How to cook great meals on a crappy grill

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Okay, so your cottage isn’t exactly equipped with state-of-the-art grilling equipment. You’d love an expensive smoker, 12 fancy attachments, and a massive grilling surface—but unfortunately that’s just a fantasy. Your reality is a cheap, flimsy barbecue that’s been fighting rust for half a decade and doesn’t score high on the reliability scale. The good news is that your crappy grill doesn’t have to hold you back from delicious barbecue experiences. We talked to Ted Reader, Canada’s godfather of the grill, and came up with these tips for cooking mouthwatering meals on a mediocre barbecue.

Clean your grill

Reader’s first piece of advice is simple: “a clean grill is a healthy grill.” Lots of people neglect their barbecue, leaving charred food, grease build-up, and other nasty substances caked on the grates. Not only will that crud ruin the flavour of your food, it can actually block heat and keep you from achieving the perfect grilling temperature. Dirty grills are also hotspots for dangerous grease fires and you don’t want to find yourself battling an unexpected dinner blaze. Do yourself a favour and break out the grill brush after your meal. Don’t forget about the inside of the lid and the burners, which will need to be thoroughly scrubbed at least once every couple of weeks.

Replace your gas burners regularly

Yes, this will require coughing up a little cash, but experts like Reader insist that the small expense will reap big rewards. Excellent barbecue relies on strong, consistent heat and when burners (especially the ones that come with cheap grills) get old, they start to malfunction and fail to produce proper flame patterns. Check with your barbecue manufacturer or local hardware store, but generally gas burners are cost effective and much easier than starting from scratch with a whole new grill.

Ditch the crappy grill entirely and build a DIY cooking pit

Reader loves his fancy grills, but insists that all he needs to create barbecue magic is a shovel. If you can’t afford to upgrade your equipment why not go rustic and grill the old fashion way? A homemade firepit, with wood or charcoal, can create an enviable smoky flavour and isn’t subject to mechanical failure. Lifehacker has a great article on how to create a mega-sized cooking pit that’s big enough to feed large crowds, but you can always start with something more modestly sized.

Stick to high quality meat

The truth is that no matter how amazing (or crappy) your grill is, good quality meat makes all the difference. Take some of the cash you’ve saved by sticking with your rustic grill and invest it in prime cuts that are nearly guaranteed to taste good. There are lots of small butcher shops in cottage country where you can get locally sourced, organic product that will make your taste buds sing. If you’re still determined to be budget conscious, steer clear of inferior versions of pricey meat (steak, brisket, ribs, etc) and work with meat that’s always modestly priced. Chicken legs are a bargain meat, but they’re also packed with flavour. The fish in your lake are also free (minus the fishing licence!) and will taste incredible no matter how you cook them.