Tell me about grilling.
May 30, 2016 2:54 PM   Subscribe

I'd love to start grilling. Problems: I don't (yet) have a grill and I have a non-meat-eating partner. I have two specific questions: 1) Charcoal or gas? My dad says there's no easy answer to this... Benefits of each? Any specific grills you love or hate? 2) What can I grill for my vegetarian boyfriend? Recipes or resources would be amazing.
posted by brynna to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Serious Eats' Grilling Guide is comprehensive and amazing. Read some of that stuff and then make your decision. I got a gas grill this past winter and it is amazing, but charcoal has that sort of "authentic" flare.

Veggie stuff that's been great: kabobs with mushrooms, peppers, onions, pineapple; zucchini; summer squash; cauliflower; raddichio; portobella mushrooms; veggie burgers (if there's ever an excuse for frozen veggie burgers, it's grilling!).

Edit: the grill I have is the Weber Spirit 2. I like it, but if you can afford a bigger one and like having company, for sure get a bigger one.
posted by papayaninja at 3:00 PM on May 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Two things work really well for grilling vegetables. One is a wire basket. The second, is a cast-iron grill plate. With the grill plate, you can do "mongolian grill" style stir-fry cooking. I also use it for lots of other things, including burgers and bratwursts. It's great for grilling individual size pizzas. Basically, I almost never grill directly on the open flame much any more.

My preference is for gas over charcoal. Much more convenient heat control.
posted by yesster at 3:01 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

tofu! omg! so good! with just a little bbq sauce and cooked till it gets nice and crispy
posted by the twistinside at 3:05 PM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Charcoal - the grills are simpler and more durable and the charcoal provides its own particular flavor, but they take a while to start and getting the temperature right takes some practice.

Gas - lights up instantly, easy to control, need to be careful with gas tanks and the grills have more parts to break.

Vegetarian grilling - you can stick a lot of vegetables straight on the grill or on a specialized tray. Veggie skewers are also fun. Whole portabello mushrooms make easy non-processed "veggie burgers" in addition to the standard fake meats you can find at the grocery store.

I also recommend marinated eggplant slices with tomatoes, basil and cheese.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 3:05 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Serious Eats is always a welcome resource. Grilling specific landing page.

I'm a huge fan of gas grills, even though I have a charcoal grill too. Charcoal grill is for the weekends, gas grill is everyday cooking. I like the Sweethome's guide to grills, and it has not steered me wrong. I was charcoal-only for a long time, but now we use the grill so, so, so much more.

Vegetarian food for the grill: This stuff. These things. Stuff like this. SWEET GOD ALMIGHTY THESE. Both of these. SWOON.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:06 PM on May 30, 2016 [8 favorites]

Weber charcoal grill. Hassle to clean but I love the real smoke. Mmmm
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:13 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

While this one is bigger, this is the grill plate I have. I've actually used it to fry bacon and eggs on the grill.
posted by yesster at 3:13 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Veggie Kababs are great on the grill, marinade in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and rosemary.

Some fruits are also nice on there, pineapple, plums, peaches.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:15 PM on May 30, 2016

What's your lifestyle like? Is it hectic? Are you stressed? Got a kid? Herding dog? Tough job?Are you pulled in different directions? Gas grill!

Do you love the idea of coming home and setting coals on fire, sitting there and having a beer with your boyfriend as the grill heats up with no special time frame in mind? Charcoal grill!

I greatly prefer charcoal, but I no longer have that lifestyle and will probably buy a gas grill sometime soon. And then maybe if the kid moves out someday, which isn't likely to happen fast, she's the type who will hang out until she's 32, it'll be back to beers and waiting for the charcoal to heat up. Then again, at some point, she'll be old enough to have beers with us, so...uh...still okay to go back to charcoal when she's a grown up. However, at the moment, she's seven.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:20 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I prefer gas for convenience and control; I use a wood chip box for smoking chips for flavor.

Serious Eats is a good resource including for vegetable and tofu techniques, but really once you get the hang of how to cut your vegetables you can play around. The most important thing I learned there (and from my own experiments) is that sauce, seasonings, and marinades burn, so mostly I only oil before and then sauce/season after cooking.

Do not skip the grilled romaine. You can grill iceberg or cabbage wedges too. Mmphf. And fruit! Grilled peaches are amazing.

Kebab tip: don't mix your media. Cultures with serious hardcore fire + stick street foods know that an onion and a tomato and a bit of chicken do not cook at the same rate. Also if you're going to kebab, get some flat or double-pronged skewers so you don't have any issues flipping. But mostly I follow my dad's advice and just grill the things in big pieces on the grill and skip the stick, as they are a nightmare to manage, store, and clean. (Also, you don't really need skewers to make kofta, just form manageable logs, and you're going to want to make large batches of tzaziki to keep on hand for all grilled foods.)

