If we’re being honest, Memorial Day is about so much more than a barbecue with friends or a day in the pool. It’s about remembering the sacrifices made by U.S. service members throughout our nation’s history. It’s about being grateful for their service and honoring those who died protecting our nation.

That being said, it’s impossible to ignore the part barbecue plays in the modern incarnation of Memorial Day.

So, once everyone’s finished paying their respects, it’s time to take advantage of the nice weather and three-day weekend with an outdoor party. But catering a large event can be expensive and leave you with lots of leftovers.

As such, I’ve put together an easy, cheap recipe for a dish with ingredients that you can purchase anywhere: shish kabobs. For this example, let’s say we’re cooking for a party of four and we want to serve two kabobs per person.

After putting together the recipe, I ventured out to two local grocery stores (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods) to see how I could get the best deal.

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Cheap Memorial Day BBQ Ideas: Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods - Shish KabobsYou’ll need …

1 pound beef top sirloin
1 whole red pepper
1 whole green pepper
1 whole red onion
8 wooden skewers

And for the marinade, you’ll want…

½ cup olive oil
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. pepper
½ tbsp. oregano
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. cumin

What’s more, combine this with a simple fruity dessert and you can make a full meal for four people without breaking $40.

Cheap Memorial Day BBQ Ideas: Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods - fruit dessertSimple Fruit Dish for Dessert

18 oz. blueberries or strawberries (or a mix of the two), diced

16 oz. whipped cream

1 package pound cake

Finding the Best Deal

Okay, now that we know what the goods are, let’s talk money.

Which grocery store gives you the best bang for your buck? I did a side-by-side comparison of Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods.

For the purposes of brevity, I’ll assume that — being adults — we have all the necessary spices that our moms kindly bought for us. As such, I’m pricing out the kabobs and dessert parts.

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Whole Foods

My trip to Whole Foods (in Arizona) takes me on a 20-minute drive to Chandler, Ariz. Walking in, I’m met with the luscious scent of flowers. Fresh flowers on a table are great as a quick-and-easy centerpiece — just not at over $17 a bouquet. But moving on …


Let’s talk dessert first. I discover eight-ounce packages of blueberries sitting pretty at $3.99 each. Meanwhile, for the pound cake — conveniently located next to the berries — a package of six small rounds costs $2.99. While not a lot of cake, it’s still a really great price. Whipped cream is also on my list, and Whole Foods has it for $4.07. So far, my total sits at $11.05.

Shish Kabobs

So you want to have a fun Memorial Day barbecue, but you’re on a budget. Check out these delicious memorial day recipes. #memorialday #memorialdayrecipes #meal #foodrecipeNow for the meat and veggies. What I like most about Whole Foods is that it has mounds of fresh fish, poultry, and meat available from local sources. I pick up locally sourced beef top sirloin for $9.04. Strolling back over to the vegetable section, there are a few types of pepper, each for a different price.

Red peppers imported from Mexico cost $3.49 per pound, while green peppers cost $1.99 per pound. The alternatives come either from the U.S. or an unknown origin. Their price is super agreeable, but still — they’re only a dollar less than the Mexican imports. Living in Arizona, I’m going with the fresher option.

Since I need only one pepper, my total cost for my “luxury” peppers is just $2.46. Combine that with the onion at $1.17, and my total for Whole Foods Memorial Day shopping is $23.72 for enough food to serve a party of four.

Trader Joe’s

Let’s move on to Trader Joe’s. Since I was taken by the flowers at Whole Foods, I check out the floral offerings here to see how much they cost.

Lucky for me, I can buy a large bouquet for only $9.99, saving $7. Centerpieces are so delightful, particularly on special occasions like Memorial Day.

Shish Kabobs

But back to the task at hand. A red pepper costs only 99 cents, and a green pepper only 69 cents. And just 89 cents buys the red onion. That’s $1.06 in savings compared with Whole Foods. The blueberries at Trader Joe’s? Perfect.

I’m able to pick up exactly the amount I need for only $5.49 — more than double the amount of food I could pick up from Whole Foods.

Moving onto the final element of the meal, we’re in a bit of a pickle. Beef top sirloin isn’t available, and I honestly have no idea how fresh the meat is other than by looking at the “use by” date.

That said, the beef is precut, which will make my meal prep go more quickly. Total cost for the beef is $10.80.

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Last but far from least, dessert. I’ve already discovered the blueberries, of course. Now I’m on the hunt for whipped cream and pound cake.

After searching for about 10 minutes, I find canned whipped cream for $3.99 (I’ll need two) and pound cake ingredients, but no actual pound cake. Big bummer here, as we’ll need to either purchase the ingredients and make the cake from scratch or go to a different store.

To make pound cake, we will need sugar ($3.49), flour ($2.99), butter ($4.99), and eggs ($3.29). Even if I had found pound cake premade and at the same price as at Whole Foods, my total would be $25.84. With the cake ingredients, the total ends up at $37.61. Goodbye, fresh flowers.

Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods: The Results

Trader Joe’s: $37.61

Whole Foods: $23.72

Regardless of which store we purchase from, we’re still making it out under $40. All the same, Whole Foods is clearly where it’s at.

We’ll save a total of $16.06, which would allow us to splurge on the flowers at either location. All in all, a rather affordable way to celebrate Memorial Day.

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Other Cheap Memorial Day BBQ Ideas: Margaritas

Of course, no Memorial Day would be complete without a seasonally appropriate drink. Take a hint from our neighbors to the south and factor in affordable, easy-to-make margaritas at your holiday festivities. For this, you’ll need:

  • One shot tequila — try El Destilador or Lunazaul, which retail at $15 and $20 a bottle, respectively.
  • One-third shot (roughly a half fluid ounce) of agave nectar — a decent organic agave will set you back $10.
  • One-half shot lime juice, a bottle of which runs no more than $5. You can buy limes and juice them yourself if you want something really fresh, and you can use the lime slices as garnishes.
  • Salt (optional) — to salt the rim of the glasses.

Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice, shake well, and pour. If you want salt, pour salt into a small bowl, wet the lip of a glass, and then gently press the glass into the salt. Add lime wedges if you’re a stickler for presentation — regardless, margaritas go down real easy. Adjust recipe for desired strength, taste, and saltiness.

Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.