How to efficiently debug package build issues?

Is there a way to perform the steps of building a package step by step with the possibility to make changes in between?

As an example: I have a (complicated, third party) package that fails at configure. The final solution will certainly be adapting the package makefile or adding a patch. However to get there, i.e. find the actual issue, I might need to try things by editing and running the configure script a dozen times, without triggering autoreconf etc.
Conceptually, I'm looking for a sequence like:

make package/sample/prepare # this step exists
make package/sample/autoconf
make package/sample/configure # I know this exists but does something else
# ...edit configure`...
make package/sample/configure # again, to see result of edits above
# ...maybe hack some of configure's output here...
make package/sample/build # build, i.e. just make w/o re-triggering configure
# ...maybe edit a source file here if there are problems at the build level
make package/sample/build # try to make again
make package/sample/install

Without the ability to hack between the steps, figuring out problems is so horribly inefficient and complicated because there's no way to backtrace issues from the point they occur, but it would need complete understanding of the entire flow of things to apply the right mods at the top level makefile - which is exactly what one does not have when hitting a strange build problem in a complicated package.

Another conceptual way to solve this would be a way to drop to a shell with the correct environment for doing the steps manually:

make package/sample/buildshell
# …edit things, retry $CONFIGURE
# …edit things, retry $BUILD

Sorry if this is a dumb question resulting from not understanding enough of the openwrt build mechanics. Maybe I am looking at this completely the wrong way...
Any help welcome.