What’s not to like about grilling? You get to hang outside near open flames and watch raw meat artfully transform into dinner. You’re the damn Picasso of propane. But, you may have been a little overzealous dropping all that cash for the perfect backyard setup, because one crucial ingredient was forgotten: The food.
Putting the choicest cuts of pork, beef, chicken, or fish on your grill gets expensive, and your kids can’t live on toasted hamburger buns alone. Fortunately, Ali Khan, host of Cooking Channel’s Cheap Eats, has some ideas about how to make the cheaper cuts taste great while spending less time standing over the grill. Because barbecue time is barbecue money.
5 Proteins That Will Save You Cash
To save some cash, look for larger cuts from less prestigious parts of the animal. Forget about the name cache of filet mignon. The flavors of these other, less desirable parts are great, they’ll feed a ton of people, and you don’t have to babysit the grill worrying about overcooking. Advantage, you.
- Beef Tri-Tip: “Pound for pound the best deal when it comes to beef,” says Khan. “There’s a fair amount of intramuscular fat to it, which means it’s not going to dry out as quickly as other cuts.” Tri-tip is also fairly low maintenance cooking. Give it a quick sear, close the grill top, and let it roast.
- Skirt Steak: Khan’s second favorite cut is called “vacio” in Argentina and “bavette” in France, but in ‘Murica carries the humble label of “outer skirt” or “fajita.” This beef requires a little more time and attention during cooking, but only costs between $5-8 per pound.
- Pork Loin/Bone-In Chops: These can be had for as little as $4 a pound. “Use your favorite BBQ rub, or grind some fennel seed and mix it with kosher salt, black pepper, and fresh thyme.” Final internal temp should be 145-150 degrees, max. Any higher and you’re going to be turn pork loin into pork rinds.
- Bone-In Chicken Breast: “Bone-in chicken breast with the skin on is not the leanest thing in the world, but it’s so much better,” says Khan. Some supermarkets sell them for as low as $.99 a pound — just check that “sell by” date first.
- Plank Salmon: Pescetarians are people too. “Plank salmon is great for a barbecue. Kids have a taste for salmon now, and the plank adds a little wood flavor,” he says. Whole filets are easy to find and hard to mess up, since the natural oils and fats in the fish keep it moist, while the plank eliminates concerns of fish sticking to the grill.
Cover Your Mistakes
If you’re worried about cooking one of the above for the first time, a marinade of oil, acid (including vinegars and citrus), salt, pepper, and garlic will tenderize the meat, prevent it from sticking, make it taste good, and help keep it juicy in the event of overcooking.
If you should have been worried about cooking the above for the first time, because you just did and are pretty sure you blew it, Khan recommends an oil-and-herb based sauce like chimichurri and Italian salsa verde to make dry meat palatable. And remember, temperature is the final thing that makes meat tough. Khan recommends getting a Thermapen to take the guesswork out of your meat’s internal temperature.
Make It A Sausage Party
You’d love to shop at the Belcampo’s of the world, but it’s a luxury most can’t afford unless you know what to buy. “Sausage is the original Groupon for meat,” says Khan. “As the quality increases, the affordability scales up with it marvelously.”
Sausage from a high-end butcher shouldn’t be much more expensive than the grocery store variety, and it comes with all that artisan quality of forcing meat into a tube. Since the flavor and seasoning is on the inside you don’t have to do anything but stand there looking bored with a pair of tongs in your hand. “Sear the sausages to a golden brown, then move to a cooler side of the grill to finish cooking,” says Khan. Final internal temperature should be 165 degrees.
America loves the hamburger — and why not? It’s cheap. It tastes great. And it has your recommended daily allowance of guilt. You could get a bunch of frozen Costco patties and call it a day, but know that it isn’t that much more expensive to get a quality grind from a butcher.
First thing you should know about the grind is, keep the fat. Khan likes chuck, which is generally no more than 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat. Err towards more fat, not less. Leaner ground beef, like a 90/10 sirloin costs more and dries out faster. And because bacteria isn’t part of that ratio, you may want to spring for that grass-fed beef, which has been found to have lower rates of antibiotic resistant bacteria than conventional store-bought beef.
Finally, keep your meat hooks off of it. “Gently form the patty,” says Khan. “The more you work through it, the more you compress it and create a spongy texture. Keep it coarse.”
A Note On Fire
After you’ve done the due diligence getting your grill rip-roaring, Khan recommends setting up a 2-stage cooking space. That means in one area of the grill coals are piled up high and hot for searing (or the gas burner is on high) while another area remains coal-free for more gentle, flare free cooking (or the gas burner is on low). Basically, you’re mimicking the sear-to-oven strategy you’d use indoors, where you take a hot pan off the stove and throw it in the oven to finish. Frankenstein, you were so wrong. Fire good!