For plenty of people, Memorial Day weekend isn’t just the start of summer—it sends grilling season into full swing.
It might seem like throwing a few burgers and hot dogs on the grill would be simple and cheap, but multiply that by three months of parties and dinners, and the costs can add up.
Not to mention, it’s boring!
We asked chefs and other foodies for their best tips to grill on the cheap.
Here’s how to expand your repertoire and cut costs this summer:
Think outside the box
Grills aren’t just for entrees and sides.
Grilled romaine or other lettuces can make a unique salad, says Elizabeth Dodson of HomeZada.com.
“People cannot believe how tasty the salads are with a little grilling,” she says.
Desserts can be grill-worthy, too—try putting on pound cake and fruit such as peaches or bananas, for example.
Cook with wood
Jose Enrique, chef of soon-to-open El Blok on Vieques, advises using a mix of charcoal and less expensive wood.
“True, wood burns faster, but using a mixture of the two will save you money long-term,” he says.
Woods such as apple and oak can also impart flavor to the grilled foods.
Avoid grill-ready meats
“Any meats that are already cut and placed on skewers or seasoned are going to cost more, up to 60% more,” says Andrea Woroch of CouponSherpa.com.
“Don’t pay for the convenience,” she adds.
Instead, pick up bigger cuts of meat that make a great dish unto themselves, like a whole pork lion, or larger pieces you can cut and skewer yourself.
The experts agree: There’s no reason to buy bottled marinades.
You can make a wide range with outstanding flavors using ingredients you have around the house.
Herb cuttings add great cheap flavor.
“Save herb stems—rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram—in a small container,” says Chef Paul Simon of New York Beer Company.
“When you put food on the grill toss a few herb stems on the coals and they will perfume your meats fish and vegetables as they cook,” he adds.
Work in veggies
“If you shop at a local farmers market or produce stand and get some veggies, they are great on the grill and usually cheaper than the proteins you might want to cook,” says Jay Ducote of BiteandBooze.com.
“Obviously you’ll still want some meat, but throwing in some grilled vegetables will reduce the amount of meat you need to buy,” adds Ducote.
Skip cooking spray
“To save on money when greasing your grill, buy canola oil in bulk and put it in a spray bottle,” says Ducote.
It’s much cheaper than buying nonstick cooking sprays, which are essentially the same thing.
Let the grill do the work
Don’t let the title of Grill Master go to your head.
Check for a proper sear, but don’t flip burgers more than twice or repeatedly check a larger cut of meat’s doneness.
Enrique says, “The meat will get tough and then no one will want to eat it which makes for a huge waste of money!”
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.