10 Money-Saving Ideas for a Summer Barbecue
Don’t Blow Your Budget on Meat
You don’t need to break the bank to do steak, chicken, or fish on the grill in style. Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible and How to Grill, suggests skipping the porterhouse in favor of a great, inexpensive skirt or flank steak, forgoing boneless chicken breasts for cheaper, flavorful legs and thighs, and tossing back the priciest catch of the day in order to net yourself darker, grill-friendly seafood like mackerel or blue fish.
Dress Up the Old Standbys
If you’re sticking with the tried-and-true standards (chicken, burgers, hot dogs, bratwursts), add a simple, inexpensive element to elevate the flavor. “There are ways to make the classics taste like much more than they are,” says Rick Browne, author of 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes and former host of Barbecue America. Stuff some blue cheese, chopped bacon, or barbecue sauce inside your burger patties before they hit the grill. Split your hot dogs lengthwise, add some cheddar in the middle and wrap the whole thing in bacon. Or let your chicken steep overnight in your favorite marinade. Get creative.
Make Extra (But Not Too Much)
When you’re planning out your portions, be sure to grill enough for leftovers. By putting that charcoal or propane to work just one time to cook food for a couple days, you’re actually decreasing your per-meal fuel cost. To reheat, sprinkle the meat with water or barbecue sauce, wrap it in foil, and cook over indirect heat for 5 minutes. Barbecued leftovers are still tasty the next day and can even be reinvented: Got some leftover pork roast? Browne recommends tossing it in the slow cooker and adding barbecue sauce. Just don’t make so much that you wind up throwing part of it away later on, because then you might as well be throwing your money away with it.
DIY Rubs and Sauces
Why buy at the store what you can make at home in almost no time at all? “It’s super easy to make your own rubs and barbecue sauces,” says Raichlen. Rubs are essentially spices in a bowl that you can mix together with your fingers, and most sauces start with a basic foundation of ketchup or tomato sauce and grow from there. And you can often whip up both with ingredients that you already have in the pantry. Find some recipes that strike your palate’s fancy, and test them out next time you fire up the grill.
Find recipes for steak marinades and rubs here.
Don’t Go Overboard With Fuel
Newsflash: People tend to waste fuel when grilling. Browne points out that many of us pour way too much charcoal onto our grills. There’s no need to dump an entire 10-pound bag of charcoal each time—three pounds should cook any meal for four to six people. If you’re using propane and cooking brisket or pork loin, you only need to put it on high for the first five minutes after the food hits the grill. After that, turn it on low and let it cook slowly. (And be sure to turn the propane off right away when you’re done—or at least right after you’ve burned off any leftover debris.)
Befriend Your Butcher
If you’re looking for the advance scoop on when your favorite cuts of meat will be going on sale, make friends with the people who work at your supermarket’s butcher counter. They’re definitely the ones with the inside track. Browne also suggests building up that relationship so you can find out which cuts have good prices because they’re not as popular. For example, lamb neck: Not many people use it, so it costs less, but it’s just as tasty as the far pricier cuts of lamb on display.
Invest in a Quality Grill
You don’t need to spring for a grill with loads of extra bells and whistles, but you do want to make sure you’re getting one that won’t fizzle out in two years (because constantly replacing sub-par grills is definitely not the best use of your barbecue budget). Browne recommends buying just enough grill for what your family uses—possibly going for a bigger grill surface if you entertain a lot. And you’ll want enough space on your grill surface to multi-task (think chicken on one side and corn on the other).
You’ll also always want to be on the hunt for sturdy construction, because you don’t want the grill to tip over or crash. Both Brown and Raichlen are fans of the classic Weber kettle grill as a dependable, basic option that will get just about every grilling or smoking job done. But Raichlen suggests going to weekend demos at local grill and barbecue shops to get a feel for what exact type of grill will work best for you.
Treat Your Grill Well
You want the investment you made in your grill to last as long as possible, so make maintenance a priority. Clean it off thoroughly before and after each use, get rid of the ashes when they’ve cooled, and oil the grate before and after each use. “If you take care of the grill, it could last forever,” says Raichlen. “I know some people whose grills are going on 25 years.”
Minimize Your Accessories
Don’t go crazy stocking up on complicated grilling equipment. Raichlen and Browne agree that you need two key grill accessories—a thermometer and tongs (avoid stabbing the meat repeatedly with a fork because some of the delicious juices will escape). Get a good, instant-read meat thermometer to ensure you’re always biting into food that’s cooked to the doneness you prefer. And snag a quality pair of long-handled, spring-loaded tongs, preferably with a scalloped end (all the better to grip grilled items and keep them from falling through the grate).
Do Your Homework
“The best way to save money is to not burn things and to do it right,” says Raichlen. If you’re a beginning griller, arm yourself with some knowledge before lighting that fire. Browne suggests checking out free how-to videos online that offer step-by-step instructions on achieving grilling perfection (YouTube is a good place to start). Raichlen recommends getting a good instructional book to arm yourself with the techniques you need to make the tasty, grilled magic happen.