hamburgerJust in time for your 4th of July cookout! Beef just got more expensive. Prices are up by as much as 61 percent this summer -- record highs. A pound of ground beef cost around $2.99 last year; this year it's $3.31. I guess that's not a huge difference -- except I think we've all seen how a few extra cents here and there can really add up on your grocery bill.

So if you are trying to stay on a budget with your Independence Day celebrations, what can you do? As far as red meat goes, it really doesn't get much cheaper than ground beef. Well, we have a few suggestions.

1. Add more ingredients to your patties. Hey, restaurants do it -- why not you? Some people add breadcrumbs to their patties, but you could add chopped veggies, herbs, even black olives (try it, seriously). A hamburger doesn't have to be 100 percent beef to be tasty.

2. Look for sales and specials. But you knew that already. Check your circulars for coupons -- you know the drill.

3. Make sliders instead. We like to think of meat as the main course, but you could switch things up a bit and make little sliders as apps. Then make your party more about the corn-on-the-cob, the macaroni salad, the watermelon.

4. Buy directly from a farm. This is what I do. I know this isn't an option for everyone, but it's worth the trouble to see if there's a farm-share or meat-buying club in your area. If you buy from a small, local, family-run farm, this is better for the farmer as well.

5. Pork, the other, um, red meat. Let's not pretend pork is like chicken. It comes from an even-toed ungulate (cloven-hoofed mammal). And a pork burger is pretty darn good eating.

6. Eat less meat. I know it sounds radical. It won't turn you into a Communist or anything like that, I swear! But maybe limit everyone to just one, medium-sized hamburger?

Personally, I think meat is already insanely cheap, especially ground beef. This is an ANIMAL we've killed for food. Shouldn't it kind of cost a bit? Farmers have been feeding it and watering it and housing it. Maybe instead of lowering prices on meat, we need to change how we think about it. Just an idea.