Burgers, hot dogs, and ribs are tried-and-true cookout staples. Beloved as they are, though, why stop there? Shake things up this summer with our picks for the 10 best, most-unexpected grill-friendly foods, including bacon, cake, lettuce, and avocados. Fire up the grill for a feast you won't soon forget.
Heating lettuce might seem like a terrible idea, and in some cases, it can create a wilted, soggy mess. But with the right leafy varieties and the proper technique, grilling will just slightly soften the greens while also lending them an irresistible smoky char. The trick is taking advantage of the grill's knack for quick, high-heat cooking. Stick to heartier lettuces with tightly bunched leaves (such as romaine, iceberg, radicchio, or endive), and halve or quarter the lettuce lengthwise, keeping in mind that larger bundles will be easier to maneuver on the grill. Oil the grill grates, preferably with canola or vegetable oil, which have a mild flavor and a high smoke point. Prepare your grill for cooking over direct, medium-high heat (for detailed instructions, see the Grilling Procedure section below). Place the lettuce halves or quarters directly on the grill grates, and cook just until grill marks are visible, about 2 minutes per side.
Shrimp on the barbie is old news, so why not try some other grill-friendly shellfish, including clams, mussels, and oysters? You'll need about 1/2 pound of shellfish per person for an appetizer, or 3/4 pound per person for an entrée. Prepare the grill for cooking over direct, medium-high heat. Place the cleaned, scrubbed shellfish (if using mussels, debeard them, too) on the grill, cover, and cook until all the shells have opened and the meat looks plumped and juicy. Cooking times can vary widely, so after the 5-minute mark, start taking a peek under the lid every minute or so to check on your bivalve beauties. Clams and oysters generally take 5 to 10 minutes to cook, while mussels cook a bit faster and will likely be done in 4 to 8 minutes. Remove to a dish or platter, add a squeeze of fresh lemon, a drizzle of melted herb butter, or both, and dinner is served.
Grilling avocados enhances their creaminess while adding flame-kissed flavor. Slice ripe avocados in half and discard the pit (leave the skin on). Lightly oil the grill grates and prepare the grill for cooking over direct, medium-high heat. Place the avocado halves, cut side down, directly on the grill, and cook for about 5 minutes, or just long enough to warm the fruit throughout and develop medium-dark grill marks. Once the avocados are cool enough to handle, carefully remove the skin and thinly slice the fruit to serve over salads, in sandwiches, or with grilled fish, chicken, or beef. Alternatively, use the flesh to make guacamole, or leave the skin on and top each half with fresh seafood salad.
Garlic is exceptionally easy to grill, and the end product is both delightfully soft and slightly sweet. Start with a whole head of garlic and slice about 1/2 to 3/4 inch off the stem end so that each clove is visible. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with dried herbs if desired (oregano, basil, or thyme work well), and then wrap in aluminum foil. Poke a few holes in the foil to let the smoke of the grill seep into the garlic. Prepare the grill for cooking over indirect, medium-high heat, cover, and cook the garlic until it's light golden brown and the cloves shrink away from their papery skins, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Use caution when opening the foil packet to check on the garlic's progress.) Once the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves from their skins. Spread the softened cloves on bread, add them to salad dressings, or try mashing them with some butter or olive oil to make a flavorful topping for grilled veggies, meats, poultry, or seafood.