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Master the grill: Tips for a frugal but food-filled Fourth

Published June 30. 2010 05:00PM

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, it's time to fire up the grill. The long weekend is the perfect time to brush up on your grilling skills and save some cash.

Vegetarians, beware. Because meat is often the most expensive part of any meal, I'll be focusing on meat again! I've found that if we can keep the price of our main dish low, the rest of the meal is easy.

The price is right

Have you checked out grocery store flyers this week? They've got terrific sales on meat and grilling supplies. Stores typically discount the "hottest" items each week, which for holidays such as Fourth of July means great deals on burgers, buns and other summer necessities.

I stocked up on ground beef, ribs, sausage and chicken. Yes, I spent nearly $50 on meat alone but I got a great price on everything, and we won't need to buy meat for nearly a month. Save yourself time and money by stocking up when the price drops for holidays or special events, and divide packages into meal-size portions to freeze.

A word of caution: Don't assume that every item on sale (or every grilling-related item, for that matter) is a great deal. While you're in the store, compare the sale item's unit price to another brand's unit price or a similar product. That three-pound, $10 pack of frozen hamburgers may be on sale but it still costs more than $3 per pound. Grab a pack of ground beef and press your own burgers.

Grilling 101

It doesn't matter if you've spent $5 or $50 for your grilling ingredients cook with poor techniques, and you'll end up with burnt, dried-out food.

Cooking at the right temperature is key. For the best flavor and moisture, you need to sear your meat. That means, whether you're cooking burgers, chicken or hot dogs, you should cook using a hot grill to quickly cook the outside of the meat. You'll trap the moisture and flavor inside, instead of letting it slowly ooze onto the grill. Hint: This also means less mess to clean up! It's tough to sear thick cuts, so look for thinner meats or trim solid cuts (like chicken breasts) into individual portions.

Preheating a gas grill is easy turn the grill on medium-high and close the lid. Go inside and start gathering ingredients. When you come back 5-10 minutes later, your grill should be ready. Charcoal grills are ready to use when the charcoal is a very light gray.

Plan ahead: Marinate

If you know that you'll be firing up the grill, take a few minutes to prep ingredients the night before. We like to marinate chicken breasts in a small amount of Italian salad dressing or Teriyaki sauce overnight. This adds a tremendous amount of flavor with very little effort and if you're using an acid-based marinade, the marinade will start to break down the muscle fibers in your meat for a more tender bite.

Add fat or liquid

Not a fan of marinades? That's OK! Just make sure your dish has a fair amount of fat (think ground hamburger, 80 percent lean or less) or added liquid. If your meat doesn't fit this description, you'll have to find a way to add liquid.

Grab your basting brush and slather your favorite condiment on the meat every time you open the grill.

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