Expand your outdoor menu with these surprising grilled food ideas.

By Kimberly Holland
May 29, 2019
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At last, grilling season has returned. It’s time to remove the cover, shake off the spider webs, and fire up your four-burner grill or wood-burning smoker for weeks upon weeks of flipping burgers and brats, salmon and steaks.

But beyond the dishes you already know you can cook on your barbecue, you may be surprised to learn how many foods you can grill that you haven’t yet considered. Indeed, many foods cook perfectly on a grill, even if they require just a step or two of extra preparation.

What’s more, these surprising grilled foods are especially flavorful and delicious with the hint of smoke and char that a quick turn on the grill imparts. You expect a bit of deep char on your chicken breasts or corn on the cob, but what does grilling do for sweet fruit and delicate salad greens? You’re going to be surprised and delighted when you find out.

Here, 19 surprising grilled food ideas to try the next time you’re craving something new.

1
Squash

Kebabs of onions and peppers are essential grilling fare, but you can turn whole summer squash and zucchini into a quick and tender side with a few minutes on a hot grill. Cut each squash in half, then lightly coat with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium-high heat about five minutes per side, or until tender throughout.

For an extra special finish, top with a mixture of shredded Parmesan cheese and chopped thyme. Let sit out of the grill’s flames until the cheese melts. Grilled zucchini rounds are vibrant with the addition of scallions and a simple vinaigrette.

2
Sweet Potato Wedges

You might wrap whole spuds in foil for grilling, but you can speed up the potato-cooking stage of your grill time by slicing those sweet potatoes into thin wedges first. Toss them in oil so they don’t stick to the grates. Grill 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. If they develop a bit of char, that’s fine. The flavor will pair perfectly with the potato’s natural sweetness. Serve with ketchup, or drizzle with melted butter and brown sugar for a sweet treat.

3
Stuffed Peppers

If you’re craving spiced-up romesco sauce on chicken, or want a few charred peppers for a homemade panzanella, you can grill whole peppers for unparalleled flavor. The delicate skin picks up the hint of smoke in just a matter of minutes.

But take grilled peppers one step further by first stuffing each piece with a mixture of cream cheese, shredded cheese, green onions, and perhaps bacon. Let the peppers cook over medium heat until the cheese mixture is gooey and the peppers are tender. This makes for an easy appetizer your guests can enjoy straight from the grill while you ready the main course.

4
Carrots

Roasting provides an opportunity for carrots’ intense natural sweetness to really shine. Now imagine what the combination of that caramelization and a heaping dose of smoke tastes like. That’s the beauty of grilled carrots.

For the best results, peel the carrots first, then grill over medium heat eight to 10 minutes. Before serving, brush the carrots with a nutty oil, like walnut oil, or a bit of melted butter. Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs; thyme or oregano are great partners to grilled carrots.

5
Lettuce

On its face, there’s nothing about delicate salad greens that suggests they should ever be near the heat and flames of a grill, but wait until you try grilled romaine halves. These leafy bunches develop crispy, slightly charred edges that stand up beautifully to creamy, tart salad dressings like buttermilk or Caesar.

To get the best grilled lettuce results, cut romaine or butter lettuce heads in half. Brush with oil and grill two to three minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with a vinaigrette or salad dressing and toppings. Enjoy immediately for the best texture.

6
Cauliflower

Grills are ideal for steaks—even the kinds made from vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower have a density and thickness that make them ideal for grilling. (Other cruciferous vegetables include cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and they’re delicious grilled, too.) Cauliflower, however, just happens to be exceptionally great when cooked on the grill, thanks to its ability to wick up smokiness and quickly tenderize without falling apart.

With a large chef’s knife, slice through the whole cauliflower head, creating one-inch “steaks.” Oil both sides of the cauliflower, and season. Then, grill over medium heat for eight to 10 minutes per side, or until tender. You can baste cauliflower steaks the way you would beef steaks. The cauliflower won’t absorb the marinade per se, but it will stick to the outside, adding an all new flavor to the dish.

7
Radicchio

You’d be forgiven if you had written this leaf chicory off your list of favored vegetables. The white-veined ruby red leaves are often bitter and spicy when eaten raw. But on a grill, they mellow out and turn almost silky and supple.

To grill, you’ll want to cut each radicchio in half lengthwise. Coat with oil, and grill two to three minutes per side, or until tender. For the best flavor, pair the radicchio with ingredients that are tangy or creamy, like gorgonzola, balsamic vinaigrette, and a sprinkle of pine nuts.

8
Avocado

This creamy fruit may seem too delicate for the heat of a grill, but it won’t fall apart on you. As a matter of fact, grilled avocado halves are a special presentation you can use to elevate classic summer barbecue foods like egg salad, chicken salad, or bruschetta.

Cut each avocado in half, and remove the pit. Gently brush each half with oil, and grill two to three minutes per side.

If you want to use the avocado in another dish—guacamole, for example—let the avocado cool slightly before scooping out the grilled flesh. The char and smoke flavor will be subtle, but it’s enough to make you wonder why you’d never thought to grill this beloved food before.

9
Cheese

Not all cheese melts into a puddle. Halloumi cheese is a semi-hard brined cheese that actually turns tender and soft when it’s heated on a grill, but it doesn’t melt like most other cheeses. You can serve grilled halloumi with a topping of fresh diced tomato and basil or a bit of pesto for an unbeatable grilled appetizer, or it’s great alongside barbecue, grilled corn, and a helping of beans.

It doesn’t take long to get halloumi ready to eat. Thinner slabs—a quarter to a half inch thick—are best for the grill. Brush each side of the cheese with a bit of oil, then grill two to three minutes per side, or until the cheese is lightly browned on the outside and tender at the middle.