Listen to Alton Brown on keeping your grill grates clean and nonstick, because vegetables will stick like glue if you're not diligent. Like Alton, I never bother cleaning after cooking, I just wait and clean after a 5-minute preheat before I start cooking - all I use is a steel brush and the rolled towel in oil.

Get yourself some long tongs, for your knuckle health.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:22 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

The thing about charcoal vs. gas is this: Charcoal tastes better, but gas is easier, which means you'll do it more often. So do you want the occasional awesome or the routine good?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:24 PM on May 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have a grill basket for veggies but I am lazy and hate cleaning it so I just use foil. My method is such:

1. Chop up veggies into 1-2 inch chunks. Red/green/yellow/orange peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash, onions are all great for this. Sweet potatoes are also awesome, done separately. You don't need to cut the skin off.

2. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. You can add other spices or seasonings but you don't have to.

3. Ladle a helping of these marinated veggies onto a square of foil and scrunch all the edges together so it's a nice closed packet. Apply to grill and cook until delicious.

For the sweet potatoes, you can put the chunks directly into the foil and just add olive oil and salt.

Veggie burgers are also really good grilled. We really like Morningstar Grillers and Spicy Black Bean Burgers.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 3:25 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fry Halloumi cheeeeeeeeeeeese!
posted by parki at 3:28 PM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Grilled corn on the cob is awesome, I'm not sure on the specifics, but you leave the husk on and then presoak it in water before grilling
posted by TheAdamist at 3:31 PM on May 30, 2016

For the vegetarians:

* Slice some zucchini, the long way, into 1/2" strips. Grill until you've got some nice color and the zucchini is tender. Remove from the grill, douse with fresh lemon juice (more than you think), and then cover with chopped mint.

* Grill a mixture of red and green bell peppers, onions, squashes, and other veggies you like, until they're nicely charred. Cut into bite-size-ish pieces, then toss with balsamic and olive oil. Serve cold or at room temp with old bread, panzanella style, with fresh mozzarella as a bonus.

* Marinate portobello mushrooms in oil/vinegar/herbs/garlic (or plain old Italian salad dressing). Grill with the gill size up so that the marinate soaks in. Remove when tender. Makes excellent sandwiches or burgers.

*Cut either red or green cabbage into wedges. Brush with olive oil, grill until charred. Yummy. Bonus points for then turning that cabbage into cole slaw.

*Corn on the cob, of course.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:31 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, I'm kind of a proof-of-concept person, and if you are also a proof of concept person you may want to get the no-name brand medium-size model (which you can do at the big box hardware stores for about $120ish) before you bring home a giant $500 chrome hot rod. They are, for the most part, the same on the inside.

A long time ago I had to leave behind a big shiny red 4+1-burner monster in a move, and went with the hardware store cheapy 2+1 a year ago and it's fine for two people, it's great, and I don't get overambitious with all that grill real estate laid out before me. I'll use it until it falls apart and then think about a fancier one...but really what I need is a counter-height table or cart because the cookspace is ample but the setting-stuff-down spaces are not very large.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:32 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Asparagus is a must for grilling. Green onions are amazing after being grilled just a bit.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:36 PM on May 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

For corn on the cob, you don't even have to soak it in water. Just throw it on, with the husk still on. There's enough moisture for it not to dry out. I usually put it on the "potato rack" at the back of the grill, with the lid closed. After it cooks, peel back (but don't separate) the husk. It works like a handle for holding the ear.
posted by yesster at 3:54 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Really good corn should be eaten raw or grilled for maybe 2 minutes for maximum sweetness, but you can put a heatproof ramekin of butter on the grill directly above your wood chips (if you're really into it, make an oversized "umbrella" of foil over the ramekin to catch and funnel more smoke into the butter) and get it melted and smokey to brush on.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:02 PM on May 30, 2016

I was surprised by how well brocollini turned out (I liked the slightly charred/wilted effect). In a large bowl, mix olive oil, (aged) balsamic vinegar, coarse/kosher salt, brocollini. Set grill to medium or so, 2 minutes, flip, brush florettes with remaining marinade, 2 minutes, serve.

I've also done eggplant steaks (the big bulbous ones) cut coronally about 1-1.5" thick. Coat with olive oil. Make a paste of miso and mirin. Grill one side for 2-3 minutes, flip. Spoon on dollop of miso paste, spread. Continue to grill for another 2-3 of minutes or until desired tenderness.

