Budget Grilling Tips From Steven Raichlen

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Sticker shock? I don’t mean buying a car. I’m talking about shopping at my local grocery store. Meat prices are through the roof and even veggies cost way more than they did last year. What’s a grill master to do?

In this age of grocery store price anxiety, here are some great ways to save money when grilling.

  1. Use cheaper, often more flavorful cuts sourced locally, if that’s an option. Substitute chicken thighs, legs, or leg quarters with legs and thighs attached for breasts. Turkey is often a bargain, especially during prime grilling season. Check out my turkey “ham” smoked turkey legs: https://barbecuebible.com/recipe/turkey-ham/. Buy spareribs or country-style ribs instead of baby backs. Or smoke-roast budget-friendly pork chops or pork tenderloins. The latter cost a fraction of the cost of beef tenderloin. Grill mackerel, sardines and kingfish instead of tuna or halibut. They’re less expensive and also better for you. Grill clams or mussels in place of pricier shrimp or lobster. Stretch more expensive seafood, like salmon or crab smoked or grilled, of course, by using them as an ingredient in an appetizer, chowder, or other side dish.


  1. Discover new steaks that are not as well-known as pricier ribeyes or strip steaks. You might start with well-marbled cuts from the beefy-tasting chuck, such as flat-iron steaks and petite filets also known as teres major; or steaks cut from the sirloin, like filet of sirloin also known as baseball steak; and that specialty of Santa Maria, California the tri-tip. Even though their per pound price is substantially lower, these lesser-known steaks deliver a richly satisfying experience when grilled over a live fire. And don’t forget to ask your butcher for recommendations. They will often steer, excuse the pun, you toward bargains.


  1. Eat your veggies. Especially onions, which are one of the cheapest and most versatile veggies. Use a half onion impaled on a grill for oiling the grill grate. Puree an onion and use the juice for marinating lamb and other meats, a flavor-boosting technique used by grill masters throughout Central Asia. Grill the onion in the embers. It may look like a big lump of charcoal, but split and enriched with butter and balsamic vinegar, this lowly root vegetable becomes transcendent. Or cut the onion into 1/4-inch slices, which you pin together crosswise with toothpicks. Brush with olive oil or melted butter, season with salt and pepper and direct grill. To save even more money, buy onions by the bag instead of individually.


  1. Like to entertain friends and family with meals grilled outdoors? Remember, not every party has to start after 5 p.m. In fact, breakfast or brunch often works out better for everyone, especially families, since most of the afternoon and evening are free for other activities. And breakfast can be a relatively inexpensive meal for the host. Grilled frittatas, breakfast pizzas and bacon or breakfast sausages can feed a crowd for a few dollars. And unless you hang with the Bloody Mary and mimosa crowd, the liquor tab will be lower, too.


  1. Time is money. Cook low and slow, maintaining a temperature between 225 and 275 degrees. Turkey thighs. Rib tips. Pork shoulder. True barbecue was originally designed to make cheap cuts palatable. It still does. Don’t own a smoker? Simply set your grill up for indirect grilling by arranging lit coals in two piles on opposite sides of the grill. Place a couple of chunks of hardwood on the coals or use hardwood chips soaked in water for 30 minutes then drained, and arrange your food in the center away from direct heat. If you own a gas grill, you can adjust the burners to achieve the same effect. Place wood chunks just under the grill grate or put the chips in a smoker box or an aluminum foil pouch. An aside: Keep your eyes open for good deals on fuel, whether you use charcoal, wood, pellets, or propane.


Get Steven’s recipe for Wagyu Smash Burgers here.

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