rankings and divided that number by four to determine a final grilling affordability score.
So, what are the most affordable cities for grilling out in America? Spoiler alert: It's mostly in Texas, but there is great cheap beef and beers to be had around the nation.
Just an hour from the Louisiana border, Nacogdoches is a true East Texas grilling town. Unlike most of Texas where beef is king of barbecue, East Texas 'cue is equal parts beef and pork, usually chopped and served on a bun. That makes for some fine grilling where folks put pretty much anything on a grill and stuff it into a sandwich.
With such a great grilling atmosphere, it's easy to see why Nacogdoches was named the “second friendliest small town in America" by USA Today. Nacogdoches is also a college town, dominated by Stephen F. Austin University. Much of the economy of the town is centered around the school and its related community businesses and services.
As Texas' oldest town, with evidence of settlements going back 10,000 years, rental rates have been rising over the last few thousand millennia or so. But currently, you can find a one-bedroom apartment for an average of $783 a month.
With its location in the heart of one of the world's largest wheat production regions, it's no wonder Salina is one of America's best meat-and-beer towns. Due to its strategic location at the junction of Interstates 70 and 135, as well as a major stop along the Union Pacific Railroad's Kansas Pacific Line, fresh food and packaged goods consistently flow into the city, keeping costs down.
Directly west of Kansas City and directly north of Wichita, the cuisine of Salina is heavily influenced by KC-style barbecue, rubbed with spices and served with a thick tomato-based barbecue sauce. This variety is what sizzles on most Salina backyard grill tops, along with an abundance of burgers, as the city offers the third-lowest prices for ground beef in the nation.
Home to Shockers, Jayhawkers and Wildcats alike, Salina is a hub for transportation and commerce, where an average rental runs at $525* monthly.
The city of Meridian was established just a year before Mississippi seceded from the Union at the start of the Civil War, only for it to be burned down four years later during Sherman's March.
From its founding through the Civil War through reconstruction to today, Meridian has been a transportation and goods hub, first as the junction of the Mobile & Ohio and Southern Railway railroads and now at the “T"-terminus of I-59 at I-20.
As a transportation keystone, Meridian is a strategic trading center, a recipient of fresh beef and good beer as it passes through from region to region. That keeps prices down and food fresh, perfect for suppliers of grilling meats and beer for backyard barbecues and family picnics.
Meridian sits in the deepest of the Deep South, a mix of cultures and economic strata. The monthly average rent for a one-bedroom unit here will get you back $702.
The idiom “will it play in Peoria?" uses the Central Illinois city as a metaphor to postulate whether or not a product or show will find success in Middle America. But when it comes to grilling out, the numbers prove it will certainly play in Peoria.
While the price of meat isn't staggeringly low — in fact, the highest among the top 10 — it's the reasonable price of beer, eighth lowest in the nation at $7.98 per six-pack, that makes “Baby Chicago" a great grilling town.
Grab yourself one of those cheap beers, crank up hometown favorites REO Speedwagon and light up the backyard grill. That is, if you have a patio or backyard for your one-bedroom apartment, which goes for a monthly average of $647.
When you imagine an archetypal Midwest plains college town, with farm-fresh ag students, lush green campus lawns and Saturday afternoon face-painted football fans, it's probably Manhattan you're picturing.
Founded as a Free-State city during the “Bleeding Kansas" Civil War days, today the Sunflower State city is home to the sprawling Kansas State University. And as with many college towns, wherever there are students, you'll find cheap eats and low-cost beer. While the price of steak is the highest of any city on our list, reasonably-priced burgers, brats and beer attract undergrads and townies alike.
But it's not just Wildcat weekends at Bill Snyder Stadium that makes Manhattan stand out. “The Little Apple" has previously been named both one of the “Best Places in America to Retire Young" by CNN and the "Best Small Place For Business And Careers" by Forbes.
Whether you're celebrating a win over the rivals from KU in Aggieville with a Coors Light or grilling outside at your K-State off-campus apartment, it will cost you $697 a month on average for a one-bedroom.
“Deep in the Heart of Texas" isn't just a cartoonish refrain from an old country song. There's a real, honest-to-goodness Heart of Texas region, and that's where the city of Waco lies. Situated halfway between Dallas and Austin along Interstate 35, Waco is a modern, bustling city of arts, culture and urban parks that's shed its news infamy.
But more importantly, Central Texas is beef country, and when it comes to grilling, it's all about the meat. While Kansas City and Carolina argue about their vinegar and tomato-based sauces, this region traditionally foregoes the sauce entirely, letting the taste of the beef shine.
It's a good thing then that prices here for ground beef, steak and sausage are among the cheapest in the nation. But what you save on meat you might make up for on beer, as Waco's price-per-six-pack average is just a quarter less than the national average.
Like many of the best cities in the U.S. for grilling out, Waco is also a college town with a large Division I university. Any time of year, you can catch a whiff of Baylor University students and their neighbors grilling out on front porches and in cul-de-sacs. Apartments in this underrated Texas city typically average $875 a month for a one-bedroom rental.
Take everything that's great about grilling out in Waco, make it a little cheaper and smaller, and move it a half hour down the Interstate and you'll have Temple. Temple, about half the size of Waco, has a surprisingly vibrant arts and culture scene, a large medical technology workforce and slightly less expensive prices for grilling essentials. And plenty of affordable grilling meat.