For corn on the cob, remove all but ~ 1.5 layers of husk. Carefully peel back, while still attached to cob and as whole as possible, the remaining husk. With kitchen shears, snip off the last inch or so of corn. Remove tassels by hand*. Melt butter in a bowl in microwave (optionally spike it with garlic powder/white pepper/chili-cayenne powder). Using a brush, brush the exposed corn - this can get a little bit messy. Carefully return the attached husk to their original position. Rip a 1/4" wide strip from a removed husk. Use as a string to tie the still-attached re-positioned husk together. Grill ~ 3minutes, rotate 1/4, repeat until desired tenderness.

*depending on fancy you feel like, you can use a torch to sear the remaining tassels off
posted by porpoise at 4:19 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite vegetarian grilled foods is yaki onigiri, grilled rice balls. You can google up some recipes, but it just comes down to making rice (if it's not a naturally sticky rice, use a bit too much water so it gets a bit sticky and mushy), squishing it into balls, and grilling it. It gets crispy and burnt on the outside and it's amazing. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, sesame seeds, spice powder, or whatever. Hide bits of cooked veggies inside.
posted by moonmilk at 4:35 PM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

For vegetarians, we grill: tofu, mushroom (portobello and the crimini), and halloumi, marinated in (Asian) BBQ sauce. We also did plain veggies, typically bell peppers and onions. You can also grill tomatoes (but it doesn't taste better to me grilled) and watermelons (which do taste better).
posted by ethidda at 5:27 PM on May 30, 2016

You can also cut portobello mushrooms into 1/3-1/2" slices, toss them briefly in salad dressing (try a balsamic vinaigrette), and grill them a few minutes on each side. Makes a marvelous side dish.
posted by dws at 5:37 PM on May 30, 2016

Asparigus coated in oil, vinegar, and honey grilled for 5-6 minutes always gets me rave reviews. The Trader Joe's Indian vegi burgers are good for when you want quick and easy.

For you, grilling meat without a lot of experience, get a good instant meat thermometer. Especially with chicken and pork. Knowing what the center temperature is will remove a lot of guesswork and allows you to get the hang of moving meat out of the hot zone to finish from ambient temperature.

Avoid chicken thighs with skin - they're so fatty that they are very easy to burn.

If you get a charcoal grill (which I far prefer), get a chimney to start it with rather than lighter fluid. As a bonus, you can get a small grill surface try go on top of it and do things like searing thin steaks or veggies on it.
posted by Candleman at 6:14 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Slice up zucchini, brush on some olive oil, and season it. (We use a garlic and herb blend, but experiment!) Then just grill them until they're brown. I don't even like zucchini and they're good.

Pretty much every vegetable I've ever tried grilling has turned out nicely.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:17 PM on May 30, 2016

It's almost the season in the northeast for them: grill garlic scapes.

And haloumi cheese.

Halve a spaghetti squash, grill skin side down until the skin is charred and peels off.

Sort of hard (not soft and squishy! But not like rocks) avocados: half them, olive oil them, face down on the grill. Serve with a dollop of salsa.

S'mores are vegetarian.

Ok. Here's my greatest grill recipe. Ready, metafilter?

Chop up some apples into chunks. Add walnuts, some lemon juice, maple syrup, a pinch of salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, olive oil. Put in cast iron pan. Throw on grill. While grilling, fill bowls with very cold vanilla ice cream. When apples are soft and carmelizing, put on top of ice cream. If your apples are burning, you used too much maple syrup. You may want to add maple syrup at the end to prevent burning.

Have fun.
posted by slateyness at 6:35 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Slice up a pineapple, brush it with a mixture of lime juice and brown sugar, then throw on the grill until caramelized. Yummy dessert.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:37 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers. Put them on a hot grill (with flames or without, ideally with the lid on), and cook until the skins blacken. Put them in a ziplock bag, or in a glass container with a lid, or some other closed container where the steam stays in. Let them steam for maybe 10 minutes until the skins peel off easily. Peel all the skins off, serve however you like, and you have yourself an amazing side dish or even a main meal with things added. I prefer to toss them in some Italian dressing (or olive oil), add a light sprinkling of crumbled feta, and add some pitted black olives. You can also add chunks of grilled meat if you eat meat. They're also excellent plain, and they freeze well too. I've added them pureed to hummus with excellent results (adds a smoky sweet pepper taste).
posted by ClaireBear at 6:38 PM on May 30, 2016

i have a gas start charcoal weber grill that i love and highly recommend - with the gas start the coals are ready in about 20 min.
posted by nanhey at 7:05 PM on May 30, 2016

I have both gas and charcoal grills. The gas one is one we just bought to replace an older smaller one. It worked ok but this new one is sooooo much better. The charcoal grill is just a small 14 inch kettle grill; there's only two of us and that size gives me the best combo of charcoal usage/grill space for the two of us. The gas grill is very very convenient to use - turn it on and then brush the grates when it heats up and start grilling. The charcoal grill is more involved - empty out old charcoal, give it a quick cleaning if needed, and I can either brush the grate after it heats up or I can wash it by hand while the charcoal heats up. However, I do enjoy the charcoal grill more. I burn mesquite lump charcoal. (Always use the hardwood lump charcoal - never use briquettes! The flavor is so much better off the lumps and you can dump the ashes in the compost.)
posted by azpenguin at 10:17 PM on May 30, 2016

I grew up in a household that had a gas grill, and that meant we had something grilled for dinner three or so nights a week. It's honestly not much different that preheating an oven. It's simple, and it's fast.

