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Grilling on a budget? Raid the pantry

Aug 30, 2011, 2:36 a.m.
Beef is grilled in Yokohama, south of Tokyo in this July 27, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

By Richard Leong

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Americans are facing sticker shock this summer, with the price of hamburgers, hot dogs, tomatoes and other staples for barbecues rising as much as 7 percent.

With grilling for many Americans likely to move from their homes to tailgate parties at football games, a little planning and a bit of creativity could remove some of the stings at the cash register without much sacrifice in flavor and quality, experts say.

Clipping coupons, stocking up on sales items, buying cheaper cuts of meat are easy first steps, said Sunny Anderson, host of the television show "Cooking for Real."

"The rule of thumb is usually that the more you do at home, the less it costs," she said.

Use what you may already have. Substitute a white vinegar in a recipe if you have apple vinegar instead of buying a new bottle of white vinegar, she suggests.

"I think this is a time when people should look and use up what's in their pantry," Anderson said.

Also, don't throw away those last few pieces of steaks and chicken. Use them to make lunch and dinner, she says.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is food writer and barbecue expert Steven Raichlen's suggestion: consider buying a whole pig or cow and divide it among family members, if you have the storage.

If you have a big cookout, Raichlen suggests beef shoulder clod, ham, pork shoulder and turkey. They take longer to cook but are cheaper than tuna, chicken breasts and strip steaks.

For something more radical, leave out the meat altogether and plan a meal around vegetables or grains.

"India, home to the highest concentration of vegetarians on the planet, is a good source of inspiration for meat-free entrees," he said.

A good compromise if you don't want to go vegetarian is to make kebobs that requires less meat, says Joshua Applestone, a sustainable butcher in Kingston, New York and co-author of "The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat."

"Kebob is a great way to have a whole bunch of vegetables and some real satisfying bites of steaks. You'll stretch your budget that way," he said.

Applestone adds that eating organic meat, while still more expensive than regular beef and chicken, is not as out of reach as a few years ago because soaring feed and fuel prices have jacked up the cost for commercial livestock breeders.

Applestone's organic chicken prices have risen about 20 percent the past couple of years, but the prices for his ground beef and dry-aged strip steaks haven't changed much.

Applestone says whether one chooses organic or convention meat, proper portions are key to staying on budget.

"We Americans have big appetites, and we fill our plates up. A really balanced meal doesn't leave you craving for anything afterwards," he said. "It's about portion sizes and less is more."

RECIPE

Flank Steak Fajitas (Serves 6. Courtesy: Sunny Anderson)

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Inactive prep time: 10 minutes

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