Stick it to the man and lower your gas bill by cooking outdoors during the cooler months.
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Ahhhh, the time change! Oh, how I love the later daylight hours, allowing me to spend more of my workday in the backyard. I swear by winter root vegetables, smarter-looking clothes and my love of colder temps, but by February I’ve had enough of the sore fingers, dry skin and elevated gas bills. Speaking of which, I have a bone to pick with our local gas company and I’m hoping warmer temps will remedy my issues.
It’s getting so my Spire Energy gas service has taken such a turn north over the past few months that I’m resorting to outdoor cooking. I know this was a harsh winter, but my home is a very efficient brick abode. My hot summers don’t reflect it in the bills, so why should my gas bill elevate?
Many of my friends and social media acquaintances have noticed similar problems despite claims (by Spire) the cost of gas has gone down by 4 percent. If we were twice as cold, should our bill cost four times as much? That’s the least of my worries.
The real reason I’m bitter is because those pranksters at Spire called me at 3:50 a.m. and at 5:28 a.m. Thursday to tell me my gas bill was four days late. That has to be illegal. At any rate, it was enough to get me to lower my consumption so they get less of my paycheck.
That leads me to this: cooking outdoors and less reliance on natural gas.
From what I paid last month, I figure a tank of Blue Rhino would be cheaper. On an easy month I could exchange four or five and come out ahead.
Of course the Hank Hill jokes of “propane and propane accessories” is an easy one to make, but on the serious side there are a lot of things you can do with a barbecue grill and a crawfish cooker. I first learned this last Halloween day when I had a gas leak. Spire came out and found the leak, shut down the gas and told me to call a plumber. I did, but the problem couldn’t be solved until the next day. I had a house full of guests coming that evening, so I cooked on my chilly patio.
On my charcoal grill I lit the chimney starter. With a skillet over the flame of the chimney, I rendered bacon followed by shrimp in the fat. I mixed the two with cream cheese on Weber-grilled French bread for a delightful appetizer while the rest of my chili and such found warmth in a slow cooker. At first I felt really Mad Max-apocalyptic about my improvisation but I realized this wasn’t very hard.
This past Friday morning during failed attempts to reach Spire customer service I began contemplating all the other things I could cook outdoors. My electric smoker (thanks, Pete) rocks, the charcoal is fantastic, the propane grill is quick and easy and the crawfish burner (I got a new one) is already my go-to for boiling and frying. This was going to be a snap!
You couldn’t ask for a more perfect time of year to attempt my experiment. I probably won’t turn the heat on again until October so my range and oven would be the only draw on the meter. I already cook outside on any day the rain goes away. We should be fine.
Charcoal grills are the most primitive. You’re almost caveman enough to hang wild game from a tree over open flame, then you realize it’s more controlled than that. The flavor that charcoal imparts to meat is unrivaled, but I will unashamedly say I think it’s more important for vegetables. I can fire up a steak on a propane grill and be happy but the veggies need the smoke.
Red onion, squashes, mushrooms and a little balsamic really come to life on charcoal. Roast that cauliflower and do all your fancy stuff with it. Potatoes in “hobo bags” with corn, tomatoes, garlic and limas sing when you open them up for the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Propane grills make everything easier. We cooked pork chops with little to no preparation last night and they were amazing. Fire it up and in minutes you’re hot enough to sear flesh, glaze fish on cedar and put grill marks on asparagus. If it’s all you have, then a cheap smoker box can get you close to that charcoal/smoker flavor.
The other thing indoor amateurs will appreciate about propane grills is that almost all have a side burner. Whatever you do on your range can be done with your average gas grill once the outdoor weather gets above 60 degrees.
Gas burners are in heavy use now that crawfish season is here. Truth is I never fry anything indoors so mine gets used for more than mudbugs. Bring me fish and I’ll gladly light the propane. I don’t need the house smelling like peanut oil. My brother and I fry turkeys every Thanksgiving, but one of my favorite frying times is when fresh okra comes in. My dad and I once ate ourselves sick on fried okra cut lengthwise in an egg wash and cornmeal batter.
A gas range in your kitchen is great for when you lose power as we often do in a hurricane. The oven is a different story. Most have a safety feature that prevents you from lighting it without electricity. So how do we bake?
There are limited things you can do with cornbread or crescent rolls using indirect heat on your average barbecue, but if you are fortunate enough to have a Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe or the like you can do just about anything. From pizzas to bread to casseroles, those ceramic grills maintain perfect temperatures that most bakers would not break stride in the event of oven failure.
Spring is about to be sprung and I’d love more of your grilling ideas. Get me out of the kitchen. Get me in the fresh air. Get me away from high gas prices! Let’s take it outside.
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