So, this month’s overall theme is enjoying the great outdoors. I don’t do outside. I don’t fish, though I used to be real good at sitting in a boat and drinking beer (7 years sober!). I don’t hike, even when my hip worked. One thing I do enjoy, however, is grilling. There’s something about meat (and veggies) and fire in a controlled environment. And I am a grilling rock star*, BOW BEFORE ME, PEONS!!!! But, I’m also usually broke. How do we grill on a budget?
* I think all men feel this way, yet are mostly sadly mistaken. I am good though, I promise.
Before we get started, I need to clear a few things up: I use propane. I don’t have anything against charcoal, but I live in an apartment complex. It’s just easier. I’m not Hank Hill trying to impress upon you the gospel of clean burning propane, I am simply lazy. I don’t have the time or motivation to pile charcoal into a chimney starter, let it get good and hot, put it in the bottom, let it heat the grate, etc, etc, etc. I like to be leisurely about the heat, but c’mon kids, it’s 90° outside and it’s only going to get hotter as the summer rolls on. If I have to stay outside for one second longer than is absolutely necessary, I have lost my dadgum mind. I’ve found that a cylinder of propane can last most of the summer, where you have to buy charcoal every 2-3 weeks for the amount of grilling I do. Therefore, propane is superior to the budget-minded chef.
Also, I don’t grill boneless skinless chicken breasts. It has no flavor, sticks to the grill, has no flavor, and is just a weird piece of meat. Pork is an excellent alternative, picks up seasonings well, and has its own flavor. It’s also cheaper. So, take a pork loin or chops or whatever cut you have, season with salt and pepper (maybe some garlic and paprika) and then cook it on low heat for 30 mins or so until it’s almost done. Then take it off the heat and put in a foil pan. Soak the meat in a vinegar barbecue sauce and return to the heat for 15 mins, until it’s nice and tender and has absorbed all that tangy goodness. Then thank the good Lord you have taste buds and dig in. Put it on a sandwich, build a taco, or just eat it as is.
The last thing we need to discuss is veggies. Veggies are cheap, unless you demand organic, locally-sourced, in season, and all that jazz. But, it’s summer and so many things are readily available, so what do we do? We grill them. Squash and zucchini? Slice into planks, soak them in Italian dressing, and cook them on indirect heat for 4-5 minutes a side (any longer and they tend to fall apart). Onions? Slice in half lengthwise, season, and put a small piece of butter on the slice. Cook 10-15 mins on indirect heat. Or toss some diced veggies in a foil packet with butter and seasonings and cook it on direct heat. Corn on the cob can be cooked in the husk or out. Find a good street corn recipe and test one out. I like using creole seasoning, honey, and butter. My kids don’t like crema or mayonnaise (traditional toppings), so we don’t top them with that.
Now, you might have some people telling you to grill your fruit. Peaches, watermelon, and the like have become the “hot” items to cook. Please don’t. If you want cooked peaches or apples, bake a pie. It’s a much better use of those ingredients. Plus it’s just more time in front of a hot grill on a hot day, with syrup and juices cooking onto the grill grates, and it’s a bother to clean. Don’t do it, kids.
So, that’s what I’ll be doing most afternoons this summer to keep the heat out of my kitchen. I like doing burgers and hot dogs, too. But sometimes, you need to have grown up food. That’s why I’ve shared, in hopes that you too can enjoy some sunshine and cold beverages (I like sweet tea) and share some delicious food with people you love.