The backyard picnic table, an icy cold something to drink, smoke rising from the grill.
Grilling is one of this season’s greatest pleasures, and there are plenty of reasons to indulge (besides the food).
Plus, less kitchen cleanup and less heat in the house also means you save on dish liquid, water and air conditioning bills.
And if you shop well, you can expand your culinary repertoire without blowing your budget.
Here, some things to think about before you head to market and fire up the grill.
1. Go veggie
Corn, asparagus, summer squash, zucchini and peppers: They’re all great on the grill.
All you need is salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil.
“No need for the pricier extra virgin when you grill, as you’re unlikely to taste the difference over the charcoal flavor,” says Ann Taylor Pittman, food editor at Cooking Light magazine.
Buying locally grown produce saves you money too, especially if you shop at farm stands.
And if you load up on veggies at dinner, you can buy less meat or fish.
2. Kebab it
Grilling kebabs is not only a healthier way to cook meat (less time and less heat mean fewer potentially dangerous cancer-causing compounds), but you’ll also get more servings for your buck.
Skewered between vegetables and mushrooms, the meat is just a part of the meal, not the main attraction, so you don’t need to have as much of it.
Plus, people often take less when food is already cut up into smaller portions.
3. Slice and dice it
Think of your beef, chicken or pork not as a main dish but as an ingredient in other dishes — so that less serves more.
After you grill, slice your meat into thin pieces and toss over salads or pastas.
4. Choose cheaper cuts
Grilling brings out the best in some of the less expensive meats.
Pittman recommends chuck-eye steak: “It’s cut from the chuck-eye roast and tastes similar to rib eye but costs less.”
Flank steak is another good alternative, because “it absorbs moisture quickly so you can marinate it in 10 minutes, and it stays tender on the grill,” explains Pittman.
5. Ditch the meat altogether
Vegetarian burgers are healthier, less expensive and taste good with or without the fixings.
Boca and Morningstar brands both recently won kudos in a Good Housekeeping taste test.
Portobello mushrooms also provide some non-meaty bulk inside the bun.
6. Get spud-happy
Potatoes are easy on the budget, grill wonderfully and are very filling.
For health bonus points, go for the nutrient-rich sweet potato instead of classic Idaho.
7. Fill the grill
For maximum fuel efficiency, put every square inch of the grill to good use.
Cook two types of meat at once and save one for the next day.
Slice the meat cold and serve over salad, or reheat it in the microwave, which uses very little energy.
8. Top it with leftovers
Grilled pizza is the perfect base for food from the fridge that you might otherwise toss out.
You can buy dough from the freezer section of your grocery store or at your local pizzeria.
Roll it out and then plop it directly on the grill.
“Pizza’s great for using up all your leftover veggies — that half bell pepper or handful of arugula — or even little pieces of meat,” says Pittman.
9. Heat up dessert
Skip the premium ice cream or the artisanal gelato.
Get whatever brand of vanilla ice cream is on sale and top it with warm slices of grilled peaches or plums.