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It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy.
The American cookout is in season, and savory staples like hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob are roasting on grills across the country.
Between beers, burgers and potato salad, hosting a backyard barbecue can burn a hole straight through your wallet.
Mark Bittman, author of 20 books including “How to Grill Everything,” knows his way around a grill. The former New York Times columnist gave us some tips on how to break out the grill without breaking the bank.
1. Stick to the Basics When You Buy Grilling Accessories
Walk down any grilling aisle or peruse grilling goods online, and you’re bombarded with a trove of pricy accessories.
But Bittman said the only accessories you really need are long tongs, an oven thermometer for inside the grill, and a propane tank or lump charcoal.
That means you can skip the basting brushes, rotisserie, grill brushes, trays, skewers, gloves and grilling shears.
As for corn-on-the-cob holders? “I like to hold corn directly in my hands,” Bittman said.
He’s also a fan of sturdy baking sheets and cast iron skillets to bake and cook desserts on the grill. Fortunately, many kitchens have these items already.
2. Buying a Grill? Here’s What to Avoid
Last year, 35% of adults in the U.S. planned on buying a new grill or smoker.
Want to fuel the fire among avid grillers? Ask them whether they prefer a gas or charcoal grill. They’re both pretty affordable in our book.
If you don’t have a grill or supplies already, score some during the summertime holiday sales.
The brand of a grill is less important than the size and cover, Bittman said.
You want enough surface area to allow you to cook directly or indirectly over the fire. “The lid should be at least a little domed to create an oven-like environment,” Bittman said.
To Bittman, what really matters is avoiding open-face hibachi or Santa Maria-style grills. They have limited uses, so he advises staying away from them to get the most bang for your grill buck.
3. Explore Meatless Options
Spice it up with meatless fare, especially if you’re grilling for lots of guests.
“One big money-saving tip is to shift the balance of your grilled meals toward more vegetables and less meat,” Bittman said.
For the budget barbecuer, “you can’t go wrong with vegetable main dishes.”
He suggests main dishes like chana chaat burgers, which turn chickpeas and potatoes into curried patties, or spaghetti squash with fresh tomato sauce, because the sauce is “the perfect foil for the smoky strands of squash.”
As for his favorite meatless options to grill? Those are okra, winter squash, eggplant, carrots and radishes. For protein, cheese, tofu and tempeh are all terrific in his book — cooked or smoked.
“Honestly, I can’t think of a vegetable that can’t be grilled,” he said.
“How to Grill Everything” offers tons of ideas for vegetable main and side dishes to grill.
4. Grind Your Own Food and Buy Bone-In
Many pay extra for those premade patties and prepackaged cuts. Not Bittman.
“Whenever possible for burgers, I try to grind my own meat — as well as poultry, chicken, fish, tofu or beans — in a food processor,” he said. “That’s the most economical.”
Cheap meat grinders run from $15 to $40, while a high-end one costs about $200. It could be a worthy investment, especially if you’re going for expert griller status.
As for your non-burger meats? Chicken breasts and pork chops are grill classics, yet people often seem to forgo the bones.
“Bone-in cuts are always more flavorful to grill than boneless, since they usually take longer to cook through,” Bittman said.
Bone-in cuts are generally cheaper everywhere from supermarkets to butcher shops, plus they hold in extra flavor and keep the meat from drying out.
5. Don’t Let Anything Go to Waste
Kitchen food waste is a big deal in our country. Using everything you have can mean big savings — and delicious meals — when it comes to grilling.
“Avoiding food waste is a big priority, so I always find a way to use stale bread,” he said. “You can save bits and pieces in the freezer until you have enough to make bread pudding with mushrooms.”
The savory and satisfying casserole can be made ahead of time and cooked on the grill. There’s a whole world of unusual foods you can grill to prevent food waste and liven up a backyard shindig.
Now there’s only one thing left to do: Crack open a cold brewski and bask in the tradition of the outdoor barbecue.
Grill, baby, grill.
Stephanie Bolling is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She believes everything tastes better over a fire.
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