Feeding family and friends on a budget doesn’t have to mean giving up on smoky grilled flavor. Especially when all it takes is a little know-how, and culinary creativity to transform non-traditional, cheap cuts of meat into succulent grilled morsels everyone will love.
Whether you’re working with a limited budget, or you just want to break out of the burgers and brats rut your grill is stuck in, you might want to consider bringing some of the following cheap cuts to your beloved grill or smoker.
Pork Hocks Belong in the Smoking Section
Once upon a time, in a generation far, far away, pork hocks were one of the most common cuts of meat gracing the family table. This is the lower leg, the shin area of a pig. When slow roasted the tough collagen inside renders into succulent gelatin unlocking the robust flavor of the meat.
You can easily take pork hocks to the smoker for four to five hours to render and cook it tender. Then sear the skin over a direct flame to create a smoked version of classic German Schweinhaxe.
Country-Style Pork Ribs Found in the City
Country-style pork ribs aren’t actually ribs at all. They’re actually cut slices of pork shoulder. Some have sliced chunks of the scapula in them, others have cartilage. You can smoke them like you would a pork shoulder. Only with a shorter cook time.
From there you can choose to sauce and glaze whole country-style pork rib like you would Kansas City-style spare ribs. You could also pick and shred the meat like a pork shoulder. Just go heavy on the sauce as it might be a little dryer than a traditional pulled pork sandwich.
Pork Riblets Have Their Own Flair
Our humble friend the pig is a gift that just keeps giving. Riblets like you find at those upscale franchise pub restaurants are just trimmed tips removed by meat processors when butchering pigs for spareribs.
Some commercial butchers are now pre-smoking them to sell on the cheap in their display cases. If you know of a country Butcher who is handling their own pork processing in-house, they probably have a sack of frozen riblets the size of a small asteroid sitting in the freezer.
You usually have to buy the whole tangled frozen mass, for a ludicrously low price per pound. Then partially thaw it all just enough to break it into portions.
You can make these riblets just like you would spareribs or a St. Louis-style rack. Except, the final smoke time is usually 15 to 25% shorter.
Chicken Thighs & Leg Quarters Harken to Bygone Goodness
Before the material excess of the 1980s, you could walk into just about any sit-down restaurant in the United States and find Chicken Thighs or Dark Meat dinner on the menu. Somewhere along the way, people decided that white meat chicken breast was all they wanted, and the humble chicken Thighs and leg quarters vanished from most menus. For decades we shipped them at frozen discount prices to Russia and China.
Today, chicken dark meat is making a comeback. Yet with a deft eye, you can still find chicken leg quarters and Thighs sold for less than a dollar a pound. If you buy in bulk, you can sometimes find them for less than 50 cents a pound.
Chicken Thighs and leg quarters are great for smoking or hybrid Grilling. They take a solid two to three hours in a 250-degree smoker to get “Fall off the bone” tender. Then you can sauce them as barbecue chicken or pick the meat for delicious shredded chicken sandwiches.
You could even debonair the chicken Thighs. Give them a Chipotle marinade and grill them. Then slice against the meat fibers to create mouth-watering chicken fajitas.
Fresh Turkey Breast Is a Blank Canvas
When most people think of turkey breast it either conjures up images of Thanksgiving, or thinly sliced deli meat that smells slightly of cat food. Though in truth a lot of grocery stores with a full-service meat department and deli often have whole fresh turkey breasts wrapped in the refrigerated case for less than $5 a breast.
These are usually the small cast-offs that didn’t get used by the deli department. They can serve as a somewhat blank canvas for a lot of other grilling and Smoking flavors.
With fresh turkey breasts, it’s best to stray away from Thanksgiving. Instead try to embrace hickory smoking, or perhaps a Cajun spice rub. The meat can be hybrid grilled or smoked slow and low. When it’s ready, you can pick the turkey for hoagie sandwiches, serve it in wraps with fresh veggies, or serve sliced with roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
Beef Top or Bottom Round Can Astound
The round beef primal is divided into top and bottom sections. They tend to be very tough but also flavorful. In Maryland, they take the round and smoke it around 275 to 300 degrees until the core is 135 to 140 degrees. Then slice it thin to make their famous pit beef sandwiches.
This is a great strategy that opens the door for a lot of other interesting topping and flavor combinations. Though the key here is to slice it thin to win. You need a blazing sharp knife to cut against the grain with precision.
From there all you need is a soft hoagie roll, kaiser roll, or rye bread a boatload of sautéed onions, or whatever else you want to add. You could even lay out an array of different sandwich ingredients, cheeses, and toppings to let your guests create their own interesting combinations.
Round primals are so large, you’ll have more than enough meat to feed a herd. It’s a great, inexpensive way to feed a gathering.
Take a Peek at Inside Skirt Steak
Inside skirt steak comes from the belly band of the steer right under the rib cage. It is one of those less popular cuts of beef that meat processors often toss into the trim bin to be ground into hamburger. Though you can often find it at full-service meat markets and Latin Butcher shops for a very low price per pound.
Yes, there is a fair amount of fat and gristle that you need to trim away from some inside skirt steaks. Then all you need is a tasty Chipotle seasoning rub, before taking it to the grill for a quick sear. The inside skirt steak is then sliced thin against the grain and added to a tortilla with grilled peppers and onions for lip-smacking fajitas on the cheap.
Go Horizontal with Flatiron Steak
Flatiron steaks can be known by several different names, and some meat markets play fast and loose with what can be called a flatiron, hanger or even flank steak. Though traditionally the flatiron steak is cut from the chuck primal. This gives it a luxurious 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio and tons of beefy flavor.
You can grill it just like any other steak, but it’s best to bench rest it for a solid 20 minutes, salted and rewrapped. This will help warm the interior of the flatiron steak, while also helping to loosen the relationship between the larger pieces of fat and the meat.
Then grill it like you would any other steak to your desired degree of doneness. When you take it off the flames, wrap the flatiron steak in heavy-duty aluminum foil to rest it for a solid 5 to 7 minutes. Then slice it against the grain right before serving. If you don’t rest it before slicing all the interior juices will pour out on the plate. If you accidentally cut it with the gran, you’ll end up with strands of meat that are tough like rubber bands.