How to Save on Grilling This Summer

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How to Save on Grilling This Summer
Getty ImagesGrilling can be an economical way to prepare dinner.
By Jon Lal

Summer is about to kick off with the upcoming three-day weekend, which means the start of grilling season. If you're planning a cookout or grilling outdoors, it can be easy to scramble last minute and spend too much money because you're not armed with the right tools. These tips will help you grill on the cheap and start your summer right:

Find the right grill for you. If you're in the market for a grill, there are a few things to consider before you make your purchase. There is a big debate on charcoal grills versus gas grills. One benefit of gas grills is they are far more economical long-term, especially if you grill quite frequently. Of course, there are other factors that may be important to you when deciding which grill to buy, including where it will be placed outside, how much you entertain and your preferred taste. Whichever grill you decide to buy, do some research in advance to find coupons and sales -- stores will periodically have sales on patio and outdoor equipment, even in the peak season. If you buy a grill online, use a cash back program to earn money back on your purchase.

Buy the right amount of fuel. Depending on what type of grill you own, you'll need either propane or charcoal for fuel. If you estimate how much fuel you'll need ahead of a cookout, and then fire up your grill for the right amount of time, you can avoid some unnecessary spending.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%For a charcoal grill, you only need approximately three pounds of charcoal for four to six people. Most charcoal is ready after heating for about 15 minutes. Time your cooking to start right when your grill is ready, and then turn the grill off as soon as you are done. Charcoal is an expensive fuel and this can help reduce your consumption by quite a bit.

If you have a gas grill, look around before you decide where to purchase a propane tank and its future refills; don't settle for the first option, as you might be able to find it cheaper somewhere else. While propane is the less expensive fuel, still be considerate of when you turn your grill on and off to cook. Once started a gas grill will be ready to cook in about 10 minutes.

Choose your meat wisely. You have your grill and your fuel -- now it's time to choose your meat. It's tempting to select meats that are premium cuts and known to be delicious, but there are a few secrets that will cost you a lot less money and still leave you reigning as king or queen of the grill.

When cooking chicken, buying legs and thighs instead of breasts can save money and even add more flavor to your meal. For steak, consider buying "in bulk" and get larger cuts of meat at the butcher, then cut it up into smaller pieces on your own. When grilling fish, the "catch of the day" is always priciest, so look to other seafood options and don't be afraid to ask an expert what would be tastiest when cooked on the grill.

If you're looking to spice up a cut of meat that could use some more flavor, find a recipe online to make your own rub or marinade. Many can be made with ingredients you already have in the house.

Think ahead to future meals. When you're cooking out, whether it's a casual weekday night with the family or a full-fledged party, consider throwing on extra while the grill is still hot. Grilled meat works well in leftovers such as salads and sandwiches, and it's a smart way to make the most of your fuel while getting a few lunches and dinners ready for the week ahead. Just be sure not to make so much that you won't be able to eat it all in time.

Maintain and care for your grill. Proper grill maintenance is essential for keeping your grill around for many years to come. Clean it thoroughly before and after each grilling session, including disposing of charcoal ashes after they cooled, or changing the catch-pan liner in your gas grill. Rub down the grate with oil or cooking spray before and after each use, which will keep meat from sticking. Wipe up any spills with a damp paper towel when grill is cool, as grease and salt can accelerate corrosion.

Happy grilling!

Visit Kitchen Daily for more grilling tips and recipes.

Jon Lal is the founder of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 per order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 3,000 stores.

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How to Save on Grilling This Summer
This may seem distasteful, as many Americans believe it unsafe to eat marked-down meat close to its sell-by date. The truth is, supermarket chains mark down meat up to 75 percent several days before the sell-by date. If you're prepared to cook (or freeze) the meat as soon as you get it home, there should be no problem. Naturally, look at it and smell it when you get home. If you have any doubt, toss it. And don't buy meat after the sell-by date. I have been buying meat this way for several years with nary a problem. Two good websites can help quell your unease about this: stilltasty.com (which also has an iPhone app) and eatbydate.com.
 Before Thanksgiving is the best time to pick up frozen turkeys. I always buy two, one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. Just before St. Patrick's Day is often the best time to buy corned beef, and hams are rarely cheaper than before Easter.
As well you know, after a holiday, stores mark down the Easter candy, the Christmas gifts and the Passover and Hanukkah fixings. These are great opportunities to pick up foodstuffs that usually only grace holiday tables, to enjoy at other times.
Often, stores anticipate greater demand for ethnic foodstuffs than their patrons deliver. Take advantage of your neighbors unadventurous palates by exploring the world of flavors available at the local grocery store. Alternatively, if you are lucky enough to have an ethnic grocery store near you, many unusual foods will be substantially cheaper than at chain supermarkets. I love to go to ethnic grocers; not only do they offer samples of unfamiliar foods, but people are generally willing to explain what to do with these new (to me and you) items. Also, seafood can be considerably cheaper. Last weekend, live Maryland blue crabs were $3.99 a pound -- that's cheap even in Maryland. And you can buy fish heads and other cuts of fish to flavor stocks and chowders.
Most stores with bakeries bake more than customers will buy. One store near me always has a section of not-as-fresh breads and sweet items 50 percent off. At these prices, those are often more cost-effective than homemade.
At the back of the store, groceries hide shelves of dented or unlabeled cans and smushed boxes -- but there's nothing wrong with the contents. A few months ago, I bought a case of pasta at 11 cents a box. In some towns, small stores buy the dented and older inventory of the chains. The main caveat for dented cans is never buy a can that is bulging or that is punctured or pierced; both can signal dangers such as botulism.

Free, of course, is the ultimate savings option. Some rare stores will give you an item for free if it rings up on the register at a different price that that listed on the shelf. Just a few weeks ago, I found frozen stuffed cabbage, originally $18 for $3.99. However, it still rang up at the higher price. The clerk checked, found I was right, and it was taken off my bill for the inconvenience. This doesn't happen often, but it pays to keep a rough idea of what prices items are marked at so you can dispute the register if a price comes up wrong.

Store usually just want to get rid of these unpopular items, and they may never been seen again. Sometimes, they are products discontinued by the manufacturer. They seem to be more frequent in the frozen food aisle, in my experience.
Milk or butter are rarely marked down, but sometimes stores have gourmet cheeses at half-price. With good cheeses often going for more per pound than high-end cuts of beef, this is a fine thing for cheese lovers.
With prices for some produce also running as high per pound as meat, it's good to know that some stores mark down their uglier, older fruits and vegetables. While those may not be pretty enough for a star turn at the table when you're entertaining guests, they're more than good enough for supporting roles in stews, sauces, soups, compotes and cobblers. You can also be bold and ask -- in a nice way -- what happens with this unlovely produce and see what that gets you.
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