Cooking al fresco is one of the great delights of summer. Although you can cook just about anything over the coals, the centerpiece is usually a piece of meat. In search of the best cheap meats for grilling, we turned to food bloggers and ardent outdoor cooks, who pointed us to cuts that please the palate while reducing the cost of feeding a crowd. Although pricey cuts tend to be more succulent and tender, not to mention quicker and easier to cook, tougher cuts can also be finger-licking good with enough time and the right preparation.
There is almost no part of the pig that doesn't make contemporary chefs drool. Pork shoulder (or pork butt) provides loads of flavor and is one of the least expensive cuts. The secret to unleashing the flavor lies in slow cooking over low heat. Need serving ideas? Everyone loves a barbecue pulled pork sandwich, or try Vietnamese-style grilled pork, flavored with lemongrass and fish sauce.
The little black dress of meats, chicken is versatile enough to work with almost any dish. For a frugal cookout feast, avoid boneless, skinless breasts (the least succulent cut) and other pre-cut portions, and instead buy and carve up a whole bird -- you'll save about $1 a pound. Cook it directly on the grill, butterfly it, set it in a loaf or roasting pan to catch the juices, or use a smoker. Food bloggers assert that with the right technique, a grilled chicken tastes better than the ever-popular roasted bird.
Featuring lamb gives a cookout guaranteed "wow" factor. You're probably familiar with the leg, loin, and rack of lamb, which are classic feast favorites. For a budget lamb option, try the breast, which generally comes with the ribs and bones attached, or look for the ribs sold separately as spareribs or riblets. Mediterranean flavors such as lemon, olive oil, garlic, and oregano are meant to be paired with lamb. You can also cut the meat from the bone and stack it on a kebab with plenty of vegetables, which makes a little meat go a long way.
CHUCK EYE STEAK
Steak isn't an inexpensive meat, period. But for outdoor grilling, there really is no substitute. If you're on a tight budget, skip the pricier sirloin and filet. The secret to awesome steak for less lies in the fifth rib -- the chuck eye steak. It's the next cut over from the rib eye, so it shares a similar rich flavor and meat-to-fat ratio. All it needs on the grill is a bit of salt and pepper.
Whether you choose beef or pork, ribs are always a crowd-pleaser. Look for ribs with a low fat content and plenty of meat. At least half the weight -- and the price -- is the bones, so maximize the meat. You need only a little fat to keep meat moist. Cook ribs low and slow for a tender, flavorful result.
CHICKEN THIGHS AND DRUMSTICKS
If you really want to grill with pre-cut portions, snag chicken thighs and drumsticks, which are cheaper than breasts and will stay more tender and moist. The dark meat also is more flavorful and the bone helps prevent the meat from drying out when cooked over the coals.
For budget-wise grilling, you can't beat pork chops. Although a relatively costly cut of the pig, pork chops are still more cost-effective than any steak, and just as tasty. Look for thick-cut pork chops that won't dry out easily and throw them on the grill with some salt and pepper, or set them in a savory marinade for a few hours before grill time.
If you have a smoker and plenty of time on your hands, the favorite dish of the Lone Star State is simple to make. Brisket costs less than other cuts because it's relatively tough and requires more cooking time. The results, however, are delectable and well worth the effort. When buying this cheap grilling meat, look for marbling and uniform thickness. Barbecue brisket is excellent as a main course or chopped up in burritos, sandwiches, and wraps.
A good, juicy burger needs about 20 to 40 percent fat, so skip the leaner, pricier ground beef and go straight for the fatty, cheap stuff. Keep the grill sizzling hot and resist the urge to flatten the patty with the back of a spatula as it cooks, advise the experts at Better Homes & Gardens -- you don't want to squeeze out those flavorful juices. One classic Depression-era money-saving technique calls for mixing in some bread crumbs. Adding shredded raw vegetables such as onion, zucchini, carrot, or mushrooms delivers extra flavor and cuts the fat per serving. A little fruit, such as chopped blueberries, is a secret ingredient for moist, flavorful patties.
Skirt steak is a grill master's go-to cut for mouthwatering fajitas. This tougher cut is less expensive, but the chewy texture and robust flavor also make it an ideal primary ingredient for bold dishes such as carne asada or pairing with chimichurri. It's also terrific sliced for sandwiches and salads.
For those willing to venture into the world of organ meats, beef heart -- called "the poor man's steak" -- offers a tender, velvety texture and plenty of meaty flavor. The price of beef heart varies widely across different parts of the country, but generally it's cheaper than any steak cut. Slice and briefly grill it for an unusual and surprisingly luxurious-tasting dish. If you have trouble finding beef heart, chicken hearts are a bite-size alternative. The local butcher may have hearts in stock if the supermarket doesn't.