Hot off the backyard grill: pizza, dessert and more

Expanding food choices when cooking outdoors

July 24, 2002|By Shawn Cunningham | Shawn Cunningham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The perfectly grilled steaks are off the heat and the vegetables wrapped in foil are nearly tender, but that pile of coals is still glowing a bright red. There's no need to waste it; use that heat to grill dessert.

A growing number of chefs and home cooks are discovering that the grill is a great place to cook many foods not traditionally associated with propane or charcoal. For Mike Kempster Sr., executive vice president of Weber-Stephen Products, the company that invented the Weber Kettle (and backyard grilling as we know it), this is a logical step.

"Anything you can do in an oven, you can also do on a grill - whether it's roasting, broiling or baking," says Kempster. "Once you understand the heat - direct or indirect - and how to achieve it, you can concentrate on the cooking. Oh! And keeping the lid down - that's a key."

George Germon, chef and co-owner of Al Forno in Providence, R.I., happened upon one such use by accident in the early '80s when his fish supplier spoke of seeing pizza made on a grill during a visit to Italy. Germon later established that his source had actually seen a traditional wood-burning oven, but it got him thinking.

He and his wife and partner, chef Johanne Killeen, experimented with methods for grilled pizzas. Those pies are now a signature dish at Al Forno.

According to Germon, "You need a hot spot and a cold spot on the grill." He accomplishes this by laying bricks across the middle of the grill and placing all of the coals on one side of the wall. At home, banking coals on one side of a grill is sufficient.

"You build the pizza in reverse," says Germon. Grill the dough over the hot spot on one side until lightly brown and it holds its shape, and then flip it onto the cold spot to assemble the pizza. "You don't need a cover, but you do need wood." According to Germon, charcoal and wood grills can achieve higher temperatures than gas grills and are the best way to get the smoky tang of a wood-burning pizza oven at home.

After the pizza lands on the cold spot, brush it with olive oil, and top with cheese, tomatoes and whatever else you like and grill it until the cheese melts and there is a satisfying crust on the bottom. Because the home grill won't be as hot as Germon's professional setup, using the lid will concentrate the heat. A sprig of rosemary will give the pizza an extra smoky dimension.

In his book How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques (Workman Publishing Co. Inc., $19.95, 2001), grilling guru Steve Raichlen makes the same point by demonstrating the techniques for grilling everything from quesadillas to tofu to creme brulee. "I'm of the school that if something tastes great off the griddle or out of the oven," Raichlen writes, "it probably tastes even better off the grill."

Grilling dessert can be as simple as slicing an apple in half, coating the cut side with brown sugar and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and popping it on the grill over medium coals. Firmer fruit is best: Granny Smith apples and Anjou pears, for example. And when selecting soft fruit like figs, bananas and peaches, buy those that are firm and not yet ripe. Experiments are fun, most failures still taste great and guinea pigs are easy to find.

A simple dish with many possible variations involves warming poundcake over the fire to get grill marks and then topping it with strawberries, raspberries or another favorite fruit. Delicate raspberries can get bruised or even spoiled, but a handful of these less-than-perfect berries cleaned and trimmed will make a great warm compote if combined with sugar and kirschwasser, then cooked. Adjust the sugar to taste and top the grilled poundcake with this simple mixture. Ice cream, sorbet and even mascarpone cheese can be added as an additional topping.

Kebabs are always a favorite, and you can grill fruit on a stick just as easily as meat and vegetables. Kempster cautions that fruits of different water content and density will cook in different times. Anyone who has served shish kebabs where the onion and peppers are underdone and cherry tomatoes have exploded and fallen into the fire knows this.

To solve this problem, grill like fruits together for proper cooking, then assemble the mixture on the plate or on new skewers. Use two skewers through the fruit to keep pieces from spinning when you turn the kebab and to help preserve the structure of softer fruit.

One of the best recipes for dessert is a mass of interesting juxtapositions. At once warm and cold, sweet and sour, crisp and soft, smoky and creamy, grilled pineapple with vanilla-cinnamon ice cream is a complex dessert that's simple to make.

Grilled Pineapple With Vanilla-Cinnamon Ice Cream

Serves 6


1/4 cup milk

1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1 pineapple

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Mix the milk, ice cream, brown sugar and cinnamon together and refreeze, preferably overnight.

Skin pineapple, cut into six 3/4 -inch slices and remove cores. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger and coat the slices with the mixture. Grill pineapple over medium-high direct heat for 5 minutes or until the brown sugar caramelizes and grill marks appear. Remove the slices from the grill and serve topped with the ice cream.

Note: To help prevent the ice cream from melting too quickly on the pineapple, freeze the ice cream as solidly as possible and allow the pineapple slices to cool somewhat before serving, or plate them separately.

- Adapted from "Southern Living Magazine," September 2001

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