Unexpected Foods You Should Cook On The Grill

Summertime is grilling time. And while we all look forward to familiar favorites such as burgers and brats ... if that's all you've ever made, you're missing out on your grill's full potential. Besides these old standbys, you can also make flavorful sides and desserts on the grill — and we're not talking corn on the cob and s'mores, which you already know about. Instead, you can surprise and delight your guests by rethinking what foods can go on the grill. (The short answer is almost everything.)

Even if you have no interest in becoming an expert grill master and are happy to stick with your favorites, consider this: Cooking the rest of your meal on the grill can save you time. After all, you've fired it up, so why spend a bunch of extra effort in your kitchen cooking the rest of your meal? The next time you plan a cookout, choose some of these offbeat (and unexpected) options — you'll be glad you did.


Don't worry, we're not asking you to pour cold lemonade onto your grill. Instead, you'll grill the lemons before you make them into lemonade. This not only gives them a tantalizing hint of toastiness, it makes them softer and easier to juice: Grilled lemons release their juice much more easily than raw ones, which will make the job of juicing them go much faster.

To grill lemons, simply cut them in half, dip the cut sides in sugar, and place them cut-side down on the grill on medium high heat – they'll be done once they're golden brown and slightly softened, which takes about a minute or two. Mix the juice with water and sweetening as usual. To elevate your lemonade further, try sweetening it with sugar syrup infused with grilled thyme sprigs. To make it, soak fresh thyme sprigs in water, drain them, then grill for about a minute, or until lightly singed. Add the grilled sprigs to a saucepan of hot simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water simmered together until the sugar dissolves), and leave the thyme in the syrup for an hour to infuse. Remove the sprigs and use the syrup to sweeten your lemonade.


Any bowl of guacamole at a cookout is bound to get eaten, but everyone knows homemade guac is miles better than store-bought stuff. Even better, guacamole is easy and fast to make, provided you've planned ahead to ensure your avocados ripen (but not too much) in time for your party. And if you want to take your guacamole game to the next level without a lot of extra work, just turn to your grill: By grilling the avocados and other veggies before you combine them, you'll infuse your guacamole with a faintly smoky, savory flavor, a perfect complement for the main dishes cooked on the grill.

To grill your guacamole ingredients, start with thickly sliced onions, halved and seeded tomatoes, and a halved and seeded jalapeño. Toss them with canola oil and grill until lightly charred and tender, about seven minutes. Set the grilled veggies aside to cool while you prep and grill your avocados: Cut them in half. Brush the avos with oil, and place onto the grill, cut side down, until charred, for about six minutes. Once the grilled avocados have cooled, chop the other vegetables and then fold into the peeled and mashed avocado. Add lime juice, cumin, and salt to taste and serve immediately.

Chocolate eclairs

The best part of cooking over an open fire — whether it's a fire pit at home or a campsite in the wilderness — is that it's a communal, immersive activity that allows every diner to take charge of their own meal. This is why everyone loves s'mores so much: Sure, the combo of hot marshmallow, melty chocolate, and crunchy graham crackers is hard to beat, but the real treat is being able to cook your marshmallows and assemble your treat exactly the way you like.

For a fancier and equally fun grilled dessert, have your guests grill their own chocolate eclairs. Yup, you read that right, and it only requires three ingredients from the supermarket. Just wrap pre-made crescent roll dough around a foil-wrapped stick and cook over the fire until done. When the grilled pastry is cool enough to handle, remove from the stick, poke a hole in one end, and fill it with prepared vanilla pudding. Slather on chocolate icing, and enjoy. Congratulations, you've just elevated your camping trip to a gourmet dining experience!

Angel food cake

An open fire was humanity's first — and some will say, still best — toaster. While perhaps not as convenient as the two- or four-slot toaster on your kitchen counter, it lends a smoky flavor and appetizing touch of char that no electric appliance can match. If popping a slice of bread or leftover cake into a toaster makes it extra flavorful, grilling it over an open flame will turn it into a memorable treat.

So if you're looking for a fast, fun, and classy sweet to top off your next cookout, consider grilled angel food cake. Just cut a store-bought cake (no need to make your own unless you're feeling ambitious) into thick slices and grill over medium heat until browned to your liking. Enjoy it as-is or top it with sliced fruit, fruit salad, or whipped cream. The contrast between the warm cake and cool toppings make this an especially satisfying plated dessert.

Tater tots

Tater tots have a way of taking us to happier times. Whether you smear them with ketchup in front of the TV, arrange them in satisfying rows atop a cozy casserole, or flex your culinary skills by reproducing them from scratch, tater tots bring lots of smiles. No matter how you enjoy them, chances are you always thought of tots as an indoor dish.

But they don't have to be: Tater tots are also surprisingly delicious cooked on the grill. We'll go further and say they taste even better grilled, especially if you cook them over wood or wood chips — the flavor of smoke always adds a charred element the food wouldn't otherwise have. Best of all, grilling tater tots is no harder than heating them up in a toaster oven. Just scatter onto a disposable aluminum pie plate spritzed with cooking spray and place on your grill over medium heat until they're good and hot, about 20 minutes. Grilling gives this popular side dish a little accent of flavor everyone will love.


There's no law that says lettuce must be served raw. Stir-fried lettuce, for instance, is a popular dish in Chinese cooking, and well worth a try if you have a lot of lettuce around but are tired of salads. And western cooks are starting to catch on to the virtues of cooked lettuce – grilled Caesar salads, for instance, have become a trendy starter.

