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A Guide to Budget Grilling


Dear Up in Smoke Subscriber:

Plug the words “budget” and “grilling” into any Internet search engine, and you’re likely to churn up headlines referring to squirmy appearances before Congress by high-profile auto and banking executives who are being “grilled” about their roles in undermining our economy, and who probably feel like their hindquarters are figuratively “in the fire”.

Like most Americans, I miss the good ol’ days when TARP meant something you threw over the woodpile and Bernie Madoff wasn’t a household name.

But you don’t need a degree in finance to know that all of us are watching our money more closely.
Here’s some rare good news from the economic front: tough meat and tough times don’t have to go together.
Less expensive cuts of meat respond beautifully to the low, slow heat of smoking and barbecuing. They can even be the stars of your live fire show. Below is my strategy for saving money on food in these challenging economic circumstances:


Stay home and fire up your grill. Simply commit to grilling at home and automatically save money—especially when entertaining a group. Grilling at home is also healthier for you and more fun.

True barbecue is the original budget food. The low, slow heat of the smoker breaks down tough meat, making cheap cuts like brisket and ribs supernaturally flavorful.

Save leftover charcoal for next time. If there is charcoal left over, cover the grill, closing the top and bottom vents to put out the fire. Use the remaining charcoal for a future grill session.

Inexpensive steaks, like skirt and hanger, have a lot more flavor than costlier cuts, like filet mignon. Tenderize these cuts by flash-grilling over high heat and slicing the meat thinly across the grain.

Choose the less-expensive dark meat pieces of a chicken. Dark meat, like thighs and legs, is better marbled, richer tasting, and less prone to drying out when exposed to the high, dry heat of the fire than pricier white meat pieces. Ninety-five percent of the world’s grillmasters prefer dark meat.

Expensive sirloin and Kobe beef may have the prestige, but chuck delivers more flavor when making a burger. Choose chuck that is at least 15 percent fat and your burgers will be juicier. And try making an inside-out cheeseburger by grating sharp cheddar, pepper Jack, parmesan, or blue cheese directly into ground meat; it melts as the meat cooks, producing an exceptionally moist burger.

Grill dark oily fish like sardines, Spanish mackerel, or kingfish as an inexpensive seafood alternative. The omega-3 fatty fish oils are great for your health and keep the fish from drying out on the grill.

Smoke whole briskets, beef clods (shoulders), pork shoulders, whole turkeys, and racks of spareribs. This yields more meat for the money, much less work is required, and everyone loves the primal pleasure of cutting into a communal-size roast.

Cook the whole meal on the grill. Appetizer, main course, vegetable side dishes, and even dessert can be cooked using live fire. It saves on fuel, clean-up, and wear and tear in the kitchen. And don’t forget, if something tastes good baked, fried, or sautéed, it probably tastes better grilled!

Farmer’s market buys on summer vegetables can be the centerpiece of a grilled meal. In some Asian countries, meat is often served as a precious condiment to vegetables and salads.



Penny for pound, it’s hard to find more flavor than turkey legs and thighs.

Source: Recipe adapted from BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen (Workman, 2003)

Method: Smoking

Serves: 4

Advance Preparation: 3 to 4 hours for brining the turkey

For the brine:

1/2 cup bourbon (or substitute apple juice)
1/2 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 lemon, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
4 cloves garlic, peeled and gently crushed
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
8 cups water

For the turkey:

8 turkey legs
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Spicy Apple Barbecue Sauce or your favorite barbecue sauce for serving

You’ll also need: 1 large container or a jumbo or 2 large resealable plastic bags for brining.  About 2 cups wood chips or chunks (apple or pecan work great), soaked for 1 hour in water to cover, then drained.

1) Make the brine: Combine the bourbon, salt, brown sugar, lemon, garlic, peppercorns, and mustard and coriander seeds in a large nonreactive bowl with 8 cups of water and whisk until the salt and brown sugar dissolve.

2) Rinse the turkey legs under cold running water. Put the legs into the resealable plastic bag(s) and add the brine. Refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours, turning periodically to distribute the brine evenly.  For faster brining, perforate the meat with a fork or marinade turbocharger.

3) Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium, about 325 degrees F. If using a gas grill, place half the wood chips or chunks in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and run the grill on high until you see smoke.  Then lower the heat.  If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center, preheat it to medium, then toss half of the wood chips or chunks on the coals.

4) When ready to cook, drain the brine off the turkey legs and blot dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.  Lightly rub the turkey legs with the olive oil. Arrange the turkey legs in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and indirect grill the turkey until cooked through, 1 to 1-1/2 hours, adding charcoal as needed To test for doneness, use an instant-read meat thermometer; the internal temperature should be about 165 degrees F.

Note: you can also smoke the turkey in a smoker.  You’ll need 2-1/2 to 3 hours at 250 degrees.

Serve with your favorite barbecue sauce.


The brat-fry (act of grilling bratwurst) is a Wisconsin institution.  Unfortunately, the high fat content makes brats prone to spectacular flare-ups. You can avoid the pyrotechnics and add incredible flavor to this iconic American barbecue staple by smoke-roasting using indirect grilling. Another advantage is that the skin is less likely to split and lose those great juices to the fire. You can find some of my favorite brat variations, such as wine-simmered brats and Philly cheese brats, on page 353 of BBQ USA.

8 uncooked brats

For serving (optional):

Dark, spicy, German-style mustard
Grilled onions
Dill pickle slices
Hard rolls, hearth rolls, or Kaiser rolls

You’ll also need: 2 cups wood chips or chunks (preferably apple or hickory)

1) Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium (350 degrees F).
If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips or chunks in a smoker box or smoker pouch and run the grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center, preheat the grill to medium, then toss 2 cups of the wood chips or chunks on the coals.

2) When ready to cook, place the brats in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat, and cover the grill. Grill the brats until crusty and browned on the outside and cooked thoroughly, 30 to 40 minutes.  (To check for doneness, insert an instant-read meat thermometer in one end—it should read 160 degrees F.)

3) Serve the brats immediately with the accompaniments suggested above…and of course, plenty of cold beer.

Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen, Grill Master and Editor-in-Chief
Nancy Loseke, Features Editor

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