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Published May 29, 2014, 12:00 PM

Fire it up: Eating meat less often, choosing better cuts when indulging growing trends for grilling season as prices rise

FARGO - The sun is out, and Memorial Day is behind us – the 2014 grilling season here has begun.

By: Ryan Johnson, INFORUM

FARGO - The sun is out, and Memorial Day is behind us – the 2014 grilling season here has begun.

But high meat prices prompted by a beef shortage and the outbreak of a piglet-killing virus could mean it’ll be a summer of fewer steaks and more brats and vegetables as we gather around their grill to prepare meals.

“Talking to my sales guy, he says they see price increases again after the holiday,” said Wayne Rheault, owner of Meats by John & Wayne in Fargo.

“It’s going to get to the point where you and the other 20 people that are standing in line here are going to say, ‘Hey, I’m not willing to spend $10 a pound for this anymore.’ ”

Instead, Rheault said more people will opt for pork chops, hamburger patties and the already popular bratwursts that are more affordable during a time of high meat prices.

Matt “Charpie” Charpentier, a former Fargo resident who runs the blog “Grilling Addiction,” said rising prices are a good reason to embrace a trend he’s pushed for years – eating meat less often and eating better-quality meat when we do indulge.

Rheault said his meat store carries more than a dozen varieties of brats, and typically makes 1,500 to 2,000 pounds each week during the summer.

Brats will likely be a popular option once again, he said, and could be an even bigger seller this year. Sirloins are a great option for steak lovers, he said, because the cut is more affordable and still is good for the grill.

But there are limits, Rheault said, and chuck steaks and some of the cheaper options won’t be as tender and tasty as the more expensive cuts.

Watch for sales and stock up when the cut of choice is at a discount – though he said it’s a good idea to only keep meat in the freezer for three months or less to prevent freezer burn and a loss of flavor.

“Don’t try and get crazy,” he said. “Spend your money wisely to where you’re going to enjoy what you’re spending.”

Meatless grilling

Even without meat, Charpentier said there are plenty of tasty treats and meals that can be made with relatively little fuss on the grill.

Asparagus has been a popular vegetable option for years, he said, because it’s easy to make over flames or charcoal and can be dressed up with olive oil, salt and pepper before grilling.

But he said he’s switched in the past year to a new green standard – the Brussels sprout.

“They keep their crunchy characteristics, but they can also get a nice char of smoky flavor,” he said. “They really absorb a lot from the grill.”

Charpentier’s preferred method for cooking up the healthy, crunchy veggie is to cut the sprouts in half, cover with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grill directly on the grate. After cooking, the sprouts can be tossed with vinaigrette or a fruit glaze if desired.

Shishito peppers also grill well directly on the grate, especially after tossing in sesame oil, salt and pepper, and can be served as an appetizer or a side with a good chili flavor and not too much heat.

Some fruits also are a natural fit for the grill, Charpentier said, including the ever-popular pineapple that caramelizes nicely from its high sugar content and won’t fall apart after cooking.

But he also likes to impress guests with another easy option – strawberries, which he said can be quickly grilled for an “outdoorsy” flavor that goes well with shortcake as dessert.

Strawberries are a little harder to grill, he said, and Charpentier recommends making a kabob of the fruit with two skewers – which will keep the strawberries from falling off or spinning as they heat up, and also make it easier to flip for even grilling.

“It’s the easiest dessert every,” he said.

Grills also can come in handy for other foods not usually thought of as backyard fare, including pizzas, Charpentier said. But he said it’s important to not get caught up in temporary food fads, even for the grilling season.

“Pizza happens to be one of those trends right now, so you’re seeing a lot of pizza stones, pizza ovens and pizza grill attachments to turn your charcoal grill into a pizza oven,” he said. “But your charcoal grill is a pizza oven already, and you don’t need anything fancy.”

Charpentier recommends sticking with the most practical grilling tools, including tongs, grates and maybe a grill wok to make it easier to heat up vegetables without as much mess.

“You’ve got to get back to the basics of essential grilling and what it is all about, and it’s about rustic cooking,” he said. “It’s about getting back to the times of primitive man and standing over the fire and taming the fire, and not getting a lot of stuff in the way.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587