Steak may be the darling of your grill, but it’s time to go beyond the beef. With a little imagination, there’s not much that can’t benefit from the lick of flame or charcoal and the kiss of the grill grates. Vegetables? Of course. But how about fruit, cake or even pizza? With barbecue season in full swing, you’ve got the perfect excuse to experiment.
Explore your options with ten foods you’ll want to introduce to your grilling lineup…
Pound cake: Though it may sound incredibly odd, once you smell the sweet scent of cake sizzling on the grates, you’re hooked. Cut a prepared pound cake into 3/4-inch slices, lay flat on the grill until sides are browned and toasty. Serve with ice cream or fresh fruit.
You don’t need a fancy grill or tons of equipment to get cooking. A few basics…
– Simple charcoal grills are economic and impart great flavor. Even if you have a gas grill, it’s worth keeping a small charcoal grill around for smoking, barbecuing and slow cooking.
– Foil is your friend. Most meats appreciate a little rest after grilling (at least 3-5 minutes). Tent them to keep them warm while resting. Wrap veggies in foil for cooking. Use foil across the grates to create a shield if parts of your food are cooking to fast or to keep the ends of bamboo skewers from burning.
– Cool it down a little: It’s great to get that sizzle and sear, but it’s important to remember that food needs to cook through without burning. So move food to a cooler area of your grill after getting that initial sear.
– Keep it clean: Those burnt bits from last week’s burgers don’t add flavor. They add burnt bits. Flavor comes from a well-seasoned grill. So brush off your grill well each time.
– The Mississippi Test: How hot is your grill? If you’re like most of us, a flat hand over the fire tends to be the most common method of measurement. Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue calls this the Mississippi Test. High heat (around 600-800 degrees) is two to three counts (One Mississippi, Two Mississippi) before you shout “Ouch!” and pull your hand away. Medium high 4-5 counts, with low heat being around 12-14 counts. Or you could just use a thermometer.
– Use your fingers: We’re not suggesting your should burn yourself, but expert grillers trust their fingers to check for doneness. Firmness is what you’re looking for in meat. Softness is what you’re looking for in fruits and veggies.
– Gadgets are goofy: Sure, they make great Father’s Day gifts, but all those goofy barbecue gadgets won’t make you a better griller. Keep it simple with a good set of tongs, a spatula, a thermometer and good judgment when it comes to heat and flames.
Peaches: Stone fruit is a natural on the grill. Though you’ve got a few more weeks until peaches are officially in season, they’re worth waiting for. Slice in half, removing the pit. You can macerate the halves in brandy, dessert wine, brown sugar or fresh lime. Or just leave them plain. Leave the skin on and place the cut-side down on the grill. Cook until soft and warmed through. Top with fresh ricotta or mascarpone and mint leaves.
Pineapple: Grilling naturally caramelizes slices of pineapple, making it one of our favorite things to throw on the barbecue. Use fresh pineapple, sliced into about a half-inch thick. You can leave the heart in to keep the slices from falling apart, then cut up the pieces after grilling. Cook until the outside browns and softens.
Pizza: Who needs a wood-fired oven when you’ve got a grill? If you’re a pro, roll out fresh dough, then slide it onto the grill with a pizza peel. Cook the first side for several minutes, then flip it, brush with olive oil and a bit of sauce and cheese. It’s best to go minimal, or you’ll end up with a doughy mess. Though it may not be quite as authentic, using a Boboli or other prepared dough is a whole lot easier. Just grill one side first, flip and top. Don’t crank up the heat too high on this one, or you’ll end up with burnt spots.
Romaine/Salad Skewers: Grilled lettuce? Hearts of hearty Romaine work best. Split the bunch in half lengthwise and brush the cut side with a bit of oil. Place cut side down and grill for several minutes until there are there’s a bit of char and the leaves begin to wilt. Ranch, Caesar or even a bit of balsamic vinegar are great dressings. Another idea: Skewer small mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes and basil leaves, then grill for a new spin on Caprese.
Cheese: It’s a rare cheese that you can put directly on the grill, but Greek Halloumi is just such a cheese. About the texture of tofu, you can slice it about 1/3-inch thick then brush with lemon and olive oil. Place directly on the grill, or use a grill pan, heating for just a few minutes until softened. Serve with grilled vegetables. If you’re dairy-free, exchange some extra-firm tofu seasoned with a bit of soy sauce or teriyaki. Press out as much water as possible, then slice into 1/2-inch slices. Grill until firm.
Bananas: This is one serious foundation for a banana split. Slice the bananas in half. If you’re a risk-taker (and over 21), souse the fruit with a bit of coconut rum, and sprinkle with brown sugar. Grill for several minutes on each side.
Corn: Once you’ve grilled corn on the cob, you’ll never go back to boiling. A bit of char and smoke on the kernels just adds to the sweetness of this summer favorite. Remove the husks and silk. Rub with a bit of oil and grill for several minutes, turning, until individual kernels begin to brown and blacken a bit. Place the cooked cobs on a plate, tented with tin foil and continue steaming for several minutes. I like to cut off the kernels, then toss with a bit of lime-infused olive oil, salt, pepper and torn basil.
Ice cream: This is a tricky one, but like fried ice cream or baked Alaska, doable with a little prep. Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue (Workman Publishing, $22.95) suggests a coating of beaten egg and shredded coconut over scoops of well-frozen ice cream. Skewer the scoops, then grill quickly until the coconut is browned.
Heart: Not everyone’s into offal, but if you’re going whole hog, this is an easy way to start. Pig, beef or lamb hearts are firm, lean and muscular, with more of a meaty taste than a, well, organ-y flavor. You’ll want to find a recipe for the details of trimming and marinating (there are many online) this lesser-used cut. Skewer sliced pieces and grill gently.
Just want it smoky? Smokers are easy to build or buy, but you can get the flavor of smoke from The Smoked Olive. The Sonoma couple infuses California olive oils with a deep smoke-flavor that compliments meet and vegetables. Want to take it to the next level? Their smoked brown sugar is terrific on fruit or chicken. Find them at thesmokedolive.com.