The Go-to Guide for Grilling Fruit to Perfection
Unlock bright flavors by putting summer’s sweet bounty on the grates.
If you’re the kind of person who believes grill season has an end, then grill season has officially begun. So, too, is the season of reading about grill hacks: the largely meat-centric tips and tricks to streamline your methods and boost your food. This summer, before you explore rosemary skewers or steel barbecue baskets, consider grilling fruit. Stone fruit. Citrus. Melon. Everything. Grilling fruit is a cookout move that brings great reward for small effort. It’s almost an afterthought, tonging pineapple rings onto the smoking grates as you check the chicken, flip the eggplant. But when you sit down to eat, the rich flavors of fruit transformed by steel and fire often outshine the centerpiece proteins. Grilling summer’s sweet, juicy bounty is a shortcut to the soul of the season.
You can grill just about any fruit, and every fruit changes on the grates. Just what you do with a finished fruit will depend on its nature, how that nature has changed by the time you tong it off, and your imagination. Serving ice cream? Salsa? Cocktails? Grilled fruit can help.
As much as any fruit, banana’s flavor evolves on the grill. It develops a rich texture and its ample sugars transform and caramelize. The fruit’s sweet zones of flavor expand, becoming rounder and more three dimensional. But how do you get there? A few ways. Start by splitting bananas in half longways, leaving the skin on. First, you can grill bananas skin-down, so that the inner fruit never touches the grates. You can do this on direct heat or indirect hear with similar results. But the way to key up the most flavor is to cook over direct heat for 5 or 6 minutes, and then flip the fruit so that the flesh is on the grill for a final 2 or 3. Remove it once grill marks form. Now you have a perfect topping for a variety of ice creams. (And leftovers can go into French toast.)
One of the most common grilled fruits, peach presents a problem. If you cut peaches in half and grill over direct heat, the shape is challenging. The surface will burn before the middle cooks. A solution is to cut the peach into three or four long pieces, allowing the surface and interior flesh to cook at the same speed. You could also cook the fruit over indirect heat, or on a second-level grate. When grilled, this fruit’s flavor lightly alters, turning a tad richer and more ornate. A grilled peach has mild sugar. It goes well with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella or burrata. It can also add nuance and intrigue to salsa.
Stone fruits take well to grilling. The apricot is one that undergoes a wild change. The heat seems to pull out most of the sugars, leaving the tang less balanced and more intense. Grill it over indirect heat to keep the punch at bay. But if you want to embrace it, grill an apricot over direct heat for 3 or 4 minutes on each side. Because of their size, slicing apricots in half works just fine. In the end, after grilling, you’ll likely want to chop the fruit and treat it almost like a spice. Add pieces to coffee ice cream, rich chocolate cake, or a similarly bold sweet.
Grilled pineapple rings have range. Torched over direct heat, they caramelize and char beautifully. If you have a second-level rack, you may even want to toss a few rings up there, so juice can leak onto pork, beef, or chicken. The combination of cooked pineapple and pork is used across many culinary traditions, made famous by dishes like al pastor tacos. You don’t need a vertical spit to build great tacos with grilled pineapple. It does well with tacos of any kind, even fish. It can also boost vanilla and lighter ice creams.
Watermelon evolves only mildly on the grill. Its juice factor changes, and biting in becomes less about that explosive burst and more about gentle flavor. Long meaty sheets make for the most painless grilling. Leave slices over direct heat just long enough to develop char marks on each side. (For an added flavor layer, you can add salt or ground red pepper to slabs before cooking.) Cubed, grilled watermelon can make a refreshing starter with feta, mint, and balsamic glaze.
Tiny fruit like cherries require special equipment. A grill pan will do. Half them and remove pits. This is to maximize the surface area exposed to the grill and minimize the prep you have to do once the cherries are done. Grilled cherries can sidekick rich fatty meats, like duck or pork chops. You can also use them to infuse darker spirits like rum or bourbon, keeping their flavors alive long after their season ends.
Lemon is the easiest fruit to grill and the one with the most applications. Cut a lemon in half. Grill it flesh-side-down for five minutes. The zing of its juice recedes, letting the fruity nuances, now enriched by heat, speak more boldly. It is so easy to grill a lemon while you go about grilling other food, and a squeeze improves just about everything. It takes just a few drops to access the spirit of summer, and to become a convert, summer or otherwise, to the casual wonders of grilled fruit.