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March 2018

Tablecloth Restaurant Quality Food for $3 a Serving

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Spring is in the air and I'm taking advantage of the nice weather.

The sun is out, there's just a slight breeze and the temperature is forecast to hit the 80 degree mark.  Today is a day for grilling.  For dinner tonight I'm having an apple/bourbon marinated pork tenderloin and bacon-wrapped asparagus.  Can you say, "Tablecloth restaurant quality food?"  Why yes, yes you can....

Both the pork tenderloin and the asparagus were on sale at my local grocery store, hence the impromptu menu.  I got the pork tenderloin for $7 (normally priced around $10 for about 18 ounces) and the asparagus was on sale for just 97 cents a bunch!  Can you say, "Bargain?"  Yes, yes you can....

20180322_173050The beauty of the menu is that it doesn't take long to grill things up at all.   I seared the pork tenderloin over direct heat on all sides, making quarter turns and rotating every two to three minutes and then moved the tenderloin over to indirect heat to finish cooking for another 15 minutes, until I got an internal temp of 155 degrees.  After I pulled the pork to let it rest before slicing, I wrapped up the asparagus in bacon, four sprigs per applewood smoked bacon slice and cooked those up over the coals until the bacon got nice and crispy, maybe 4 minutes tops.  After pulling those off the grill, it was time to plate.

Marinated pork tenderloin and bacon-wrapped asparagus is grilled good eats!  And this meal, with plenty of leftovers was Bachelor on the Cheap friendly, costing about $10 to put together and having enough for three meals.....   What?  Marinated pork tenderloin and bacon-wrapped asparagus for $3 a serving?  Yes.

When you are doing your regular grocery shopping, always be on the lookout for that bargain item - there's always something to grab up that's not on your list.  And if it means scratching something off my list with a budget in mind, I'll gladly do so for pork tenderloin!


Grill Shopping on a Budget

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

So I'm in need of a new grill.  But what kind of grill should I buy? Which is better, gas or charcoal?

Any kind of grill is better than no grill. A grill can be a piece of scrap metal and two cinder blocks standing over a small pile of charcoal, or it can be the latest stainless steel propane gas model with infra-red heat for searing and two side burners. Grills vary greatly in size, shape, fuel source, cost and most importantly, the ability to deliver flavor.

That last reason - flavor - is why I’m a charcoal grill enthusiast and my grill shopping on a budget will be done with that in mind. Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of useful information from this article if you’re a gas griller, but I’m here to tell you, charcoal grills deliver better flavor every time. Don’t get me wrong, gas grills have their place, but along with the great flavor charcoal delivers, charcoal has other advantages like the flexibility of using it to give big steaks that high heat sear, or using it to cook ribs low and slow. Another advantage charcoal grills have over gas is that you can easily add wood to the fire, putting another layer of flavor on that great looking piece of meat. You can add wood to a gas grill, but you’re pretty much restricted to using wood chips and you have to keep those chips away from the gas burners, almost forcing you to buy one of those gas grill accessories - the wood chip box. In my experience, the gas grill and those little wood chip boxes just don’t measure up to the flavors you can add using a charcoal grill setup. Here are some more advantages to the charcoal grill:
Grill advantage
You may have noticed, I left out electric grills in that breakdown. That’s because electric grills suck. Don’t buy one. They don’t deliver the heat they promise, you’re restricted to where you can plug it in and like the gas grill, they don’t deliver any flavor. Durability with electric grills is also an issue. I used to have an electric grill, I converted it over to charcoal after the element burned out.

“What about smokers?” you ask. This article focuses on grilling, smoking is a whole different level of backyard-cooking-meat-with-fire-experience.

So now that I’ve covered the advantages and disadvantages of the two main grill types and you now know that charcoal is the way to go, let’s talk about grills available with a budget of $150.00.  I've got enough space on my apartment patio to comfortably fit a decent sized grill, something with enough cooking grate space to prepare a delicious grilled meal for 4 - 6 people.

In shopping around, I found the following grills meeting my criteria: 

Weber Kettle GrillWeber Original Kettle Premium 22" Grill:  $149 at Ace Hardware, Cabela's, Home Depot, Walmart.  On sale for $134.10 at Lowe's.  This grill has a well-deserved reputation of durability, a 363 square inch cooking surface and an enclosed ash catcher that is easily removed for disposal.   The Premium model also comes with a hinged cooking grate that allows you to easily replenish charcoal without removing food.

