Start Grilling Pickles This Summer For Incredible Smoky Notes

It's amazing how a few minutes on the grill can transform even the most familiar foods into something new. We're used to applying smoky magic to our proteins and produce, but there's another cookout-friendly food that could use a touch of heat. Pickles, when given a caramelizing char, taste smoky but don't lose the nuanced flavors of their brine.

There are tons of approaches to making them at home. You can either grill cucumbers before you move on to making a quick pickle, or place fermented spears over the flames shortly before serving. Most people prefer to use vegetables pickled in acid, rather than lacto-fermented, as they retain more of their crunch and are ready faster, but we invite cooks to experiment to find their favorite taste. Play up the flames effect in your brine as well by adding the heat of a smoked chipotle chili flake, or the bittersweetness of toasty molasses.

Shoppers can also try heating up their favorite brand of regular pickles to see what the fuss is about before they make their own. If you're unable or unsure about grilling your spears, you can track down a pre-grilled spear, like the viral — and perpetually sold out — Randy's Artisanal's Sideburns pickles. The social-media-famous brand embraces lots of garlic and sharp acid, which cooks can mimic at home with their batches.

How to grill your pickles

Both the cooking and preservation process will impact the texture of the ingredients and ultimately soften them. As such, you may find that the order of operations (grilling before versus after pickling) doesn't make a huge difference when it comes to crunch. However, one tip is to cut your produce slightly larger to give yourself more of that firm center. Browning cukes before pickling does result in a powerful brine, but placing leftover grilled pickles back in their jar will achieve a similar taste.

As for the cook, you'll want to use high heat and pre-heated grates to encourage dazzling grill marks and cultivate a char. Pat pickles dry before they hit the flames, and consider coating raw and preserved ingredients with oil before cooking. They only need a few minutes over the heat, so stay close. Cucumbers do hold up in the smoker, though they may lose their snap, so barbecuers can also try infusing spears with applewood smoke to make a vegan-friendly savory garnish, too.

Don't stop there. Kimchi ingredients, beets, jalapeños, green beans, garlic, and red onion are all excellent candidates for grilling before or after they're preserved. To avoid things falling through the grates, skewer smaller veggies or use a grill basket. Leave ingredients like cabbage and red peppers in chunks to char, then chop them before you serve them. Each vegetable will caramelize into different savory-sweet bites over the coals, transforming your usual meal and brine.

Meals that taste better with a grilled pickle

The grill-marked cucumbers will heighten the flavors in smoky hot dogs, burgers, and barbecued ribs, but there are plenty of uses for the ingredient outside of cookouts. The smoke-rich, acidic food can add a new dimension when stuffed inside classic grilled cheese and Cuban sandwiches or sprinkled on top of tangy salads. Anyone missing the crunch of a raw cuke can fill their sando with potato chips as well.

You can also embrace and transform pickle-centric foods like zupa ogórkowa, a Polish dill pickle soup, with your grilled ingredient. Or rethink spreads that feature pickled red onion, like egg, tuna, and potato salad, with the help of a fast char. And don't forget about breakfast, a meal less frequently infused with grilled flavor. Adding a pickle to your breakfast sandwich is an excellent tactic to cut through fatty meats and rich eggs, but you may find the smoke of a thin-sliced carrot or cucumber pickle transforms a cream cheese and lox bagel too.

Mixologists, remember your bonus ingredient as well. Riff on pickleback shots and dirty martinis with the help of your black-flecked brine. You can draw out more of the aromas by pairing your enhanced acid with spirits like mezcal and Scotch. Or, mellow out your pungent sweet-sour liquid by pairing it with sweeter, umami-rich drinks like a bloody mary — served with a smoky charred cocktail garnish, of course.