I’m often asked what my favourite thing to cook on the barbecue is, and it’s hard not to reel off luxurious dishes such as turbot on the bone, monster dry-aged ribeye steaks or a whopping great lobster boiled to perfection then drenched in garlic butter.
However, the reality is that all these dishes come with a hefty price tag and it’s more than possible to cook fantastic barbecue food without breaking the bank.
What to cook: One way to make savings is by selecting a cheaper cut of meat. So, for example, replace your pricey prime beef cuts with steaks such as a bavette, hanger steak or flat iron. All these steaks can be very flavourful and are often a fraction of the price.
Next, think about where you are sourcing your meat. Sometimes buying direct from a farm can cost less. You might have to buy a larger quantity, but if you have freezer space it will help in the long run. Also, check if the price per kilo is cheaper than the cost of individual items, as this will help you get better value for money.
Check your fridge: I’m sure I’m not alone in having a shelf in my fridge with a wide range of jars that I couldn’t say for sure what’s in them. It’s a great exercise to check these and use what you can find in your marinades, butters, sauces and sides. You don’t always need to follow a recipe exactly and this is often one of the best ways to save cash, as well as reduce waste.
Fuel: Another way of making savings is by using fuel wisely. Whether you have a gas, charcoal, or pellet barbecue, always consider how much fuel you need. Theoretically, it’s the same as driving your car. The harder you push it, the more fuel you use, and the more expensive your running costs will be.
People also often use too much charcoal. Most recipes only call for half a chimney starter, so it’s important to make sure you’re using the right amount, for the right length of time, to ensure you are being as cost-effective as possible.
If you are using a gas or pellet barbecue, keep a close eye on the pre-heat time. The key is not running the barbecue for too long when there’s no food in it.
With everything going on in the world amid rising energy bills, BBQ is actually one of the most cost-efficient ways of cooking your dinner this winter.
Low and slow: This method of cooking isn’t necessarily going to be the most energy-efficient way of barbecuing, but it is balanced out by the fact that you can cook a cheaper cut of meat for dinner. Pork shoulder is a great example. Cooked low and slow to make pulled pork, you can turn a cheaper cut of meat into a BBQ favourite with plenty of leftovers for wraps and sandwiches.
Sides: Think about what sides you can cook at the same time as you’re cooking the star of the show. This way you’re also ensuring you’re not wasting any fuels costs. Macaroni cheese is always a winner for me; it’s nice and easy to throw together and tolerates a large variance in heat, so I’m always slinging it on the grill as a side. Pack out your BBQ with plenty of sides; it offers everyone a nice choice when they’re filling their plate and can be a real cost saver.
Leftovers: When I’m cooking BBQ this winter, I’ll be aiming to make two or three days’ worth of meals in one go. Cooking pork belly on the grill is an absolute favourite in my house because the next day we have a pork belly stir fry, or a pasta with the leftovers. Another great idea is to roast a whole chicken (or two) and use the leftovers for chicken pie – one or two chickens, they’re both going to take the same amount of time to cook.
What’s on the grill: One of the best things you can do when cooking on a budget is look at what you’re buying when you shop. Mackerel cooked over fire is certainly the best way of eating mackerel and very cost effective. Chicken wings are another great option and offer plenty of variety, while bavette or flank is great, packed full of flavour and significantly cheaper than its ribeye counterpart.
Of course, when we’re cooking a BBQ and we’re looking to impress our friends, we want a centrepiece to be proud of. A lot of us will opt for beef brisket or rib of beef are always popular but a porchetta is equally show stopping and a lot more cost effective when feeding a crowd.
Fuel: Depending on if you’ve got a grill, a smoker or a wood-burning oven, winter is a great time to get bargain deals on charcoal and pellets with lots of websites and stores offering various discounts in the ‘off season’.
Cooking: Shut down your air vents as soon as you have finished cooking. Retain as much life in the charcoal for reuse by starving it of oxygen and ‘turning it off’. This works especially well in kamados and well-sealed cooking units.
Leftovers: These aren’t just for fridge pickings throughout the week. You can combine leftover smoked ham and that half a spatchcock chicken to make an incredible pie.
Cost: Can’t afford the expensive full packer briskets and the cuts that Instagram says you should be cooking? For low and slow, default to beef shin, or for hot and fast try a bavette or onglet. Just make sure you rest them well and they will be just as good as any traditional ‘trendy’ cut.
Time: Pre-cook your BBQ in one sitting and make a small investment in a vacuum sealer. It is a brilliant way of making food last longer and it will also enhance the smoky flavour over time. Just gently boil in the bag to reheat and you won’t lose any of the moisture.
Watching the pennies doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice flavour in your food. Traditionally, peasant food is the stuff we all crave when we need a pick me up – the generous bowl food that comforts us with a hearty hug.
Slow heat, simple ingredients – cheaper cuts and ‘soily’ veg – and a little extra cooking time can transform ingredients into something new and infinitely more delicious.
BBQ is the best way to transform humble food into something magical. Well-insulated Kamado Joe ceramic grills are kings of low and slow cooking; perfect for those tougher cuts of meat that have the fat and fibres to melt down over a long period of time.
Chicken: Go for thighs over breast. A whole chicken goes further still and you can always freeze the smoky stock in ice-cube trays and use them later to whack flavour into sauces and soups.
Hanger: Fillets are out, hanger is in. Look for chuck, flank, brisket and leg – all beef cuts that need a little extra love but worth it for the deeper flavour. Buy bone-in cuts and remove them yourself if you wish.
Fuel: Cheap charcoal is a false economy. Buy the good stuff and you’ll never look back. Kamado Joe Big Block Charcoal is exactly that – large chunks that will take a long time to break down. A handful will cook for at least 10 hours and see you through a second cook.
When using all-natural lumpwood charcoal you don’t have to wait until your charcoal turns white before cooking on it - that’s an old wife’s tale. If there’s heat coming off the charcoal, you can use it.
When you’re deciding what to cook, also make a plan for the residual heat of the barbecue. Perhaps a tray of brownies, a quick stew or simply throw in a couple of spuds for the best baked potatoes you’ve ever tasted.
Leftovers: Finely chop up any red meat and sausages for an incredible ragu or chilli that can blip away in the residual heat for hours. If you’ve made pizza, the remaining dough can be turned into focaccia or a loaf of bread.
Good slow food takes a while to reveal itself, so make enough so you can eat today, tomorrow and later on in the week.
BBQ doesn’t just have to be about the Desperate Dan sized cuts. Good quality mince has never gone out of fashion – ideal for burgers, koftes and cottage pies. It stores neatly in the freezer and makes food go further.
Turkey: Smoke a turkey thigh you can buy for around £3.50 from a supermarket. Make a rub of garlic and onion granules, salt and pepper and a touch of sugar. Rub the turkey all over with American mustard as a binder before liberally coating the turkey with the rub and then smoke on the barbecue.
Knock up a slaw while the turkey is cooking and once cooked rest for 30 minutes. Pile the turkey and slaw onto crusty cobs and this feeds four to six people.
Potatoes: Wrap potatoes – cheap but filling – in foil and sling them on the coals while the Christmas turkey is cooking. And, as you have the BBQ on, batch cook some chicken thighs for the festive days ahead – perfect on sandwiches with pickles, rather than resorting to a floppy ham Boxing Day sandwich.
Onions: Whole roasted onions on the coals always go down well. Once cut in half to serve, all they need is salt and pepper and a little butter.
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