If you’re only grilling hot dogs and hamburgers this summer, you’re missing out on a lot more food that can be cooked outside. Like what? Like cranberry-apple cake and peach crisp, both of which I’ve done on the grill and which prompted my guests to exclaim “You cooked that on the grill?!”
Think of the grill as an outdoor oven. Unlike the one in your kitchen, however, the outdoor oven doesn’t heat up the house when it’s 95 in the shade. And the grill gives flavors you can’t get in a conventional oven.
While fish on the grill has become common, I find grilled shellfish easier than finned fish. The cooking goes fast and the food doesn’t stick like whole fish or fillets. For soft shell crabs just dip them in garlic butter (a light flouring beforehand gives a bit more crunch), and grill over medium direct heat for a few minutes on each side. I like to put them in a sandwich with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.
Lobsters are a bit more complicated because you have to kill them first. (Soft shell crabs are also live but less boisterous.) To kill a lobster quickly and easily plunge a chef’s knife down through the head between the eyes. Some recipes call for parboiling the lobster but I cook the lobster all the way on the grill. To facilitate things, cut the lobster in half lengthwise and crack the large claws. Brush with garlic butter and cook, shell side down and loosely covered with foil (no turning) over medium heat, for eight to 10 minutes or until the flesh is creamy white.
You may already be grilling vegetables but probably not sweet potatoes. While most vegetables don’t need precooking before going on the grill, potatoes (sweet and white) first require boiling or steaming. When about 90 percent done, they are finished on the grill. Try brushing peeled and thickly sliced pieces of sweet potato with a maple syrup-chili powder mixture before grilling.
You can also make a grilled potato salad with skewered small, new red potatoes. Winter (aka, hard shell) squash can be cooked in the same fashion as potatoes on the grill.
There are two methods of grilling artichokes. Both first require peeling the stem, removing the small bottom leaves, snipping off the spiky ends of the other leaves with scissors, and slicing an inch off the top. Rub a cut lemon all over to prevent discoloration.
For the first method boil or steam the artichokes until slightly underdone. Then halve them and remove the inner choke. Brush with a flavored oil or butter and grill three or four minutes on the cut side, then turn and cook another minute or so. Another method is to put a mixture of garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in between the leaves of a whole artichoke and in the cavity created by the removed choke. Wrap well in foil and cook over indirect heat, 30 to 40 minutes. I preferred the taste of the second method, though it had little grilled flavor.
Lettuce and greens on the grill may seem odd but I love grilled radicchio and baby bock choy. Both can tolerate a spicy marinade, such as one with hot pepper, garlic and olive oil. Cut the radicchio in quarters (don’t core) and halve the bok choy. They’ll take about five minutes or so over medium heat, until just wilted and slightly charred.
Most grilled desserts involve fruit—especially stone fruit, such as peaches and nectarines. Finish off either with a lime-ginger butter. Pineapple is another fruit that grills well when thickly sliced or cut into chunks. If you don’t serve it as dessert (with, for example, yogurt, sour cream or crème fraiche), put it into a salsa as an accompaniment for grilled fish or poultry.
As for more substantial desserts, that cranberry-apple cake was a hit but the peach crisp had a smokiness that some found unappealing. The crisp was cooked in a cast iron skillet directly on the grill whereas the cake sat on an inverted pan above the fray. One thing that is important when it comes to desserts is to eliminate or minimize conflicting flavors like mesquite charcoal. Cleaning the grill is also a good idea, unless you like aroma of teriyaki salmon with your grilled bananas foster.