Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs
A pork leg cooking on the homemade grill made from a recycled diesel barrel is displayed for a photograph in Mariel, Cuba. (Photographer: Bloomberg)

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

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(Bloomberg) -- Last week, Bloomberg Pursuits “accidentally” disrupted Independence Day by announcing that burgers should not be grilled.

That advice came from three different notable chefs (four if you count our previous Do Not Grill List) who argued that grillers were losing valuable fat and juices to the flames, while also sacrificing the kind of caramelized crust that comes from contact with a searingly hot, flat surface like a griddle or plancha.

The blowback was fierce. How dare we challenge the all-American cookout? (Among the thousands of online comments: “I think these alleged top chefs are Russian trolls trying to subvert our Fourth of July.”)

Amid all the feedback, it seemed we neglected to tell home cooks, standing spatula-in-hand, what would be OK to throw on the grates. So back we went to the top chefs in search of foods that you might not realize are actually great cooked over a hot fire. Not T-bones and rib-eye, or asparagus or citrus or skin-on, bone-in chicken—but thick-cut bologna for a smoky sandwich and crisp cucumber for a novel side. Don’t worry, we’re on Twitter if you need to let it all out.

Avocado

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: Michael Voltaggio, chef and co-owner, Voltaggio Brothers Steak House, Oxon Hill, Md.
Why: “I love to halve an avocado, grill it flesh side down in its skin.” The hit of smoke amplifies its flavor; and the heat, its creaminess. “Afterwards I let it return to room temp, scoop it out, and use as an accompaniment to grilled meat or seafood. It’s also delicious enough to be the star of its own dish with a salad mixed with a light vinaigrette.”


King Crab Legs

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: Yuval Leshem, chef, HaSalon, New York
Why: “Grilling seafood is nothing new, but there are some ingredients where the flavor and texture is truly maximized when grilled, like king crab leg. Put it on shell-on, raw over hot coals, just until the flesh turns a solid white. It’s so good on its own—sweet and smoky and rich—but I always find that you can’t go wrong if you serve it with really good olive oil and sea salt.”

Bone-In Rack of Lamb

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: Andrew Whitney, chef, Dell’Anima, New York
Why: Grilling a larger piece of meat, including intimidating racks, helps lock in the juiciness that might otherwise get lost in individual chops. “I grew up in a charcoal grill family, so I learned about indirect heat cooking at an early age. After you have cooked your meat to the desired temp (medium rare, over medium-high heat), salt and pepper, then let rest for 7 minutes. Slice in between the bones and eat it like you were holding a lollipop.”

Cucumbers

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: Sean Fowler, chef, Madolin, Raleigh, N.C.
Why: “Cucumbers often get typecast as a cold, raw salad ingredient. Show their versatility by throwing them on the grill next to your steaks or whole fish. I like to slice a couple of Kirby cucumbers ½-inch thick, toss them in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and grill them over ripping hot coals. They cook quickly and make a great side vegetable, garnished with fresh herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro, mint. The smokiness and caramelization are a welcome update to this summer staple. It’s like tasting a cucumber for the first time.”

Bologna

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: David Guas, host, American Grilled; chef and owner, Bayou Bakery, Arlington, Va.
Why: “When I was little, all I wanted was my bologna sandwich on white bread. Now that I am older, I get to make my own rules, and I grill my bologna—half-inch thick slices on the lit side of the grill until grill marks appear. To make it even better, move the bologna to the unlit side of the grill, cover, and smoke for 10 minutes, preferably over wood chips. You’ll never go back to having bologna not on the grill. Extra thick white bread for the win.”

Pork Tenderloin

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: David Guas, host, American Grilled; chef and owner, Bayou Bakery, Arlington, Va.
Why: “A broad and wide cut of meat with a large surface area and a little bit of fat, like pork tenderloin, is best on the grill—it comes out juicier and more tender than people might think. And it does not have to be cooked well-done. Pork loin also has a mild flavor, so with all that surface area, cooking over wood accents it easily and ever-so-slightly without overpowering its taste. Start with direct heat to get the right color outside, then move the loin to an area with indirect heat to smoke it and fully finish the cooking process.”

Clams

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamura, co-founders, J&E Smallgoods, New York
Why: “Literally no dishes. Maybe some sourdough bread slices. Soak the clams when you get home, then straight on the grill. When they pop open, pull them out with a fork, dip in the handy pot of butter you have also melted on the grill. It’s all just more goddamn delicious (and easy) on the grill.”

Mushrooms

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: Tae Strain, chef, Momofuku CCDC, Washington, D.C.
Why: “Mushrooms have a totally different profile when cooked on the grill. They are naturally meaty, so like meat, they love char and smoke. My personal favorite is hen of the woods (maitake) mushrooms. They tend to come in very large clusters, which makes them ideal for this kind of cooking. But you can also grill large cap mushrooms, like shiitakes; put them top down over not too high a fire until tender, so the juices collect in the cup. You want to make sure the temp isn’t so high that they still have time to develop the char and also the creaminess in the center.”

Whole Fish

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: Sean Fowler, chef, Mandolin, Raleigh, N.C.
Why: “One of the biggest complaints about cooking fish on the grill is that it doesn’t have enough fat and it dries out. Whole fish—like a 1- to 2-pound sea bass, red snapper, or trout—solves this problem with internal self-basting, which keeps it moist and makes it much harder to overcook. Also you get that smoky flavor and wonderfully seasoned, crispy skin that only a grill provides. I like to stuff the cavity with herbs, garlic, and citrus; lightly score the skin; brush with olive oil; and season heavily with salt and pepper; and cook covered over medium coals. A fish that size will take a bit longer to cook through than an average steak.”

Rice Cakes

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: Jenny Kwak, chef, Haenyeo, Brooklyn
Why: Rice cakes are great neutral-flavored vehicles for the smoky flavor of a grill and sturdy enough to withstand turning. “They’re usually braised, but I really love grilling rice cakes. You need to find fresh ones—they’re pretty available now. Just soak them in a little water beforehand, put them on skewers, and grill over low heat with a little oil (sesame oil if you’ve got some) until you get a little char. Pair with Korean chili sauce or even fresh pesto drizzle or dip.”

Lobster

Less-Expected Foods That You Should Be Grilling, Say Top Chefs

Who Says: Tae Strain, chef, Momofuku CCDC, Washington, D.C.
Why: “The flavor of lobster changes drastically when grilled. Charring the outside tempers the sweetness a bit and brings out a different meaty texture/quality to the meat, developing some richer caramelized flavors. It’s a delicate product, so better to cook it in the shell. It’s worth it to brown a bit of butter, season with grilled lemon, lots of garlic, chili flakes, and soy and brush it on the halved lobster tails as they’re cooking.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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