This time of year, I’m always fired up about preparing food on the grill. Just this last week, I was grilling sourdough pizza aboard the Blue Mule and smoking cherries to infuse in bourbon and to pickle. Although I throw plenty of more traditional foods on the grill, like shrimp and fish, I increasingly fill my beat-up Weber kettle grill with vegetables and fruit.
The Twice as Tasty collection of grilling and smoking recipes has grown large enough that I recently broke it into its own category on the Recipes page. But many preparations are so simple and adaptable that once you get the hang of how your grill or smoker handles produce, you’ll realize you don’t need a recipe and can use the tool to prepare multiple meals and even frozen or canned treats.
Preparing to Grill or Smoke
As with last month’s Prepare to Preserve series, some basic tools come in handy when grilling. What I’m grilling generally determines how I prepare it for the grill: whole, loose, skewered, halved, etc. A few other techniques and tricks will help you light a fire under your harvest:
- Find your temp. As a general rule, max out the heat for grilling and keep it as low and slow as possible for smoking. I put the most heat under pizza, decreasing the temp for vegetables and dropping it further for fish and fruit. For smoking produce, I aim for 200°F and preferably lower. If your grill doesn’t have a built-in thermometer, a dial oven thermometer set on the grill rack will let you monitor its temperature.
- Keep it clean. Because grills and smokers live outdoors, it can be easy to let them get grubby. A quick clean before you start can make a huge difference in how evenly and cleanly your equipment cooks. Dump out any leftover ashes or old coals before you start, and make sure lava rocks or briquettes are distributed evenly. Once the grill is hot, rub down the grate several times with oil, closing the lid between passes to let the oil coat the bars and prevent sticking. After grilling, crank the heat, close the lid, and cook off any remaining food particles, scraping stubborn ones free.
- Take your time. Although you can grill food in minutes, a thoroughly hot grill does the best job. This means you need to let it heat up for 10–15 minutes for gas and likely twice that for charcoal. Smoking is the reverse; you generally need a few minutes to bring the unit to temp but then let the produce absorb the smoke for 45 minutes or longer—even up to 12 hours if you’re smoking chilies until they’re dehydrated.
No Recipe Required
For a summertime grill session, the conversation at my house usually goes something like this:
Me: “Are you up for grilling tonight?”
George: “Sure. What do you want to put on there?”
Me: “Let’s see. I have a couple of small eggplant, a few peppers and chilies, and at least one rack of tomatillos. If there are extra coals, we can always do a round of onions or tomatoes. Oh, and we should remember to drop on a couple of heads of garlic. And since we’re grilling, I figured dinner could be fish tacos.
George: “Riiiiight. I’ll fire up a full chimney of charcoal and see how much we can get through before midnight.”
Clearly, my idea of summer grilling puts dinner as an afterthought. When the garden explodes, I’m grilling for the future: The bulk of the freshly charred produce is destined for the freezer or a boiling-water bath, and I make the evening’s meal with a little of whatever vegetables landed over the coals. There’s no recipe required. I simply clean the produce, cut or skewer it as needed, and place it on the grill until done, perhaps sprinkling it before or after with a little oil, freshly ground pepper, and salt.
Keep It Simple
If I do use a recipe while grilling vegetables or seafood, it’s often for a marinade, butter, or sauce. Many of these take minutes to make and can be adjusted to the ingredients that you have on hand, but it may be helpful to keep their proportions in mind:
- Grilled Corn
- Marinated and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
- Shish Kebabs with Garlic–Soy Marinade
- Wasabi-Marinated Shrimp
- Grilled Shrimp with Chermoula
One Prep, Two Meals
Grilling works well into the one prep, two meals concept. When I grill and smoke with charcoal, I aim to use every bit of heat generated by a round of coals. This leaves me with plenty of options for the next meal. Leftover grilled and smoked food can be tossed with grains, fresh greens, or eggs or meat to turn it into an instant meal. It can also be incorporated into an array of dishes:
- Corn, Bean, and Pepper Salsa
- Grilled Onion Dip
- Stuffed and Grilled Breadsticks
- Spring Vegetable Quiche
- Vegetarian Smoked-Beet Reuben
- Grilled Tomatillo Margaritas
- Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Mix
Twice as Tasty
I’ll be sharing more about grilling and smoking fruit and vegetables all month here on the blog, particularly on using their charred flavors in easily prepared meals. If you really want to take your grilling to the next level, I also teach these techniques in hands-on workshops, focusing on grilling vegetables or sourdough pizza. As always, Twice as Tasty workshops are held privately with a small group of your friends, and grilling workshops let you explore new foods and techniques in an open-air setting.
Like what you’ve learned? To learn more in a Twice as Tasty workshop—in your own kitchen, among friends, and with my personal help—click here. If you’re not yet a Twice as Tasty subscriber, get newsletters delivered straight to your inbox by clicking here.