Summer Grilling: To Save Money, Take It Low and Slow

cuts of meat for grilling
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When it comes to summer grilling, a quick payoff has its price. Hamburgers and hot dogs cook fast, but they're not always the healthiest food to feed your guests. Hot dogs are high in salt, and hamburgers can be tainted. And while premium cuts of meat may not have those problems, a steady diet of steak is hazardous to your summer food budget.

Summer cooking is another area where it pays to take a tip from Grandma. In the past, home cooks had a simple solution: they opted for cheaper cuts of meat that took longer to cook. Many classic recipes -- from barbecue to pot roast to brisket -- rely on these inexpensive cuts, which, if done right produce tender, tasty meals.

The FDA advises cooking every cut of meat to at least 145ºF, which is basically the high end of medium. For a low-fat cut like filet this is problematic, but many higher-fat, lower-price cuts will develop amazing flavor with the increased cooking time.

Here are seven of our favorite low-cost cuts of meat to grill. Depending on the local cuisine and preferences of your area, costs will vary, and some of these options may not be a bargain. Just in case, be sure to keep a few possibilities in mind when you go to the market. Happy Fourth!

For Summer Grilling, Save Money by Taking It Low and Slow
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Summer Grilling: To Save Money, Take It Low and Slow
It's easy to see why breasts are the most popular chicken parts: while relatively low in fat (and flavor), they are also tender and adapt beautifully to most recipes. But if you're looking to save money and don't mind something a little more, well, chickeny, try thighs. They are a little higher in fat, which makes them more flavorful. And, if you have time, precooking makes them very tender: simply place a few pounds of thighs in a greased cooking pan, lightly season with salt and pepper, cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 325ºF until cooked through. Afterward, let the chicken cool, brush with the sauce of your choice, and sear on the grill.
A cheap, flavorful cut, shoulder is the basic ingredient in pulled barbecue pork. A whole shoulder weighs around 16 pounds, but it is often subdivided into two smaller portions -- the picnic roast and the Boston butt. To cook it, give it a spice rub, then smoke it on a low grill (225ºF or thereabouts) for about 75 minutes per pound of meat. Here's Alton Brown's recipe.
Unlike cute little riblets or dainty pork spareribs, full-size beef short ribs look like something Fred Flintstone would order. But if properly cooked, those gargantuan slabs of meat and bone pack a similarly gargantuan amount of flavor. Korean barbecue recipes thinly slice the bone and meat, marinate it for several hours, and quickly cook it. American recipes, on the other hand, cook the ribs slowly, giving the fat and connective tissue time to melt and soften. Either way, the end product is tender, flavorful and fairly cost effective.
Given its low cost and big taste, it's hardly surprising that so many cultures have embraced the wonders of beef brisket. The basic ingredient for corned beef and braised Jewish brisket, it's also the cornerstone of Texas beef barbecue. This recipe cooks it in the oven, instead of the grill. Given the flavor, chances are that your guests won't complain that their barbecue came from the kitchen!
Once upon a time, flat steaks -- hanger steak, flap meat, skirt steak, and flank steak -- were cheap, largely because their tough, muscly texture made them unattractive for basic cooking. However, those same attributes enable them to stand up to a marinade, which makes them a great choice for London broil, tacos, and carne asada. And even with their growing popularity, it's still possible to find deals on these cuts.

Pit beef, the official barbecue of Baltimore, is basically a rubbed, grilled beef roast. It tends to be a bit tough, even after a slow roast, so the best way to serve it is thin-sliced, ideally on a roll with a lot of onions and horseradish sauce. The mix of old-fashioned roast beef, barbecue spices and smoke is a little odd, but the low price and high flavor pretty much guarantee that you'll come back for seconds. Here's a great recipe.

Taken from the shoulder of a cow, this steak tends to be well marbled, and has a gristly line in the center that turns off many consumers. When it's butterflied without that line of gristle, it's called a flatiron steak -- a cut that's a bit more popular. Either way, it sears up nicely and can be very tender.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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