The grilling season is upon us, like a lion upon a gazelle. That means some 80 million of us will be out there, happily grilling hot dogs, steak and hamburgers.
Which is all well and good. Who among us does not enjoy a grilled hot dog, steak or hamburger? Or, for vegetarians, a grilled basket of vegetables?
But what if we want something more? Something different. And I’m not talking about chicken or fish, or even shrimp (though grilled shrimp is amazing, and not enough people make it).
What if we want grilled pizza?
What if we want grilled watermelon?
What if we want grilled Caesar salad, like restaurants used to make it in the 1990s?
What if we want a grilled cheese sandwich? Not one that is cooked on a pan or a griddle, but an actual grilled cheese sandwich?
What if we want to bake bread in a grill?
All you have to do is change your way of thinking. You have to start thinking of your grill as nothing more than a source of heat. You can cook with a pan on it, as you would your stove. If it has a cover, you can use it to roast and bake, as you would your oven.
I began with a loaf of bread. I made the dough for the simplest, easiest and definitely the fastest bread I know how to make, a One-Hour Bread. It doesn’t taste like anything special, though neither is it bad by any means. This particular bread’s greatest strength is that it only takes one hour to make, from start to finish.
I did not make a more complicated loaf because, frankly, I wasn’t 100% certain it was going to work, and I didn’t want to waste all of that time and effort on a loaf of bread that turned out either undercooked or overcooked — or weirdly cooked — on a grill.
I needn’t have worried. I actually ended up with what I think is the finest loaf of One-Hour Bread I have ever made; perhaps the charcoal added some complexity that is not ordinarily there. Even so, the bread ended up taking more than one hour to make. Whether the covered grill lost heat over time or if it never made up to the 425 degrees at which the bread us usually cooked, I don’t know.
Just call it an Hour-and-a-Quarter bread, and enjoy. Or better still, use your favorite bread recipe and be ready to extend the baking time if necessary.
I next made a pizza. With some pizza parlors boasting that they are wood-fired, and others proclaiming the superiority of coal-fired ovens, grilled pizza is a natural.
It’s only a little different from the standard way of making it. You brush both sides of the dough with olive oil (I made my own, but you can buy it at some stores) and cook one side over a medium-hot grill for just a couple of minutes. You turn it over, quickly add your sauce and toppings, and cover the grill. It will only take another minute or two to cook, and you end up with a classic pizza experience.
I kept to the unintentional theme of grilled carbohydrates with grilled polenta. This time I used store-bought, cooked polenta, the kind that comes in a tube, though there is nothing to stop you from making your own thick polenta, refrigerating it and then slicing it to grill it.
On the other hand, that’s a lot of work. The store-bought polenta was fine, especially when fancied up with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. And after it was grilled, it was topped with grated Parmesan and black pepper. It’s just delightful.
A grilled cheese sandwich came next, and that brought with it a conundrum: How do you butter the bread? After all, the butter is the best part of a grilled cheese sandwich?
This is only a problem when you use cheap, squishy bread. But cheap, squishy bread (with American cheese) is what makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches. I first tried buttering it, but that only tore the fragile slices. So I cheated. I melted butter in a skillet and dipped the sandwich in that before putting it on the grill.
Grilled cheese on a grill is definitely better than grilled cheese on a griddle.
I went back in time a bit for my next dish, grilled Caesar salad. It was a thing 20 years ago or so, and it is still good; grilling the lettuce adds an extra dimension to the salad that somewhat mitigates the richness of the dressing.
All you have to do is brush a little olive oil onto whole heads of romaine lettuce and place them on the grill. Serve the heads whole drizzled with Caesar dressing and Parmesan cheese. If you want, you can even turn grilled bread into croutons, too.
For a little something extra different, I ended by grilling slices of watermelon. Why not? First, I brushed on a mixture of lime juice, honey and olive oil, and then I placed the slices on the grill.
I’m not sure how or why this worked, but the grill seemed to change the nature of the watermelon. When I took it off the grill, the melon was more savory, less sweet. One taste tester said it reminded her of butternut squash, and I could only agree.
It’s a pleasant, if unusual, sensation. It’s certainly worth trying once, to see if you like it. Just don’t forget to add salt before eating it, to make the flavor pop.