The Romaine lettuce traditionally used in Caesar salad is hearty enough to take well to the grill — cooked correctly, it gets a pleasant, smoky char and a bit of tenderness while maintaining some of its signature crispness. To grill Romaine, split a whole head lengthwise, brush the cut side with oil, and grill, cut-side down, until lightly charred — this will take only a couple of minutes. When it's ready, move the lettuce to a serving plate and top with dressing and halved soft-boiled eggs. If you're not a fan of Caesar salads, grilled lettuce also pairs well with other hearty, creamy dressings such as ranch.

Brie cheese

You can't go wrong if you offer cheese as a starter at a cookout — it takes almost zero effort, and everyone likes it. But thanks to the magic of your grill, you can turn an ordinary wheel of Brie into a gourmet treat.

For grilled Brie, the key to success is to start with a whole wheel of cheese and ensure its rind is fully intact (this is what keeps the softened cheese from leaking out all over your grill). Brush the rind with oil and place the wheel on the grill until it's warmed through. Carefully remove to a serving plate. 

The gooey, almost spoon-able cheese is great slathered over crackers or bread slices. If you're not comfortable risking cheese leaking on your grill, then use slabs of a non-melt cheese such as Halloumi — it will warm through and get nice toasty grill lines, but its firm, meaty texture will remain in tact.


While well-known safety concerns dictate that some foods — such as chicken — should always be cooked before eating, it's puzzling that we also have foods we only think of eating raw. Watermelon, for instance: We think of it (rightfully) as a cool, refreshing summer treat — and when it shows up at a cookout, watermelon usually appears in chilled fruit salads or slices and serves as a counterpart to whatever is being prepared on the grill.

But there's no reason watermelon can't be grilled as well — grilling is a great way to transform this dependable favorite into something deliciously new. Grilling chunks or thick slices of watermelon boosts its natural flavors: As the sugars from the fruit caramelize on the grill, they seal the juices and add extra toasty goodness. The smoke from the grill also contributes savory notes to the melon, allowing the grilled fruit to work as either a surprising side or memorable dessert.


Thoughtful hosts are mindful to provide meatless options for their vegetarian guests. Even more welcoming and creative, however, is to offer no-meat dishes that will appeal to carnivores and vegetarians, since omnivores might also enjoy a change from the usual burgers and hot dogs. For this, a superb grilling option is a longtime staple of the vegetarian kitchen: tofu.

Fans of Asian food, however, know that tofu isn't only for vegetarians. Its mild flavor and versatility, depending on which form of tofu you use – it can have any texture from pudding-like to spongy to chewy – will enable creative cooks to fit it into almost any dish. It's also a flavor sponge, which makes it an excellent vehicle for sauces, marinades, glazes with a range of flavor profiles, and the smokiness of the grill. All of this makes firm tofu a great addition to a grilled meal. Just be sure to brush the tofu with oil and season generously before grilling so it won't stick to the grate.


Burgers, sausages, and steaks are the first proteins most home cooks think of for cookouts. More experienced cooks may have also considered (or tried) grilling chicken or kebabs or even salmon steaks. All of these are delicious, of course, but they're far from the only options. For a festive and different main dish protein or starter, consider fresh shellfish, such as mussels, oysters, or clams.

These self-contained little treats are not only super-flavorful when cooked on the grill, but fast and easy to prepare as well. The quickest way to grill shellfish is simply to scrub the mollusks until the shells are clean and set them over hot coals until they start to open — this will only take about five minutes. Drizzle with salt, pepper, melted butter, or your choice of sauce or seasoning, and they're done. For classic New Orleans grilled oysters, you'll need to do a bit more work: Clean and open the oysters, discarding the top (flat) shell, top them with a composed butter flavored with garlic and parsley, and set carefully on a hot grill. When the butter starts bubbling, they're ready to serve.

Winter squash

When most of us think of grilled vegetables, we think of summery veggies such as zucchini, corn, and bell peppers. This makes sense, since summer is the biggest season for grilling, and for some of us, the only season in which grilling is feasible. But these old favorites aren't the only ones that taste great when grilled. To change up your grilling game, consider an option everyone already likes, but doesn't expect to see at a cookout: winter squash.

Dense, sweet winter squash such as butternut and acorn get even better when grilled, picking up new notes of caramelization and smokiness. The only catch is they take longer to cook than summer squashes. Halve and seed your squash, brush the cut side with oil, and place it cut-side down on the grill over indirect heat, ideally with the grill covered. Your squash is ready when it's tender enough to poke with a fork, which should take about 25 minutes. It's tasty with just a bit of salt, pepper, and butter — but even better when sliced and made into a hearty salad.


If your favorite type of pizza is the fancy pizzeria kind — small, thin-crusted, both chewy and crunchy with a bit of char from a wood fire pizza oven — you're in luck: You can make your own pizzas with a similar vibe right on your grill. You'll need all the usual pizza ingredients: prepared dough (homemade or store-bought), sauce, shredded cheese, toppings of your choice, and a bit of olive oil.

The process to make them is fun. First, divide the dough into serving-size pieces and roll them out (smaller pizzas are easier to work with). Lay the rounds on an oiled baking sheet while you roll out the others. Preheat your grill to medium high, then arrange the dough rounds on the grate. Allow them to cook for 90 seconds, flip them, and immediately top with sauce, cheese, and other toppings. Turn down heat, cover, and cook for five minutes. You'll have to work pretty quickly, so be sure to have your toppings prepped and close at hand when you start grilling. To add to the fun and speed things up, you can have your guests (or even bigger kids) help with the toppings.