I own a couple charcoal based things (smokers, a weber kettle grill) and yeah, using them is more of an event thing. It's rare that I fire them up on a weekday just because of the time committment, but honestly, it does taste better, and there's the adventure of learning about your grill and how much charcoal you'll need for the heat you want. Gas grills are essentially a knob you turn. Charcoal grills hold a living, breathing thing you build and nourish, and work with to create your end result. I'd definitely recommend charcoal.

As for veggie friendly grilling, a lot of the staples have been mentioned. Grilled corn on the corn (peel the husk down but not off, in the husk is just steamed corn) is fabulous. It's even better if you mix minced garlic, pepper, salt and chilies into the butter, then slather liberally onto the corn while on the grill. That, or butter mixed with soy sauce. Also fantastic.

Wrap tofu in paper towel, place between two flat cutting boards (with, say, a spoon on one side, and the bottom cutting board hanging over the edge of the sink). Putt a stack of plates on the top cutting board, and squeeze out as much moisture as you can from the tofu. On a very, very clean and well oiled grill (or on a cheap dollar store grill that you set on your main grill) get the tofu nice and brownish, then baste with a mix of sesame oil, soy sauce, black pepper, and gochujang. Good times.

Mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, onions. Fruit. All good.

Even better, especially if you've got your charcoal grill going, make things for later in the week. You can do things like roasting garlic for tomorrow's dinner, just off the top of my head. One of the very best parts of any grilling party is just setting a nice fluffy piece of white bread on the grilled. Fire-toast is the best toast.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:52 PM on May 30, 2016

In addition to Serious Eats I would really recommend Amazing Ribs. I don't know that I have ever seen a more complete grilling reference. The site has techniques, recipes, grill reviews, charcoal reviews, etc. The site owner, Meathead, has released a new book that Kenji from Serious Eats praises. I just started it and I have learned a lot. Once again, the main focus is on meat, but there might be enough useful information for you.

I have no affiliation with either site but a huge fan of both.
posted by Silvertree at 11:16 AM on May 31, 2016

Seconding Amazing Ribs. It's a great resource. If you do decide to go with charcoal you can't lose with the classic Weber kettle family of charcoal grills. Well built and excellent value. Due to their iconic status there is great support for parts and accessories. Both from Weber and others. The Smokenator is a great little gadget that will turn your kettle into a pretty decent low and slow smoker. And many recipes are written assuming you are using one. Sort of like the KitchenAid stand mixer. Cooks Illustrated publishes a special all grilling issue each summer that is full of great recipes, tips and reviews. You should be able to find it at your local newsstand.
posted by Fred Wesley at 5:29 PM on May 31, 2016

The truth that nobody wants to hear is that with most quick-cooking foods, none of the flavor from charcoal smoke actually permeates the food you're cooking (if you're cooking low and slow, smoke does influence the flavor). That said, we first taste with our noses, and that smell of charcoal smoke definitely invokes a Pavlovian response, so there's something to the romance.

And most of the pros and cons have been listed above already. Gas is quicker to heat up, quicker to shut down, quicker to clean, and more easily controlled. It's also more of a pain to keep on hand. I've had nights ruined when the gas tank ran empty in the middle of cooking.

Charcoal is potentially more flexible (since you can learn multiple ways to set up your grill), easier to keep on hand, and has that aroma. You can also get a charcoal grill up to a higher temperature for searing, if that's important to you. But it takes a while to come up to temperature, and then when you're done cooking you have to leave the grill out while the coals burn themselves out (or, if your grill's vents seal perfectly, you can smother the fire – but even then it still takes a while for the grill to cool off).

I've cooked with gas; I cook with charcoal now. The setup and teardown time does mean that we do have to plan around grilling, so it's not much of a weeknight thing for us. But I do enjoy charcoal more.
posted by fedward at 5:22 PM on June 1, 2016

Thirding the Amazing Ribs website. It's taught me a ton about bbq, and his explanation of beer can chicken (in a word, don't. Use a wife frame roaster, not a beer can) was fantastic. Lots of information backed up by experimentation and results.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:29 PM on June 1, 2016

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