In fact, if you're feeding a small army, you'll be happy to know that Temple has the seventh-lowest average price for steak and the sixth-lowest for ground beef and sausage. That's perfect if you're inviting Mean Joe Greene, Rip Torn, Ricky Sanders, Blind Willie Johnson or Slingin' Sammy Baugh, all natives of the town of 76,000. And even if you're a Super Bowl winner, the average rent for a one-bedroom unit in Temple runs you $826 a month.
The name Kalamazoo is derived from the Potawatomi word for "boiling water," which refers to an annual footrace the local Native Americans held where contestants had to run to the river and back before a pot of water boiled. Or it means "the mirage" or “the reflecting river." Honestly, no one knows for sure. But what we do know is that The 'Zoo is one of the best places in America to throw a grilling party if your plan is to buy cheap beer.
While the price of steak is pretty average and the cost of ground beef and sausage aren't bad, it's the beer prices that bring out the partiers in this Upper Midwest brew haven. An average six-pack will run you just $7.91, the least expensive on our list and the seventh lowest in the nation.
Exactly halfway between Detroit and Chicago, the town of just 75,000 is also a sanctuary of craft beer. Local breweries like Bell's Brewery, Tibb's Brewing, Latitude 42 and Arcadia Brewing have achieved a national footprint, as well as several local distilleries.
As the original home of the Gibson Guitar Corporation, as well as the manufacturing site of Checker Cabs, Kalamazoo is certainly a blues-and-brews town in the heel of Michigan's mitten. A one-bedroom apartment in Mall City rents for $790 monthly on average.
McAllen might only be the 22nd biggest city in Texas, but it's number one for grilling meat. For parillada in the backyard with your amigos, you get the most bang for your buck in McAllen where steaks are the cheapest in the nation, ground beef is second and sausages are in the top five. Whether you're making fajitas, carne asada or stuffed chorizo, there's no better grill top town than this Texas/Mexico border region.
While the city is known for its binational tourism and its rich agricultural past, McAllen has grown into a thriving, modern city with attractions like the one-million-square-foot La Plaza Mall, International Museum of Art and Science and historic Cine El Rey Theatre.
Positioned directly on the primary migratory path between North and South America, McAllen is also the premiere bird and butterfly watching city in the U.S., which you can learn about at the World Birding Center.
The nearly 5 million people that cross the Rio Grande each year between McAllen, Hidalgo and Reynosa keep the rental market in this transient South Texas town fluctuating. A one bedroom runs for $779 on average each month.
In 1919, at the height of the North Texas oil boom, a shady real estate developer from Philadelphia swindled thousands of dollars from Wichita Falls townsfolk while constructing the downtown Newby-McMahon Building. The investors handed over their money for a 480-foot-tall high-rise to be built, but Newby wrote 480-inches into the contract without anyone noticing. The result was a four-story building rather than a forty-story one, which Ripley's Believe It Or Not! labeled “The World's Littlest Skyscraper."
But Wichita Falls may have had the last laugh, named the number one city for grilling out in the entire nation. You'll never say “where's the beef" in Wichita Falls, where you can stack yourself a 480-inch or 480-foot burger on the very cheap.
At $2.26 per pound, this city has the least expensive ground beef in America. Additionally, sausage prices are third-best in the nation and best out of our top 10. To round out your grill party, steak and beer are both among the 15 cheapest prices in the U.S. With a total grilling affordability score of just 8.25, Wichita Falls is by far the best value city in the country by nearly two-thirds.
Sitting just south of the Oklahoma border, Wichita Falls is in an advantageous geographic location, just two hours northwest of Dallas, two hours southwest of Oklahoma City and four hours down the interstate from that other Wichita. That keeps rents competitive to the rest of Texas with a one-bedroom apartment renting for a monthly average of $704.
From roasted tri-tip of California to ribeye cheesesteaks of the Northeast to brats and beer in the upper Midwest, there's a lot going on every summer weekend on grills throughout the rest of the nation. Here's the remainder of the top 50 rankings of the most affordable grilling cities in America (and also more Texas).
|Rank||City||State||Steak Score||Ground Beef Score||Sausage Score||Beer Score||Grilling Affordability Score|
On the flip side of the burger and brat price war are the top 10 most expensive cities. It doesn't require high-end steak, grass-fed pork sausages and fancy craft beers to rank high on the list.
The primary factors are the cost of living, which explains the presence of two New York City boroughs and two Bay Area cities, and transportation costs, which are why prices are so expensive in Alaska and Washington. Here's where hitting up your local butcher are the most expensive in the nation.
|Rank||City||State||Steak Score||Ground Beef Score||Sausage Score||Beer Score||Grilling Affordability Score|
|2||New York (Manhattan)||NY||248||252||253||254||251.75|
|4||Mount Vernon-Skagit County||WA||235||245||238||245||240.75|
|5||New York (Queens)||NY||229||230||247||248||238.5|
Average prices for steak, ground beef, sausage and beer come from the Council for Community and Economic Research's Q1 2019 Cost of Living report. The C2ER uses the following specifications to describe each food item:
We ranked each city in the C2ER report in terms of affordability for steak, ground beef, sausage and beer, with the cheapest being 1 and the most expensive as 257. We added up the raw score number for each of the categories and divided by four to get a total grilling affordability score. The cities with the lowest overall scores were determined to be the most affordable.
The rent information included in this article is based on July 2019 multifamily rental property inventory on ApartmentGuide.com and Rent.com and is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.