Apples on grill: They taste good, smell even better

November 30, 2005|By ROB KASPER

Apples smell so good on the barbecue grill that I find myself cooking them there even in these darker, colder months.

I have tried them a variety of ways, stuffed with an oatmeal-and-sweetened-butter mixture, sliced and brushed with honey and lemon juice, and sprinkled with cinnamon and brown sugar, a recipe that comes from an unusual source of cuisine, the KOA campground Web site.

The truth is that every grilled-apple treatment I tried smelled better than it tasted. The aroma of apples sizzling over an open fire melts me. Grilling alone, however, does not transform the flavor of the apples. They need a little help.

Slathering the slices with a mixture of honey and lemon juice as they grilled seemed to bring out their natural sweetness. The fire caramelized the honey and the lemon juice provided a citrus zing.

These grilled-apple slices were quick to prepare, but they need company. They would make a good side dish to barbecued pork. The sugar-and-cinnamon treatment made them taste like candy, fine for kids, but too sweet for me.

Stuffing them with a mixture of oatmeal and chunks of butter sounded appealing, but did not work. Rather than the promised "crumble" flavor, the filling tasted, well, like oatmeal. That is OK for breakfast, but not for dessert.

But then I found a recipe that calls for coring the apples, filling them with ground nuts, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and rum. It came from Steven Raichlen, and was mentioned in an article about Cajun turkey that appeared in this section two weeks ago. The piece told how to cook the turkey, but not the apples. I was curious.

I looked for the recipe in Raichlen's cookbooks, finding it in How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques. The recipe was designed for pears, but said you could substitute apples.

One drawback was that rather than cooking the apples quickly over an open fire, which takes about 10 minutes, this recipe called for roasting them slowly for 40 minutes over an indirect fire.

Moreover, it called for using a pan - a foil pan, to be sure, but a pan nonetheless. One of the joys of grilling is that it is usually pan-free. You just toss stuff on the naked grate.

But I was willing to give it a try. I went down to the Sunday farmers' market and bought some Honey Crisp apples. They are my current favorite variety of apples. They live up to their moniker, delivering crisp, sweet flavor with every bite.

They were so good that when I cored them, I popped the scooped-out chunks of apple into my mouth. These, I figured, were a cook's reward. Like spoonfuls of chocolate chip cookie dough, these bits of apple were the bounty that a cook is entitled to. It is, in the code of the kitchen, payback for making a dish.

The mixture that went in the fruit began with the usual friends of apples - butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. But also present were some ground nuts, some nutmeg, vanilla and, perhaps, a dash of rum.

I didn't have any rum in my house when I was tossing this filling together, so I substituted raisins. The only logic of this switch was that I love rum and I also love raisins. In other words, one favorite was supposed to fill in for another. It worked.

I stuffed this mixture in the apples, put them in a foil pan, put the lid on the grill and raked leaves as I waited for the dish to be done.

One of the advantages of cooking on the outdoor grill is that you can combine cooking with seasonal chores. There are always leaves that can be raked and bagged as something sizzles on the barbecue cooker.

For added aromatic interest, I tossed some maple-wood chips that had been soaking in water onto the charcoal fire. Three big bags of leaves later, I pulled the stuffed apples off the grill.

Their exteriors were golden; their interiors were dark brown. They tasted wonderful. But they smelled even better.

Smoke-Roasted Apples

Makes 4 servings

4 large sweet apples, such as Honey Crisps

1/2 lemon

5 tablespoons butter at room temperature

5 tablespoons brown sugar

5 tablespoons ground nuts or graham-cracker crumbs

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 cup raisins

1 tablespoon rum (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cut a thin slice off the bottom and top of each apple, so it can stand upright without wobbling. Using a paring knife, cut out the stem end and remove the inverted cone.

Using a melon baller or a sturdy 1-teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop out the core and seeds. Rub the cut bottoms and tops with the cut side of the lemon to prevent browning. Squeeze a few drops of juice into the cavities.

Prepare the filling: Beat the butter and brown sugar in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Beat in the nuts, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, raisins, rum, if using, and vanilla.

Spoon the mixture into the apples and loosely place the caps on top. Arrange the apples in a lightly greased foil pan.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling.

When ready to cook, place the pan with apples in the center of the grate, away from the heat. If using a charcoal grill, toss wood chips onto coals.

Cover the grill and smoke-roast the apples until nicely browned and soft on the sides, 40 minutes to 1 hour.

Serve at once.

From "How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques" by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing Co. Inc., 2001, $19.95)

Per serving: 379 calories; 2 grams protein; 19 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 56 grams carbohydrate; 6 grams fiber; 38 milligrams cholesterol; 112 milligrams sodium

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