I think it’s great to head outdoors to cook dinner at the grill and be able to stay out. But having to zip back inside every few minutes to check something cooking on the stove top or reheating in the oven isn’t relaxing. Plus it’s heating up the kitchen and, at my house, giving mosquitos almost free entry and the pets multiple escape opportunities.
The good news is there are lots of ways to cut down on distractions and the need to go back and forth during cooking. I’ve found very few dishes that can’t be adapted to the grill, whether they’re typically boiled, pan-seared, roasted or toasted.
Plan a little ahead, gather your ingredients and a few simple pieces of equipment, and you should be able to pour yourself a refreshing drink (hello, rosé!) and really enjoy the evening air.
Here are some general tips on set-up and some equipment you need to help your grill multitask, along with some simple techniques and recipes to get you thinking beyond tongs and spatulas.
A two-zone cooking area that includes both direct and indirect heat will be the most versatile for a number of tasks at once. On a gas grill, keep the flames high to medium-high on one-third to two-thirds of the grill (for your actually grilling work) and medium to medium-low on the rest.
For a charcoal grill, wait until your coals are very hot and lightly ashen, then carefully push them to one side to create a lower heat zone.
Cast-iron is the superstar when it comes to grill-top heating, boiling and more. I find cast-iron cookware pretty indestructible and easy to clean.
If you have other heavy pots or skillets you’d like to use go ahead, just remember that high heat and direct flames can be hard on them. Don’t, however, use thin pans or you’ll risk scorching your food and possibly the bottom of the pan.
Also be wary of skillets with long handles. They can be difficult to position on the grill, and if you need to lower the grill cover be vigilant so that you don’t accidentally hit a handle and tip a pot over.
Heavy-Duty Aluminum Foil
This is the very best foil to use for a number of tasks on the grill. Regular weight foil can actually begin to smoke (and even burn) under the very high temperatures a grill sometimes produces.
You can use heavy-duty foil for everything from covering the bottom of a pan you’re not sure you want sacrificed to fire to folding a packet to slow-roast vegetables or making “boats” that keep saucy or small ingredients from flowing down into flames (like with these Grilled Bananas with Sweet Toppings).
To removing hot pots and skillets from the grill it’s important that you have effective hot mitts on hand. This means ones with a flame resistant gripping area and no tears or worn spots. You also want them absolutely dry since moisture on a mitt could turn into steam and give you a nasty burn.
Now that you’ve got your equipment in order, try out techniques and recipes that broaden your grill’s range.
If you want to cook ingredients too small or delicate for the grill grate you can get great results with a heavy skillet. You’ll get some smoky flavor and a lot caramelization. You can do this for chunks of roasted potatoes, to make caramelized shallots or onions, or even for stir-frying.
This delicious recipe for Smoky Grilled Chickpeas with Eggplant and Tomatoes uses a skillet for cooking two elements – the chickpeas, plus small tomatoes that get mashed to a sauce – while the eggplant itself is cooked directly over the flames. It’s absolutely delicious and a brilliant multipurpose use of your grill.
Roasting and Baking
The kind of even heat you get from a hot oven can be mimicked in a closed grill. Fluctuations in temperature make me stay away from something finicky like cake, but I often bake potatoes on a cool side of the grill.
My favorite method is to choose russet potatoes that are on the small side (they cook quicker), wrap them in foil, poke them a few times with a fork, and roast them on a cooler grill area or on the top warming tray of my gas grill until soft, about 40 minutes. Let them rest for up to 20 minutes before unwrapping. Fluffy baked potatoes without a sweltering kitchen!
This recipe for Homemade Smoked Salmon also uses a low-temperature roasting techniques to give you gloriously smoky results you’d usually only get from a smoker. It requires a little advance planning but is worth the luscious results ─ make it a weekend project.
Boiling and Poaching
Just about anything you can boil on the stovetop can be done on the grill: cook pasta, blanch vegetables, heat up a sauce.
These delicious Beer-Poached Grilled Sausages can be heated and poached in a cast-iron skillet (or pot) on the grill itself, saving you a step on the stove top. Just make sure you can control the heat so they simmer.
Toasting Bread and Baked Goods
Bruschetta is the classic recipe for grilled bread; this recipe is fabulous to keep in mind for topping them with just about anything summery you have on hand: fresh tomatoes and basil, chopped cucumber mixed with feta and mint, or goat cheese and peach slices.
I love grilled cheese on the grill for an alfresco lunch. I fill bread with my favorite ingredients, keeping them a bit away from the edges to avoid drips, place the sandwiches directly over medium-low heat and weigh them down with the lid to my cast-iron Dutch oven or just a baking sheet. When grill marks start I rotate the sandwich about 45 degrees, then cook until the bottom is looking crisp (2 to 3 minutes). Then I flip them and do the same to the other side. Yum!
And for a terrific dessert you can assemble completely outside, try toasting slices of angel-food cake and using them in this light and delicious Cherry Ambrosia.
How do you make the most of your grill? I love to hear your tips and recipes in the comments below.
For more delicious, summery things, check out wholefoodsmarket.com/summer.