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Food52’s Top 4 Foods You Didn’t Know You Could Grill

We’re still a ways off from the first days of summer, but we’re already seeing the first signs of the carefree summer attitude: people have already begun sneaking out early from their Friday workdays, and perhaps most importantly, they’ve started dusting off their backyard grills.

We may not be able to help cover for your Friday afternoon absences, but we can help when it comes to cooking over an open flame. If you’re tired of conventional, familiar Memorial Day fare (pasta salads, chicken, pasta salads with chicken), here are five new dishes you never thought would work well with smoke and fire. This Memorial Day, go rogue: grill what no one else is grilling.

1. Bread

Grilled Bread with Thyme Pesto and Preserved Lemon Cream

Next time you’re thinking about putting your bread in the oven, toss it on the grill instead. It’s easier, tastier, and the smokiness it gets from the coals will give your crostini a whole new flavor dimension. (Because barbecue guests are always particularly discerning about flavor dimensions.)

Tip: You can apply the grilled-bread principle to all kinds of crostini, too. Try topping it with fresh ricotta, or spread it with pea pesto. Thanks to the grill, you'll have a new go-to blank slate for seasonal produce.

2. Paella

Tailgate Paella

No, it’s not a gimmick – you can really grill paella. This earthy rice dish – scented with saffron and made hearty with chicken, pork shoulder, chorizo and shrimp – garners a great smokiness from the grill.

And, you’ll get bonus points for being different. If Memorial Day barbecues were Jr. High, this dish would make yours the mysterious, cool kid at the highly-coveted lunch table. No one will even miss the pasta salad.

Tip: If you don’t have a paella pan (and we’re guessing you don’t), just choose the widest and shallowest pan in your arsenal that can take a bit of smoke and high heat – like a wide cast-iron skillet. A narrow, deep pot not only runs the risk of making your grill dangerously top-heavy, but also prevents the innermost rice from cooking through.

3. Brussels Sprouts

Grilled Brussels Sprouts

These aren’t your grandmother’s murky-green holiday sprouts. Brussels sprouts get a spring makeover, and a healthy amount of smoke, by being thrown on the grill.

Quickly tossed in oil seasoned with garlic, celery salt, and onion, they’re charred only long enough to let the fire wake up their flavors. Try them for a great side dish, or as a crostini topping. (We trust that you’re grilling your bread, too.)

Tip: If your grill grates are spread apart so wide that the sprouts will fall through, you can either put a layer of aluminum foil over the grill grates or put the sprouts in a heavy-duty skillet to prevent them from falling into the coals.

4. Peaches

Grilled Mint Julep Peaches

Peaches make a lovely companion for the grill. And, for that matter, so do cocktails. (We’re not just talking about the one you’ll be sipping while you make this.)

Inspired by the favorite Derby drink, this recipe combines quickly seared peaches with a brown-sugar mint julep glaze. Bourbon has never had so many summertime applications.

Tip: Peaches aren’t the only stone fruit well suited to grilling – try nectarines, plums, pluots, and even cherries (contained in a grill basket). You won’t have any trouble finding takers for the warm, slightly charred fruit – especially with a scoop of ice cream on the side.

How do you exercise creativity with your grill? What are your top grilling dos or don’ts? Share your comments below!