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10 Foods You Didn't Know You Could Grill

Published in Gourmet Live 07.18.12
Gourmet Live's Kendra Vizcaino-Lico goes beyond barbecue basics to recommend some surprising ingredients for cooking over the coals
10 Foods You Didn't Know You Could Grill

Burgers, hot dogs, and ribs are tried-and-true cookout staples. Beloved as they are, though, why stop there? Shake things up this summer with our picks for the 10 best, most-unexpected grill-friendly foods, including bacon, cake, lettuce, and avocados. Fire up the grill for a feast you won't soon forget.

1. Lettuce

Heating lettuce might seem like a terrible idea, and in some cases, it can create a wilted, soggy mess. But with the right leafy varieties and the proper technique, grilling will just slightly soften the greens while also lending them an irresistible smoky char. The trick is taking advantage of the grill's knack for quick, high-heat cooking. Stick to heartier lettuces with tightly bunched leaves (such as romaine, iceberg, radicchio, or endive), and halve or quarter the lettuce lengthwise, keeping in mind that larger bundles will be easier to maneuver on the grill. Oil the grill grates, preferably with canola or vegetable oil, which have a mild flavor and a high smoke point. Prepare your grill for cooking over direct, medium-high heat (for detailed instructions, see the Grilling Procedure section below). Place the lettuce halves or quarters directly on the grill grates, and cook just until grill marks are visible, about 2 minutes per side.

2. Shellfish

Shrimp on the barbie is old news, so why not try some other grill-friendly shellfish, including clams, mussels, and oysters? You'll need about 1/2 pound of shellfish per person for an appetizer, or 3/4 pound per person for an entrée. Prepare the grill for cooking over direct, medium-high heat. Place the cleaned, scrubbed shellfish (if using mussels, debeard them, too) on the grill, cover, and cook until all the shells have opened and the meat looks plumped and juicy. Cooking times can vary widely, so after the 5-minute mark, start taking a peek under the lid every minute or so to check on your bivalve beauties. Clams and oysters generally take 5 to 10 minutes to cook, while mussels cook a bit faster and will likely be done in 4 to 8 minutes. Remove to a dish or platter, add a squeeze of fresh lemon, a drizzle of melted herb butter, or both, and dinner is served.

3. Avocados

Grilling avocados enhances their creaminess while adding flame-kissed flavor. Slice ripe avocados in half and discard the pit (leave the skin on). Lightly oil the grill grates and prepare the grill for cooking over direct, medium-high heat. Place the avocado halves, cut side down, directly on the grill, and cook for about 5 minutes, or just long enough to warm the fruit throughout and develop medium-dark grill marks. Once the avocados are cool enough to handle, carefully remove the skin and thinly slice the fruit to serve over salads, in sandwiches, or with grilled fish, chicken, or beef. Alternatively, use the flesh to make guacamole, or leave the skin on and top each half with fresh seafood salad.

4. Garlic

Garlic is exceptionally easy to grill, and the end product is both delightfully soft and slightly sweet. Start with a whole head of garlic and slice about 1/2 to 3/4 inch off the stem end so that each clove is visible. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with dried herbs if desired (oregano, basil, or thyme work well), and then wrap in aluminum foil. Poke a few holes in the foil to let the smoke of the grill seep into the garlic. Prepare the grill for cooking over indirect, medium-high heat, cover, and cook the garlic until it's light golden brown and the cloves shrink away from their papery skins, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Use caution when opening the foil packet to check on the garlic's progress.) Once the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves from their skins. Spread the softened cloves on bread, add them to salad dressings, or try mashing them with some butter or olive oil to make a flavorful topping for grilled veggies, meats, poultry, or seafood.

5. Fruits—Even Berries

The char of the grill quickly caramelizes the sugars in fruit, bringing out their natural sweetness, and a vast array of fruits, both big and small, can stand up to the heat. We recommend peaches, grapes, bananas, strawberries, melon, and plums. Thread smaller fruit, like berries, onto skewers (presoaked, if wooden) to keep the fruit from falling through the grates. For larger varieties such as melons, cut the fruit into easily manageable chunks. Stone fruit should be halved and pitted before cooking. Lightly oil the grill grates and prepare the grill for cooking over direct, medium-high heat. Cooking times vary, from 3 to 6 minutes, with larger fruits, of course, taking longer than smaller ones. Grilled fruit makes an effortless summer dessert, but it can also be an excellent and unexpected accompaniment to grilled meats and fish.

