Grilling 102: Go beyond the basics for meat, chicken, fish, even fruit and vegetables

Grilled chicken is served at Sue Salskey’s home in Grosse Ile, Michigan, June 27, 2011.
Susan Tusa | MCT
Grilled chicken is served at Sue Salskey’s home in Grosse Ile, Michigan, June 27, 2011.
Posted July 12, 2011, at 5:17 p.m.
Last modified July 12, 2011, at 7:27 p.m.

Summertime, and the grilling is easy — maybe too easy.

We routinely toss our favorite burgers, steaks or chicken breasts on the fire. Or we slap a fillet of fish on a piece of foil, close the lid and call it a meal.

Fellow grillers, it’s time to put some spark in your repertoire!

The fear of failure has even been documented in Weber’s annual GrillWatch survey: People admit they’re challenged by grilling fish, shellfish, pizza, fruit and desserts.

The only way around it is to face your fears.

If you love pizza indoors, you’ll find the outdoor version super easy, quick and just as tasty. (You can even grill your toppings right next to the crust.)

The smoke of the grill enhances the natural sugars of vegetables from asparagus to zucchini. Onions and red bell peppers taste sweeter; eggplant and mushrooms taste heartier. Grilled lettuce, anyone?

If you’re shy about cooking a whole chicken, butterfly it for even, quick cooking. It’s a perfect option for feeding a crowd because you can put several on the grill at once.

Fish is delicate but great on the grill, and it’s really a snap to cook the fillets without the foil. Or splurge on lobster tails and shrimp, which look and taste impressive but couldn’t be simpler.

And don’t forget to top off a great grilled meal with the caramelized sweetness of fruit kissed by flames.

We’re not advocating that you skip your traditional Fourth of July fare. You can celebrate Independence Day being independent of the kitchen and still expand your grilling options.

Be brave!

Butterflied whole chicken

Why: A whole bird cooks evenly and quickly when butterflied, and it’s a good way to feed a family or a crowd. Several grill as easily as one.

The basics: Remove the giblets and keep for another use. On a cutting board, place the chicken breast side down. Using poultry or heavy-duty kitchen shears, cut along each side of the backbone and remove. Flip the chicken over so it’s almost flat. Press down firmly to crack the breastbone and so the whole chicken lies flat.

Recipe for success: You can marinate the chicken any way you like, or try brining it. Mix ½ cup sugar and ½ cup kosher salt in 12-16 cups water (depending on the size of the chicken). Place the chicken in the brine for about 3 hours. Rinse well after removing from the brine. To cook, preheat the grill to medium-high. Place the chicken bone side down on the grates, cover the grill and grill about 45 minutes or until thoroughly cooked through. If desired, brush with favorite barbecue sauce during the last 10 minutes of grilling. Remove from the grill and let rest about 15 minutes before slicing.

Fruit

Why: Direct heat draws out and caramelizes the natural sugars. Serve grilled fruits on their own as a dessert, or pair them with a main dish or savory foods like tangy cheeses or fresh herbs. Pineapples, papayas, avocados, peaches, plums and nectarines are great for this. Apples and pears also hold up well. To grill bananas, cut them in half with the peel still on. Avoid overly ripe fruit because it will become too soft.

The basics: Preheat or prepare the grill for medium heat. Clean and oil the grates. Cut the fruit in half and remove seeds or pits. For pineapple, remove outer skin if desired and then cut the pineapple in half lengthwise and remove the core. Slice into 1-inch-thick pieces. For round fruits, grill the halves or slices big enough so they don’t fall through the grates. Brush with canola oil and grill, cut sides down, until nice grill marks appear. Turn and grill until the fruit is just softened.

Recipe for success: Have ready nectarines, papayas, peaches or plums. Melt ½ cup apricot preserves mixed with about 2 tablespoons canola oil, stirring until smooth. Brush over the fruit and grill as above. For a surprise, add feta cheese to the centers of the fruit and heat until the cheese is warm. Or serve grilled stone fruits with a dollop of Greek-style yogurt or a drizzling of balsamic glaze. For the glaze, heat ⅓-½ cup of balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced and syrupy, about 10 minutes.

Pizza

Why: Thin pizza dough grills in a flash. “Any toppings are great, but sometimes just brushing the dough with a good flavored oil will make a delicious, chewy addition to a salad, ribs or whatever you’re cooking,” Sam Zien, author of “Sam the Cooking Guy: Just Grill This!” (Wiley, $19.95), says in an email.

The basics: A baking sheet without sides is great for moving pizza around on the grill. For one pizza, use 1/2 pound dough at room temperature and form it into an 8-inch, free-form shape. Preheat the grill to medium. Brush one side of the dough with olive oil and place the oiled side down on the grill. Oil the side facing up. Grill about 5 minutes or until it’s lightly browned and grill marks appear. Turn over, add toppings, close the lid and grill about 4 to 5 minutes or until the cheese melts and the second side is done.

Recipe for success: For a grilled veggie pizza, have all your toppings sliced and ready in advance. Start grilling zucchini, eggplant and red onion before putting the dough on the grill. Stretch or roll the dough and put it on the grill when the veggies have been cooking for several minutes. When the dough is cooked, top the pizza with the veggies and shredded Italian-blend cheese.

Vegetables

Why: Grilling brings out the sweetness of many vegetables, especially red bell peppers, zucchini and onions. You can season the vegetables as desired and even marinate them. Just don’t marinate them too long, because they will get mushy and fall apart.

The basics: Just about any vegetable works, including lettuces like romaine and radicchio. Some, like sliced potatoes and carrots, benefit from a little precooking. Make sure the vegetables are cut into the same size pieces so they cook evenly. Preheat the grill to medium or medium-high and oil the grates. Brush the vegetables with oil and grill, depending on the vegetable, about 3 minutes per side.

Recipe for success: For grilled romaine lettuce with blue cheese, preheat the grill to medium. Have ready cooked crisp bacon pieces, blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese dressing. Cut a whole head of romaine in half lengthwise through the core, keeping the core intact. Brush the cut side of the romaine with olive oil. Place cut side down on the grill and cook 2-3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Remove to a platter. Drizzle with blue cheese dressing and top with blue cheese crumbles and bacon.

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