We love to entertain on the Gulf Coast, and the whole idea of cooking outside is to keep the mess outdoors while providing plenty of space for socializing.
Louisiana has its seafood and crawfish boils, and while we do them here too…its not the “fine art” that it is in Louisiana. Here though, we have the fine art of barbecuing and cooking out added to the equation. Big appetites, happy faces, and tight budgets are nearly all appearing at this year’s cook outs, so its time for some serious hard looks at what works best at keeping the most bang for the fewest bucks.
America loves its hot dogs, and we’re no different on the Gulf Coast. But when you walk into the grocery store, you are faced with a large variety of hot dogs with an equally diverse set of prices. Are those $4 per pound hotdogs really any better than the $.88 ones?
Yes and no. In our taste tests, the ONLY hotdogs that were noticeably better were the all beef hotdogs. These consistently were preferred over any other hot dog, no matter what the cost. So…if you don’t want all beef, you can use the cheapest hot dogs and no one will notice when they come off the grill. If you have some picky diners who won’t eat anything but Brand X…remove them from the package and put them in a large plastic container with a lid, disposing of the wrappers. They will never know once they add the toppings whether its Name Brand X or Store Brand Z. On the other hand, if you have some gourmets among your guests…spring for the all beef. They really ARE better!
Don’t skip the toppings. Standard selections should include: diced onions, sweet pickle relish, yellow mustard, coarse brown mustard, ketchup, sliced pickled peppers (mild), and cold sauerkraut. For chili dogs, add shredded cheese and a sauce pan of chili.
Don’t overspend on the buns. Few people notice the difference between cheap buns and name brand. This is a good place to cut costs without losing any flavor.
Burgers. This is a tough one. They aren’t cheap, no matter how you do it. The cheapest brands of frozen burgers can be substandard and difficult to grill because they fall apart or are so fatty that the grill flares continually. Neither one is good. Better brands are available, but can run over $1 per patty. Making the patties yourself can mean using more meat per patty than the commercial versions, raising the costs further too. Johnsonville’s brat burgers are excellent, but their Italian sausage one didn’t rate highly with anyone. Walmart’s preseasoned prepackaged burgers were good, but had a fair amount of shrinkage. I’ve been the happiest using the prepared patties from the meat counter, not the freezer case.
Season your burgers just before they go on the grill. Typically, I’ll use a Canadian “steak” seasoning and a smoke flavor, along with a liberal dash of Worcestershire. Smearing each patty with some minced fresh garlic can really add flavor too.
Make sure you have the fixings! Yellow mustard, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, ketchup, dill pickles, lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, and cheese are all good. For a gourmet touch, use real deli cheeses such as sharp cheddar, Swiss, Provolone, etc. Bacon strips are nice, but also expensive. Eliminating them from the topping list can save you considerably. If you want a more gourmet touch, how about sauteed mushrooms, grilled Portabella mushroom caps, or grilled onions and peppers? My personal favorite is grilled poblano peppers with sharp cheddar cheese.
As expensive as the burgers are, skimping on the buns here isn’t wise. Choose buns that are about the same size as your cooked burgers will be. Small burgers are great served on soft dinner rolls, bigger ones are delicious on a kaiser roll. Check out your bakery department.
Side dishes round out the meal, so don’t forget them. Certain dishes are almost American traditions like potato salad, cole slaw, pasta salads, baked beans, and 3 bean salad. You don’t want the side dishes to be complicated–the spot light is on the grilled burgers and hot dogs. Some salads can be purchased at a local deli, but other salads taste best when homemade. Baked beans can often be served unheated–just dump the can into a bowl and add a serving spoon!
Add music, friends, family, plenty of ice, cold beverages (don’t forget the sweet tea!) and you’ll have a barbecue that stays in budget while providing everyone with plenty of fun!