No matter what you do, you just can’t hide from your neighbors the fact that you’re grilling. The scent of garlic wafting through the air. Sweet barbecue sauce caramelizing and enticing noses for a 100-yard radius. The aroma of charred meat drifting lazily into windows and screen doors. It’s the smell of summer, and it’s making the folks in your neighborhood very hungry.
Steaks, burgers, hot dogs and chicken are the usual fare — but as with lots of trends in food, things are a little different nowadays. Seasoned grill masters are unafraid to throw just about anything on the flame, and it certainly doesn’t have to be meat — though meat is of course still popular. If it can stand the heat, it probably can be put on the grill.
“My grill is my summer kitchen,” said Ellen Rhinehart, a Waterville resident. “If it’s over 70 and not pouring, I cook on the grill to avoid heating up the kitchen. Meatloaf, pizza, fish, cake. Pretty much anything an oven would be used for.”
You name it, and Rhinehart probably has tried to grill it (except, say, ice cream or soup). Rhinehart and her husband, Rick, go fishing regularly and recently tried a new way to cook freshly caught fish.
“We caught a nice [29-inch] pike on Little North Pond not long ago,” said Rhinehart. “We cleaned it, kept the skin on, and I stuffed it with fresh tarragon and sliced limes and set it on a bed of sliced onions and citrus. I wrapped it in foil and put it on the grill for 30 minutes to steam in its own juices. The skin peeled off easily, and the flesh easily pulled away from the bones.”
Though the couple used pike for that particular dish, the citrus and tarragon cooking method would work with other freshwater fish, such as any variety of trout or landlocked salmon. Rhinehart also cooks up a mean blueberry cake on the grill — a cake made when relatives from New York came up to visit the couple at their camp in Washington County, and they unwittingly illegally picked blueberries from a barren. Rhinehart decided to hide the evidence.
“I made stolen blueberry cake,” said Rhinehart. “I used whatever we had at camp, so we had sour cream for fat and a lime and whatever else was around. I threw that on the grill and it turned out great. I use a gas grill, but it would get a smokier flavor with charcoal. Just be careful not to put it directly on the hot coals or the bottom will burn.”
Pizza is one of the more popular alternative grilling dishes around, and Paul Markosian of Augusta has perfected his recipe for Grilled Tomato and Garlic Pizza.
“I make a simple pizza dough, keeping it very wet, then roll it out thin and throw it on the grill over coals — I never use gas grills at home,” said Markosian. “After less than a minute, I take a sturdy spatula and lift the dough, rotate it 90 degrees, and set it back down. After another 30 or 40 seconds, I flip it over. It should have nice cross-hatched grill marks on the top.”
Markosian has cooked pizza on the grill for years — he was inspired by a pizza place in Providence, R.I., that made pizza in a wood-fired oven. In fact, the idea of making any type of flatbread over a grill, coals or a stone is as ancient as any other culinary technique.
“This pizza is thin and crisp, lightly charred in places, with a great combination of flavors,” he said. “And it takes no more than four minutes to cook.
That’s both the nice thing about it and the hard thing — it cooks really fast. I cooked for 12 adults at one time, and there were pizzas coming off the grill every three minutes.”
In keeping with the anything-goes spirit of grilling, even fruit gets thrown on the flame. Michele Slater of Bangor regularly grills up pineapple for her family.
“I absolutely love making it for dessert,” said Slater. “I like it really spicy, with a lot of cayenne, and the garlic salt and sugar combination is great. It gives it a nice salty sweet kind of thing, like chocolate potato chips. I like to put chocolate sauce on it, or a little coconut, so it’s kind of like a grilled pina colada.”
You can experiment with the spice rub for the pineapple — curry powder is a nice addition, or you can substitute chili-based sriracha sauce, otherwise known as rooster sauce, for the cayenne. Slater has tried fruits besides pineapple, with that same spicy rub. Apricots, peaches and strawberries work well, and you can try the spicy rub or a dash of balsamic vinegar. Top the whole thing with good vanilla ice cream. Mmm.
There are plenty of other ideas for grilling, limited only by your sense of culinary adventure. Avocados are a creamy treat when halved, pitted and grilled for a few minutes sliced side down, skin still on. Throw some red onion on the grill at the same time, add all that together with some tomatoes or jalapeno peppers, and you have a guacamole that’s out of this world. Figs and dates are wonderful on the grill, either wrapped in bacon or stuffed with goat cheese or cream cheese with nuts.
Just don’t be surprised when your neighbors start coming over, pretending to be looking for that shovel they lent you over the winter.