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Best cheap meats for outdoor grilling

Grilling season is here! Grocery prices are up a bit, but there are still budget-friendly ways to make outdoor cooking delicious.

By Cheapism.com Jun 20, 2013 12:48PM
This post comes from Elizabeth Sheer at partner site Cheapism.com.

Cheapism logoCooking al fresco is one of the great delights of summer and cries out for cheap meats for grilling. Although you can cook just about anything over the coals, the centerpiece is usually a piece of meat. 

Barbecue © Michael Hitoshi, Digital Vision, Getty ImagesRib steak and T-bone are made for grilling but priced above many consumers' budget constraints. Cheaper cuts of beef, along with budget-friendly pork and poultry, are not only fine but potentially glorious. In a search for the best cheap meats for grilling, we informally surveyed a random group of butchers and ardent outdoor cooks who pointed us to cuts that please the palate and reduce the cost of feeding a crowd.

Beef. A grill aficionado who hails from South America, where grilling is very serious business, says the meat should be as plain as possible but accompanied by spicy and flavorful side dishes and dipping sauces. Many cheap meats for grilling are tough, though, and require a soak in a marinade. But don't view this as a deterrent, because many pricier cuts of beef don't take to a grill preparation.

(What is a marinade? Answer: A liquid containing acid, such as vinegar or wine and other flavorings of your choice that tenderizes the fibers of tough cuts of meat. Bathe the meat for several hours, preferably overnight, lift out and grill. Marinating favorites include London broil, flank steak, and skirt steak, all cheap meats that are excellent for grilling.)

Even if you can afford filet, cooking it over hot coals is throwing away money, one butcher says. The lack of fat ensures it will dry out and lose flavor before reaching medium-done. A better bet, he says, is sirloin. In fact, all the butchers we spoke with agree that sirloin is the best all-around cheap meat for grilling, and the more marbling in the meat, the better it tastes.

Granted, sirloin is not the cheapest of cuts ($6 to $7 a pound in our upstate New York market), but as one butcher points out, there's no waste. Rub it down with salt, let it sit for a bit, and then throw it on very hot coals for about 10 minutes, total. To reduce your cash outlay, cut it into chunks and skewer it, interspersed with plenty of vegetables.

Two beef cuts that didn't make an appearance in our 2012 post on cheap cuts for barbecuing popped up in this year's research. The first, suggested by a butcher in western Massachusetts, is flat iron steak. The cost is either equal to or slightly less than that of sirloin. It's very thin and looks a bit like flank steak but is quite tender and does not require marinating beforehand. The Grilling Companion also raves about this cut and suggests cooking it over medium-high coals for about seven minutes, total.

The other beef cut we're adding to the suggestion box, courtesy of a Virginia grill master, is often sold as "London broil" (about $4 a pound in our local market). This is one of the cheap meats for grilling that can be tough and requires a marinade. It can be shoulder, top round or flank steak. London broil is relatively thick, so cutting it into thin slices post-grill delivers lots of bang for the buck. Chowhounders recommends grilling for seven minutes a side, or until it reaches an internal temperature of about 140 degrees. Let it rest, cut across the grain, and enjoy.

Poultry. Buy a whole chicken rather than parts because you save nearly a dollar a pound -- and it takes just minutes to cut up. But if you must buy parts, avoid chicken breasts ($3.19 per pound split and $3.49 per pound boneless in our area). Why? A Brooklyn butcher says they generally lack succulence and flavor. Thighs are cheaper and tastier. Our correspondent in southern California says chicken is a good, cheap meat for grilling and is made more flavorful with a teriyaki or other marinade, which keeps the lighter meat from drying out altogether.

A New England grill devotee suggests buying a whole turkey if you will be feeding a crowd. Just cut it up and pretend it's a giant chicken, but brine it first to keep it moist. Another expert recommends an injection technique instead, and provides more information than you probably need about how to smoke a whole bird in your grill.
Pork.
 Pork is a super-cheap meat for grilling and currently super-popular. There is almost no part of the pig that doesn't make contemporary chefs drool. Pig roasts, during which the entire animal is roasted in a pit, are fashionable everywhere these days. It's unlikely that you'll be keeping a whole pig in your house, so the very cheap butt ($1.99 a pound in our upstate New York market) or shoulder (often called Boston butt and priced at $1.29 a pound) are worthy substitutes. Since you probably don't have a pit either, you can slow cook it on the grill (hewing close to the barbecue style) with the coals on one side and the meat on the other.

Several butchers we spoke with caution that pork tenderloin ($3.99 a pound in the nearby market) is not a good choice for the grill because, in the absence of a bone, it dries out easily. On the other hand, there's no waste, and the extra money you're shelling out goes right into your mouth. One survey respondent prefers the tenderloin for this very reason (and for the relatively speedy cooking) and says applying a spice rub and letting it sit a while, then wrapping in bacon and basting copiously while grilling keeps the meat quite moist. 
Corn, the un-meat. When casting about for a side dish to accompany these cheap grilling meats, don't neglect corn, especially come July. A grill fest without corn on the cob just doesn't seem right. Most grill chefs suggest leaving a few layers of the husk (silk removed, as much as you can) and putting it right over the coals.

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