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As meat prices hover near record highs, here are 3 ways to save on a July 4 cookout

Meat prices have risen 13% since 2021. Prices are still going up, even though not at eye-popping rates any more.
Stu Forster
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Getty Images
Meat prices have risen 13% since 2021. Prices are still going up, even though not at eye-popping rates any more.

Updated July 3, 2023 at 12:24 PM ET

Meat prices have been sizzling hot for some time now.

Just ask John Nygren, who regularly cooks for his family of seven. He noticed the price increases last year.

"I was looking at the meat for a roast, and I noticed that three pounds of meat was all of a sudden like $18, $20. I'm just like, 'Wow, I guess I'm not making it this week,'" said Nygren, who lives in Tacoma, Washington.

John Nygren has had to change the way he buys groceries for his family due to higher prices.
/ John Nygren
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John Nygren
John Nygren has had to change the way he buys groceries for his family due to higher prices.

Like Nygren, many people are adjusting to high meat prices, which have risen 13% since 2021. Prices are still going up, even though not at eye-popping rates any more. According to the Wells Fargo Fourth of July Food Report, sirloin steaks cost an average of $10.75 per pound, which is up 2.9% from last year. That's on top of the 14% increase from the year before.

Agricultural economist Michael Swanson notes that beef prices are near all-time records. "People are getting used to the new price point for steak," he said. "It's kind of stabilizing – not cheap, but stable."

But, not all hope is lost for people wanting to host a July Fourth cookout this year. If you're planning to throw some meat on the grill this weekend, here are some ways to save money in the process.

John Nygren regularly cooks for his five children, pictured in 2018.
/ John Nygren
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John Nygren
John Nygren regularly cooks for his five children, pictured in 2018.

Beef. It's maybe not for dinner

Let's start with the good news for shoppers – not all meat you serve has to be a pricey steak.

There's pork and ground beef, which are less expensive at $4.19 and $5.36 a pound respectively, even though these too cost a little more than they did at this time last year.

Nygren is already switching things up. After noticing the eye-popping price of beef, he started buying more pork and chicken instead. This summer he's been grilling hotdogs instead of burgers.

He's one of the 76% of shoppers who have changed what kind of meat they're buying, according to a market report written by Anne-Marie Roerink from 210 Analytics, a market research firm. She said during times of high inflation, people typically opt for meats that are cheaper-per-pound or easier to stretch into multiple meals, like ground beef and pork.

And at $4.24 a pound, buying chicken for family meals is slightly cheaper. Plus, chicken breast prices are falling, down 9% from last summer, according to the American Farm Bureau.

If you still want to splurge on steak, spend less on other things

Even though many shoppers are being more price-conscious when it comes to meat, they might be willing to splurge for July Fourth. Roerink expects that people will shell out a little extra for a holiday meal.

"That's really a time where people get together and have a good time," Roerink said. "I think that's something that people just always will open their wallets up a little bit further for."

John Nygren and his wife, Juno, are planning on buying skirt steak for July Fourth this year.
/ John Nygren
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John Nygren
John Nygren and his wife, Juno, are planning on buying skirt steak for July Fourth this year.

If you decide to go all out on steaks or burgers for your family cookout, you can try to balance your budget by spending less on items like soda and sparkling water, which are up almost 10% from last year.

Nygren too wants his July Fourth celebration to be special and plans to take a break from grilling hotdogs. He'll be spending a bit extra to get skirt steak instead, so his wife can make carne asada, a family favorite.

Clip clip clip. Coupons, that is

Another way that Nygren says he's been able to save money is by following sales at his primary grocery store, Fred Meyer. He uses a store card which saves him money on gas, and he uses the store's app to clip digital coupons and see what's on sale.

"That totally dictates what is going to be for dinner that week," he said.

He's not alone – according to Roerink's report, 35% of shoppers look for coupons or stock up on meat when it's on sale. Another way to save? Look at deals across grocery stores in your area, especially if you're after a specific product. It might be worth heading to a different store if they're offering a sale on one of your cookout must-haves.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Erin Kenney