6. Cheese

When you think of grilled cheese, the classic sandwich probably comes to mind. This summer, ditch the bread and head to the grill for a whole new way to experience your favorite fromage. Firm cheeses that resist melting, such as Halloumi or Queso Blanco, can be sliced about 1/2 inch thick, lightly oiled, and cooked over direct, medium-high heat. Grill for 5 to 8 minutes, flipping about halfway through, until there are visible grill marks and the cheese is heated all the way through. Cheeses with a thick bloomy rind, like Brie or Camembert, can be grilled on a cedar plank (presoaked in warm water for 30 minutes), covered, over indirect, medium-high heat. Use small, whole wheels of cheese, about 8 ounces each, and place in the center of the cedar plank. Grill for about 15 minutes, until the wheel appears to sag a bit and the cheese is heated all the way through. These stretchy, chewy, gooey cheeses can be enjoyed plain or topped with fruit, and paired with bread or crackers. Just be sure to serve them while they're still warm, and you'll have an instant hit at any backyard bash.

7. Cake

Now you can have your cake and grill it, too. Just a few minutes over the flame will warm up slices of unfrosted cake while crisping the soft texture and adding a toasty depth to the flavor. Use completely cooled homemade cake or pick one up from your favorite bakery. Stick to cakes that don't crumble or fall apart easily, like angel food or pound cake, and cut 1- to 2-inch-thick slices. Lightly oil the grill grates and prepare the grill for cooking over indirect, medium heat. Place cake slices directly on the grill grates and cook until grill marks appear, about 4 minutes per side. Grill-toasted cake is delicious plain, but serve it with Greek yogurt or ice cream and fresh berries and it becomes sensational.

8. Olives

Why grill an olive? Why not! The firm flesh of these savory snacks can handle the heat of the grill, and the fire brightens their briny flavor. You can use any variety of olive you like, as long as they're pitted. Lightly oil the grill grates and prepare the grill for cooking over direct, medium-high heat. Thread pitted olives onto skewers (presoaked, if wooden) and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side. The warm, charred olives make tasty appetizers on their own, or they can be added to salads as well as meat, poultry, and fish dishes. A cocktail option: Garnish a chilled martini with a barbecued olive.

9. Citrus

It's standard practice to serve lemon wedges with grilled fish, but you can take the magic of this cooking method even further by grilling your citrus, too. Cut fruit—lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit all work well—in half crosswise then lightly oil the grill grates and prepare the grill for cooking over direct, medium-high heat. Place the citrus, cut side down, directly on the grill, and cook until the fruit is warm throughout and medium-dark grill marks appear, 2 to 5 minutes. Squeeze the seared citrus over your favorite seafood dishes, or use the juice to pump up summer cocktails.

10. Bacon

Everything you love about bacon—including the salty, smoky flavor and the crispy texture—is amplified by the grill. You can grill sliced bacon as is or cut slab bacon into 1-inch cubes and thread them on skewers (presoaked, if wooden). Prepare your grill for cooking over indirect, medium heat. Be sure to place bacon strips perpendicular to the grill grates to prevent them from falling in. Cooking times will vary, so monitor the pork to see when it reaches the desired crispiness. Strips should take 8 to 10 minutes, while the cubes will need 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful of grease drips and flare-ups while cooking, and let the bacon cool for a minute or two before digging in.


Charcoal Grilling Instructions:

  • Open vents on bottom of grill. Light a large chimney starter full of charcoal (preferably hardwood).

For Direct-heat Cooking:

  • When coals are lit, dump them out across bottom rack, leaving a space free of coals on one side of grill equal to the size of the food to be grilled where food can be moved in case of any flare-ups.

For Indirect-heat Cooking:

  • When coals are lit, dump them out along two opposite sides of bottom rack, leaving a space free of charcoal in middle of rack equal to the size of the food to be grilled.

For Direct- or Indirect-heat:

  • When charcoal turns grayish white (start checking coals after 15 minutes), the grill will be at its hottest and will then begin to cool off. How long you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill rack directly over the coals determines the heat of your grill, as follows:

    Hot: 1 to 2 seconds
    Medium Hot: 3 to 4 seconds
    Low: 5 to 6 seconds

Gas Grilling Instructions:

  • Preheat all burners on high, covered, 10 minutes, then adjust heat according to recipe. For indirect-heat cooking, just before grilling, turn off 1 burner (middle burner if there are 3).