The next time you fire up the grill this summer, don’t limit yourself to the tired standard of burgers and hot dogs. Fancier fare can be just as cheap, and more delicious.
Grilling aficionados have long exhorted that pretty much everything can be cooked on a grill, a trend that benefits cost-conscious foodies looking to impress at their next party or just make something cheap and easy for dinner that doesn’t involve dirtying more pots and pans when the grill is already lit. Even the toughest cheap cuts can be made grill-worthy with an inexpensive marinade or rub, while flimsy or smaller items (think flaky fish and sliced button mushrooms) benefit from skewers or a wrap of parchment paper or aluminum foil.
There’s room for creativity, too. Frugal Foodie and Mr. Foodie recently made veggie pizza on the grill, followed by grilled slices of watermelon and peaches with ice cream for desert.
What are you grilling up this season? Here’s what cheap dishes chefs and home cooks say they’re trying:
Cost: $2, or $0.50 per serving
Asparagus is still in season in many areas, selling for as little as $2 per bunch. Andrew Billmann of Madison, Wisconsin, cooks his on the grill, first wrapping the stalks in a tinfoil pouch with a drizzle of lemon juice and water and a part of butter, and putting the whole thing on the grill for about three minutes until the stalks are bright green. Open the pouch and place the stalks directly on the grill for another two or three minutes. “Simple, healthy, economical, sophisticated, magnificent,” Billmann says. (Frugal Foodie has made similar recipe that also adds fresh mint from the garden.)
Cost: $2.39, or $0.59 per serving
Eric Salerno of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, sprinkles a little jerk seasoning on slices of fresh or canned pineapple before grilling them. The dish works as a savory side or a punchy dessert.
Glazed Doughnuts with Chocolate Espresso Dunk
Cost: $3.46, or $0.58 per serving
“The results are mind-blowing,” say “Fire It Up” authors Andrew Schloss and David Joachim of this recipe contributor Ben Cassorla of Los Angeles sent them: Mix together a cup and a half each of unsweetened cocoa powder and brown sugar, and a pinch of salt in a large heavy saucepan. Whisk in two cups of freshly made espresso and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sauce comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about two minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add two tablespoons unsalted butter, stirring until melted. Cover and keep warm. Coat six doughnuts (any brand) on both sides with cooking spray. Brush the grill grate and coat with oil. Grill until the glaze melts and the doughnuts are browned on both sides, about 30 seconds per side. Do not allow to burn (set the grill for low heat for best results). Pour half a cup warm sauce into each of six small coffee cups and serve one to each guest with a doughnut for dunking. Serve warm half-and-half on the side for adding to the chocolate dunk, if desired.
Cost: $3.63, or $1.82 per serving
Bananas and chocolate sandwiched between grilled tortillas feature in this adaptation of a Paula Deen recipe from Larry Gaian of The BBQ Grail. A little chipotle powder adds kick.
Cost: $3.95, or $0.99 per serving
This cheap meat can be quite tasty when marinated and grilled, says Kent Whitaker, a.k.a. The Deck Chef and author of “Meals of War.” Whitaker got this recipe from a World War II vet who served as the chef on a Navy vessel: Slice and marinate a can of Spam in a little orange marmalade for as long as possible. Grill the slices, letting the marmalade thicken into a glaze. Remove, dash with hot sauce, a grilled pineapple slice if you have it and toss on some bread for a sandwich. “A wonderful taste with little cost,” he says, “and it is steeped in history.”
Cost: $6, or $1 per serving
Buying a whole chicken is typically less expensive per pound than individual cuts, but grilling an entire bird takes some finessing for fast, even cooking. Gaian suggests spatchcocking – i.e., cutting the bird open so it lays flat on the grill, then marinating as you choose. Follow his instructions (with photos) to get the bird grill-ready.
Cost: $10.26, or $1.71 per serving
The average serving of potatoes costs just $0.25, according to the United States Potato Board. Spokeswoman Liz Conant says grilling brings out the flavor, and likes this recipe, with its three dipping sauces, as cheap and unusual grill fare. (Skip one or more of the sauces, or invent your own, to cut the cost.)
Balsamic Pork Tenderloin
Cost: $10.83, or $2.71 per serving
Publicist Tara Moira McBride is such a fan of the hanger steak recipe her neighbor Patrick Adams, a chef in Le Dock in Fair Harbor, N.Y., makes, that she adapted it for pork tenderloin, a cut that costs roughly half the price. Pour enough balsamic vinegar in a bowl (or sealable bag) to cover the pork tenderloin. Add a generous cover of freshly ground black pepper, kosher salt, rosemary and a half-cup of capers. Marinate for at least 30 minutes. Grill on each side of the tenderloin for eight minutes (until slightly pink in the middle) and let sit on carving board for 10 minutes. While grilling the meat, pour the remaining marinade in a sauté pan and reduce by half. Pour sauce over platter of sliced meat before serving.
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.