Fire Up the Grill For Restaurant-Quality Meals on A Budget

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Nickel & Dine is a budget column by Rebecca Firkser, food writer, recipe developer, and expert budgeter. This time, Rebecca is teaming up with our friends at Walmart to share tips for easy summer entertaining, featuring her signature flavor-packed, time-saving recipes plus a few of her must-have hosting items from Walmart—order ‘em online for pickup or delivery.


When a perfectly grilled steak or vegetable dish is laid in front of you at a restaurant, it seems to hit all the senses at once. You listen to the sizzle while admiring the crosshatch marks on the steak or charred bits of wrinkly skin on the eggplant. As you inhale that smoky scent, you dig in—it cuts with barely any effort. And then the first bite, bearing a thousand layers of flavor from time directly over a flame. That contrast between scorched exterior and buttery interior simply couldn’t have happened in a skillet alone. Here’s a secret: This symphonic experience has less to do with the restaurant or expensive ingredients than it does with the tool, and you can very easily get any style of grill, at any price point, to suit your lifestyle and achieve restaurant-quality results right at home.

A grill (or grill pan) is one of those tools you buy once and never stop using. Whether you have a backyard or patio to set up a full-size gas or charcoal grill or have no outdoor space and opt for a stovetop-friendly grill pan instead, your meals are about to get way more flavorful. (Psst: The recipes and techniques mentioned below will work for outdoor gas or charcoal grills, or indoor grill pans.)

Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine, Food Stylist: Lauren Lapenna.

Everything You Need to Grill With Success

To get the most out of your grill, especially when cooking for others, you’ll need more than just the grill itself. Since I’m already adding protein and vegetables to my cart, I also add a few budget-friendly snacks (all available online!) to tide everyone over until the main event. For me, that’s always some kind of chip and dip—whether that means tortilla chips and salsa , or potato chips with creamy onion dip. I also like to stock up on individual cans of seltzer: They’re great for sipping solo or to use as a mixer in a simple cocktail.

And if I’m already shopping online at a store like Walmart, I never skip adding cleanup essentials, like wet wipes and trash bags to my cart. And just before I’m ready to start cooking, I’ll light a handful of citronella candles—because mosquitoes are simply not invited to the cookout.

Choosing the Right Grill (or Grill Pan) For You

When it comes to grill shopping, large retailers like Walmart have dozens of options that you can search for online (or in-app), but I’m partial to a couple for outdoor grilling. For gas, I like the Char-Broil Classic 2 Burner Gas Grill—it’s easy to turn on with the press of a button, has side areas where you can set up an uncooked and cooked prep station, and wheels to move around easily if needed. For charcoal, go Weber Jumbo Joe 22″ Premium Charcoal Grill: it’s large enough to grill for a crowd, but simple to set up on a weeknight, and at under $100, it’s tough to beat. Don’t forget to add the necessary tools to your cart—a set that includes a heatproof spatula, tongs, and basting brush is a must-have, as is a grill brush for keeping things clean.

If a grill pan for indoor use is more your speed, I say go cast iron for the best possible sear, and the Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Reversible Grill Griddle is made by a well-respected brand (but at less than $30, remains budget-friendly) and it’s reversible, so it can double as a pancake griddle for weekend mornings after the family barbecue. You won’t need extra grill tools for the pan, but a sturdy set of tongs is always good to have on hand.

What You Should Grill

From appetizers to dessert, there’s never a bad time to fire up the grill. Let’s start with the classics: Sure, you could bake those chicken legs or panfry that steak, but slap them on the grill and suddenly it’s summer, anytime of the year, plus you get that big flavor boost for no extra work or money. And there’s simply no beating those grill marks on everything from Alabama-Style Chicken Skewers to The Ultimate Bratwurst. The grill isn’t just for meats and mains, though—summery vegetables like corn, zucchini, and eggplant thrive on the grill. Just give ‘em a good rubdown with oil and plop them on the grates, then transform them into the season’s finest side dishes like lemony asparagus and garlicky zucchini. A little salt and pepper is the only seasoning they need, since you get so much flavor from the smoke and fire alone.

One of my favorite uses for the grill—that’s always a budget win—is dessert. For one of the simplest treats, cut thick slices of pineapple or halve peaches, brush with a bit of neutral oil, then pop them on the grill for a few minutes. Especially on a gas or charcoal grill, this method adds smoky, caramel notes that you simply can’t get from a skillet or oven. Serve them simply with just a drizzle of honey and some flaky salt, or go the extra step and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I also love to grill fat slabs of pound cake until just warmed, then serve them with big dollops of whipped topping. Now let’s fire up the grill!



What are your favorite foods to grill? Tell us in the comments!

Whether you’re shopping online or using their app, our friends at Walmart have easy solutions to help you get all the goods you need for summer hosting. Shop their signature Great Value, Marketside, and Great Value Our Promise brands for guaranteed high-quality fresh and frozen food, household and pantry staples, and everyday cleaning products at affordable prices. To streamline your shopping experience, check out all that Walmart has to offer here.



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