Char-broil Charcoal Barrel GrillChar-broil Charcoal Barrel Grill:  $140.98, Walmart.  With 568 square inches of cooking space, this grill features adjustable fire grates and dampers, as well as a removable ash pan. The grates are cast iron, which are great for searing. It also has a swing-a-way warming rack and a handy side shelf.

Kingsford GrillKingsford 32" Charcoal Grill:  $129.98,, Walmart.  It's $185.91 on Amazon.  This grill has a 495 square-inch primary cooking area, to include a cast iron cooking grid which is adjustable.  There is a pull out charcoal pan and you can keep your space organized with two, fold-able side shelves that include a convenient tool hook and a bottle opener.

Royal Gourmet GrillRoyal Gourmet Barrel Grill:   $128.03, Home Depot.  With a compact design this grill can fit on most patios, balconies and decks.  There is an offset smoker box but just 182 square inches of cooking space. 

All grills came with multiple online reviews, but Weber comes out on top with better overall and higher scoring reviews.   And while I take caution in putting too much stock into online reviews, they do provide a gauge of sorts in prepping for a purchase and a number of negative reviews on a specific product does raise some red flags.  There were a few red flags here, with one manufacturer for example shipping their grill without all the required parts to properly assemble.  Another manufacturer shipped defective parts.  Those kind of red flags are important, because unless you want to pay extra for an assembled unit, you'll be doing it yourself and you'll want to have all parts available and fitting properly. 

So what grill did I end up buying?

20180303_081530I went with the Weber Kettle.  There is a reason this is the most popular grill in backyards across the country.  And it doesn't hurt that celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay and Steven Raichlen prefer Weber as well.  Taken care of properly, this grill is going to last a very long time, it truly is built for years of service.  The Weber Kettle is also probably the most versatile of the grills I listed, I can grill, roast, smoke and I can stand up a whole chicken on a can of beer and still get the lid on!  Weber has also done a nice job of making the Kettle easy to accessorize with the Gourmet BBQ System. The array of GBS inserts, such as a pizza stone, wok, and griddle, will turn you into a grill master. 


Spend Wisely My Friends.....


Using newspaper to start your charcoal is good, but Weber Lighter Cubes are even better

By Mike Thayer

You can start your charcoal several ways, you can use lighter fluid, you can buy those ‘Match Light’ briquettes, or you can do what I think is the best way to go and that’s fire up your charcoal using a charcoal chimney. I don’t like lighter fluid for several reasons. I don’t like to store it, I don’t like running out, the smell can get on your hands and clothes, and inexperienced grillers tend to put too much on or start grilling over charcoals that aren’t really ready yet, giving your food that nasty fuel taste. Those ‘Match Light’ briquettes are OK, they’re very convenient, but they are more expensive and like the traditional charcoal/lighter fluid starting method, can put a fuel taste on your food if cooked over before the coals are really ready. Avoid the fuel taste risk completely and start your charcoal by using a charcoal chimney.

For tips on how to use a charcoal chimney if you're not familiar with them, go to

Weber Lighter CubesI recently bought a new Master Touch series Weber Kettle Grill and while picking up a few accessories for it, came across an alternative to using a few sheets of newspaper to start charcoal - Weber Lighter Cubes.  I decided to give them a try.

These non-toxic and odorless alternatives to newspaper rock!  They're easy to use, inexpensive and easy to store!

Only two cubes are needed to start a chimney full of charcoal and the cubes come in a box of 24, so that's 12 grilling events.  And priced at $3.99 a box, they may be cheaper than that newspaper subscription.  Here are a few bonuses to NOT having to use newspaper:   Bonus #1 - Storing newspaper takes up space and can be unorganized, the cubes take up far less space.  Bonus #2 - No newspaper ash blowing around on a windy day!  On windy days, I would lightly coat the newspaper with some cooking spray before stuffing it in the charcoal chimney. That extends the burn time of the paper and prevents those little ashes from blowing around.  But with the cubes, that step isn't necessary.

Pick up a box of Weber Lighter Cubes before your next grilling event and give them a try.  Just light a few cubes before setting your chimney of charcoal over the top of them and you'll have hot coals in no time!  According to the package, these things even light when wet!

Weber Lighter Cubes get 5 out of 5 stars

5 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

For more great grilling information to include a boat load of recipes, check out my book, Grilling Good Eats now available in paperback on Amazon!

Grilling Good Eats Book