I get sticker shock when I go to the grocery store these days. Prices are higher every week, and I don’t think that’s my imagination. As an avid home barbecue griller, I’m not hanging up the tongs, but I am looking at ways to cut corners without cutting flavor or fun. After all, everyone has to eat, but no one has to bust the budget to put delicious food on the table, especially if they crank up the grill.
Build Around What’s on Sale
My first tip for beating high food prices is to shop and grill around the sales. For my family, this usually means checking the meat section first and building around a meat that is priced well. In this area, chicken on sale runs about half price. I stock up when it’s chicken week. The key is to know the going price and to keep track of or work around the sales.
Also pay attention to the schedules at your favorite grocery store, or make friends with employees who can tip you off to the best times to buy. My meat man has given me great tips. One tip is that they price down the meats at 6 p.m. The same meat will cost a few dollars more if I shop even an hour earlier. So, I push my shopping back a little to save big on more expensive meats like the steaks.
Buck the Trends – Flavor Up The Less Popular Cuts
Next, I play with the less popular meats. Some of you may remember when chicken wings were in the cheap section. Once hot wings caught on, wings suddenly end up costing more than beef on many days. So, finding a sleeper cut of meat can pay off (until word gets around).
One less well known (so less popular) pork cut, for example, is country ribs. They aren’t really ribs. They are kind of an odd cut. Some have bones; some do not. The flavor is similar to pork chops, and while they take 45 minutes to an hour to grill, that’s much quicker than true ribs which typically grill or smoke for four hours. I can feed the whole family country ribs for around $4.
Unlike most countries, the United States prefers chicken breast meat. Grilled and seasoned, legs and thighs are delicious at the fraction of the price of white meat. If you don’t have a great recipe for dark chicken meat (the other chicken meat) then here is one of our family favorites:
Grilled Chicken Legs or Thighs Recipe
- 8 chicken legs (or thighs)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk (or regular milk with a squirt of lemon juice)
- 2 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more for the true heat lovers)
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper (fresh ground is always best)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Mix together all seasonings and stir in the buttermilk.
- Place chicken in a baking dish in a single layer and pour buttermilk mixture over chicken. Cover dish with lid or plastic wrap.
- Let marinate in the refrigerator for five hours (or do this in the morning before work).
- Grill over medium heat for around an hour, turning occasionally.
Meat Doesn’t Have to be Center Stage
Most people think “meat” when it comes to grilling, and the guys here are big meat eaters. I still remember when my son was in elementary school and told the neighbor I was having a cook out, but we “didn’t have no meat.” The neighbor came over to see if we were out of money only to find that I was grilling shrimp. My son now loves shrimp, although he still hates it when I buy heads on.
I have found that cutting the meat in bite sized pieces and making kabobs or using a grill wok to hold the meat makes it go a lot further. Combined with summer vegetables and served over rice, no one notices that I actually serve about half the amount of meat this way versus cooking the meat in full sized portions.
Going Meatless Some Days
Although we are a meat eating household, we also have grilled meals sans meat from time to time which cuts the meal price quite a bit.
Grilled potatoes served up with a topping bar is always popular. Just rub the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. Potatoes are root vegetables so take around an hour to grill, but that allows time to make or get together toppings.
Mushrooms, eggplant, and squash can all be grilled in bun sized portions and served up like burgers. With a marinade and/or seasonings, they pop with flavor and make a good healthy meal.
Cyndi Allison is a Grilling is Happiness sponsored writer.