Brie is another cheese you can grill using a similar method. The key is to make sure the brie is fully surrounded by the rind to keep it from melting all over the grill. Serve the softened brie with crusty bread or crackers and some summer jam. 

10
Peaches

Summer peaches are a fruity dream. The natural sweetness invigorates every type of peach recipe, from salads to cocktails. But grilled peaches open up a whole new realm of flavor possibilities, as the fruit’s natural sugars caramelize on the hot grates, and the tender flesh develops a hint of char.

Cut peaches in half or into wedges; remove the pit. Gently brush with oil or butter, and grill on each side one to two minutes or until grill marks show. Use the fruit as the base of a simple summer dessert—a scoop of ice cream is all you need to add before serving—or muddle the wedges with bourbon and mint for a summery cocktail you won’t find anywhere else.

11
Pound Cake

Unlike layer cakes, which often have too much crumb or are too delicate, pound cakes and angel food cakes are dense enough to withstand a turn on the grill grates. What’s more, the cake develops an irresistible kiss of smoke that matches the baked good’s delicate sweetness.

For the best results, cut the cake into one-inch slices. You don’t need to oil them; the cake will just absorb the oil anyway. Instead, put the slices in an area without direct flames, and let them cook two to three minutes per side, or until grill marks appear. Complete this grilled dessert with a topping of fresh fruit (and maybe a dollop of whipped cream).

Day-old cornbread works well with this grilling treatment too, though it’s not as sweet as pound cake. Grilled Cornbread and Peaches is a fast and easy way to use up cornbread that’s lost its luster with fruit that is at its prime. A quick brush of butter and honey adds all the sweetness you need.

12
Watermelon

You’re going to surprise yourself and your dinner guests when you taste how good grilled watermelon is by itself, in salads, or even as the base of a fast summer dessert. Cut one-inch rounds of the thick-rind fruit into wedges. Grill two to three minutes per side. Remove from the grill, and season immediately.

If you’re going to make the fruit into a savory meal, like a salad, consider salting the watermelon for a uniquely special treat. The smoke of the grill combined with the salt gives watermelon a tang you can’t easily replicate. If the grilled watermelon is for dessert, sprinkle each wedge with a bit of lime zest to bring out the natural sweetness.

13
Pineapple

If your grill is going, you should have pineapple on it. After all, once you slice the vibrant yellow fruit into rounds, you need only grill it one minute per side to create a truly special treat.

If you want to take it a step further, serve the grilled pineapple with a scoop or coconut sorbet and a sprinkle of macadamia nuts. Your guests will be incredibly impressed, but you can kick back knowing this was the simplest dessert you ever made. Grilled pineapple is also great in lemonades, cocktails, and pineapple granitas.

14
Bread

Panzanella is a go-to summer dinner, thanks to its light and refreshing combination of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and stale bread. But before you rip your leftover baguette into chunks for this meal, slice it into half-inch rounds and grill it. The turn over the grill’s coals gives the bread a hint of smokiness that is a great balance to the tang of the summer vegetables and tart vinaigrette.

You can also grill bread rounds for appetizers, like Tomato Bruschetta or Smashed Peas with Mint Bruschetta. Grilled breads are also delicious with your favorite sandwich fixings. It takes just a minute or two to grill them, but the boost of flavor is worth the wait.

15
Polenta

You may think of polenta as a soft puddle of tender cornmeal that rests under your shrimp or ragu, but polenta can also be cooked into a thick slab that’s easy to slice, grill, and enjoy as a side dish with any of your other grilled favorites.

You can also buy polenta in tubes. The texture of the loaf is thick, but the polenta is tender. Grilling it boosts flavor and adds a depth you can’t easily get from pan searing in a skillet.

Lightly brush the polenta slices with oil, whether you make your own or use the tube kind. Grill over medium-high heat for two to three minutes, or until the exterior is golden and crispy with strong sear marks.

16
Tofu

Tofu acts like a sponge, soaking up the flavors of a marinade or the hint of char from a grill. Plus, tofu edges can develop a gentle crispness from the flicker of the flames.

Be sure to brush each piece of tofu with oil so it won’t stick to the grill. Use firm or extra-firm tofu only; the others may be too soft to hold up against the grill’s heat. Cook on each side, at least five minutes per side, or until the tofu is warmed throughout.

17
Mussels and Clams

As an appetizer or a main course, it doesn’t get much easier than grilled mussels and clams. All you have to do is wash the mollusks, and pop them over the hot coals. When they’re done, after about five to 10 minutes, they will pop open. Remove them as they loosen their seal, season with parsley, pepper, and a dose of melted butter.

18
Quesadillas

You’ll need to do a bit of work before you prepare the quesadillas—you’d have to do it if you were cooking on a stove anyway—to make sure all ingredients inside the tortilla are cooked and tender. But once you have the filling items assembled, you can churn out delicious grilled quesadillas for a crowd in minutes.

The tortillas are unlikely to stick to the grill grates, but go ahead and lightly oil them to be safe. If nothing else, this helps the tortillas get extra crispy and may invite even more delicious char. Grill on each side three to four minutes, or until the cheese inside the quesadilla is completely melted. Slice into wedges, and enjoy with your homemade guacamole, perhaps one made with grilled avocado.

19
Pizza

You don’t need a custom outdoor pizza oven to make really delicious pizzas. Your grill has all the components you needs—dry, hot fire with lots of circulating air.

For the best results, coat the grill grates with oil, then grill the pizza crust first without any toppings. Flip the crust over after three minutes, and add your sauce, toppings, and cheese. Don’t overdo it. Heavy ingredients can rip the crust, leaving you with a big mess. A thin layer is all you need for the best flavor and best results.

 

Related: How Long to Cook (Pretty Much) Anything on the Grill

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