For me, July 4th is synonymous with barbecuing; I don’t think there’s a better way to celebrate Independence Day than by engaging in the following culinary process: Grill meat, drink beer, and then drink more beer. But as it happens, even cooking at home can be expensive, and so for those of us not on a lobster-and-porterhouse-friendly budget, an affordable BBQ is the only feasible option. Not sure how to throw a BBQ on limited funds? Never fear: Here are some quick tips for a backyard blowout that won’t stretch your wallet too far.
Chicken: Let’s talk about chicken! It’s cheaper than steak! Maybe lathering meaty breasts in BBQ sauce and throwing them on a charcoal grill feels like an essential aspect of your July 4th frivolity, but often times, chicken breasts come at a cost. [Ed. note: They also usually taste cottony and bland. So.] Put down the breasts and pick up some chicken thighs or wings. They’re not boneless, but they are easy to eat with your hands and allow you to drink beer and gesticulate wildly at the same time. Sprinkle some salt and pepper to taste on these bad-boys, then baste ’em in some tangy BBQ sauce. Throw them on the grill and let them sit on each side for about ten minutes. You can then use them to salute the flag.
For decently priced, delicious poultry, you can check out United Meat Market: 219 Prospect Park West, Windsor Terrace
Steak: If you think you’re going to save money on some top sirloin or thick porterhouse, you’re sadly mistaken. I know, this saddens us too, but you can more than make due with some lovely flank and or skirt steak. Since flank steak is lean and flavorful, you want to cut it into thin strips and cook those over slightly flaring coals. Don’t char these too much, because flank is best-served medium rare. You can marinate these tender morsel with minced garlic, olive oil, soy sauce and honey–all things you probably have sitting, possibly neglected, in your fridge. If your steak game errs more on the skirt side, you’ll want to make similar diagonal cuts through the meat and marinate them in some red wine, preferably some two buck Chuck from Trader Joes. Sear the skirt strips for about ten minutes on each side for a medium-well finish.
For great meat, we go to the Meat Hook: 100 Frost Street, Williamsburg
Fish: It ain’t steak, but damn can it be good and even relatively inexpensive if you buy the right fish. Forget about the catch of the day, you’re not going to buy bluefin tuna straight from the deep, salty waters of the Atlantic this year. But there other options, like mackerel or blue fish that probably cook better over an open flame anyway. As far as mackerel is concerned, you can get down with lemon and sea salt, two things you might already have in your cabinet. You’re going to need a few mackerel per person, since they’re kind of a smaller fish, and you’ll want to drench them in sea salt, lemon and some herbs before gently searing them on the grill for about five minutes on each side. Don’t forget to wrap them in tinfoil beforehand, however, because fish has a tendency to stick, and that would be a disaster.
Just because you can’t shell out for lobster, doesn’t mean you should go for less-than-good quality fish, visit Mermaid’s Garden for a great selection and good prices: 644 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights
Potato Salad: Oh my goodness, where would we be without sides? Dishes like potato and pasta salad will run you a negligible amount at Key Foods, and you can surely buy them in bulk if that’s your thing. But if you’re interested in making a simple, creamy salad, you can get creative and still operate on your meager budget. If you’re looking for something classic, you can probably find every necessary element in your kitchen, but here’s what you’ll need if your head is lost in the side-dish clouds: Potatoes (preferably a lot of them for feeding all your hungry friends), mayonnaise, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar, celery, onion and some hard-boiled eggs. If you’re looking for a specific recipe that dictates the proper amounts of each ingredients, call your parents, they probably know how to make a mean potato salad. Or, you know, check the Internet. Here are a few of our favorite potato salad recipes.
Skewers: Word to the wise, you can even grill bell peppers and they will taste amazing. This is much the same for onions too. Especially true for scallions. But don’t forget the skewers! You don’t want to lose your vegetables to the fire below. Added bonus of skewered food: these little items make for great drunken snacking after all the meat is gone.
Odds and Ends: Your kitchen is likely a minefield of forgotten herbs, spices, and funky ingredients. Use them! If you’ve got garlic, rosemary, thyme and a little tomato sauce or ketchup, you’ve got the beginnings of a very fine BBQ sauce, my friend. Making your own sauce can take literally ten minutes and it’s almost guaranteed to taste good—or at least interesting, if you’re a brand newbie. What’s more, everyone will think you’re a damn culinary genius for making your own signature marinade or sauce. They’ll want you to throw a party next year.
If you don’t have spices hanging out in the back of your cabinets, check out Sahadi’s: 187 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
Beer: I don’t think this requires much explanation because you’re a human being and you know what beer is. But, in the spirit of July 4th, I’d advise everyone to drink domestic. This means Budweiser, Narragansett, Miller High Life, Miller Genuine Draft, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Hamm’s, Busch, Rolling Rock, Coors, Genesee or whatever other cheap American lager you can find. Just not Bud Lite. That’s actually un-American. And if you’re a snob and don’t want beer that more closely resembles water than anything else, go after Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or something nice from Six Point Brewery—still affordable, still American, still gonna get you drunk.
Follow Sam Blum on Twitter @Blumnessmonster