Spring in Utah -- the grill covers are torn off with the first sunny day, then go on again for those late storms that seem to surprise us every year. By summer, we finally feel confident enough to shed the covers for good and get down to some serious outdoor eating.
What to grill? Hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken get a lot of attention. And, if you haven’t tried the ultra simple marinade for always moist and savory chicken, stay tuned. It will up your grilling game.
Even more impressive, however, is expanding your grilling repertoire. The possibilities are almost endless, especially if you add a pan or foil--but, I’m talking straight grilling: grates over an open flame. Pancakes are a no go, but french toast may be a sunrise revelation. I’ve even seen a bunch of grapes grilled alongside, topping the toast along with cream for a sweet and tangy bite.
Here’s a few more ideas to get your creative grilling juices flowing:
With the garden a few steps from the grill, it’s an easy match. And we’re always looking for ways to use that zucchini! Just slice zucchini and yellow squash lengthwise in thin slabs and marinate in your favorite oil-based dressing for a few minutes. We love balsamic vinaigrette or Italian dressing. After a quick grilling, the squash pairs nicely with traditional summertime main dishes.
The same is true for cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Just prep the cruciferous vegetables in “steaks” by cutting through the middle of the head and then in thick slices. Brush with olive oil and finish with salt and pepper to let the natural flavors shine.
Grilling corn can be an adventure in itself. Though there are a variety of methods, simplicity works. Find fresh, sweet corn on the cob at your local farmer’s market. When you get home, fire up the grill and put the corn--husk and all--over the heat. The husks will prevent the corn from drying and allow the kernels to steam. Cover, but lift the lid occasionally to turn the corn, for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Enjoy eating outside since the husk and corn silk removal can be messy, but that’s half the fun.
On to fruits.
They seem even more sophisticated after a quick turn on the grill, with unexpected charred lines contrasting against the luscious flesh we usually see in salads or still-life paintings. The heat initiates caramelization and a hint of smokiness for juicy summer standbys -- peaches, pineapple, and even watermelon. Pair grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream and a simple crumble topping for a deconstructed cobbler. Talk about gourmet.
Other fruits can hold their own--apples and pears are firm enough to stay together on the grill, as are plums, mangoes, tomatoes and avocados, cooked with the cut side down for a few minutes. Even strawberries and apricots have deeper, complex flavor profiles from the grill--just place them on skewers for convenience.
Lastly, a couple of why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? grilling sensations
It took a few tries, but once my husband tried cooking naan on the grill, we entered a whole new world of Indian flatbreads. The naan comes out chewy and crisp in all the right places and the same can be true for pizza crust.
The key is to grill one side of your pizza crust first. Place the shaped dough directly on the grate. Watch for bubbles to form on the top and peek under the crust to check for browning. Then, flip the dough grilled side up, brush with olive oil and a ladle of sauce and finish with cheese and toppings. A few more minutes with the lid down on medium heat and you’ll have pizza with a crispy, chewy crust that will remind you of your trip to Italy, or at least that place in town with the wood-fired ovens. Even quesadillas are easy to cook on the grill for a quick snack or meal.
You’ve been patient and open-minded. So, we’ll return to the chicken marinade … to be exact, it’s more of a brine. Pound chicken breasts with a mallet--not a lot, just enough to result in a consistent thickness for even cooking. In a bowl, combine a few cups of water, a quarter cup of sugar and an equal amount of kosher salt. Or, if you’re using table salt, only use ⅛ of a cup. Place chicken in the brine for 15 minutes. Only 15 minutes, I made the mistake of leaving it in longer and it was like we invented a new chicken of the sea.
Done right, the salt and sugar brine keeps the chicken tender and juicy for cooking on the grill alongside all those veggies and fruits! It’s summer in Utah--get outside and grill creative.