Wondering what to grill this Labor Day weekend when hamburgers and hot dogs have lost their luster? There’s a whole world of unusual alternative proteins to grill, but even beyond meat (no pun intended), you can throw so much more on the BBQ than you might be aware—with delicious results. So make room on your menu.
From all kinds of vegetables and fruit on through to dessert, these are some of our favorite unexpected things to grill all summer:
One Chowhound raves about grilled avocado, “If you use a nice ripe one cut in slabs the texture gets kind of crisp on the outside, molten on the inside like foie gras.” That’s why we collected the best grilled avocado recipes around, plus ideas on how else to use them.
Leafy greens seem too delicate for the BBQ, but grilled romaine hearts get kissed by the flames and turn tender and silky yet still have some crunch. Not to mention that smoky flavor that pairs so well with whatever dressings and toppings you want to add. See how to make grilled romaine lettuce with plenty of ideas for turning it into the best summer salad you’ll ever eat.
3. Grilled Peas
We’re guessing you’ve never added these to your veggie skewers, but give peas a chance. Skewering the intact pods makes it easy to flip them and they pick up a perfect char, but you can also use a grill basket and tongs. Serve them as a snack, starter, or side with dips (from the usual creamy faves to chunky seasoning blends like Egyptian dukkah), drizzle with a simple vinaigrette or melt compound butter over top, or add them to a chunky summer salad.
Grilled green beans are also amazing, if less surprising; if you love wok-charred beans, you can imagine how well they take to the BBQ treatment. We like a locking grill basket to keep these slender veggies secure, and once they’re blistered, dipping them into a Cajun spiced mayo is sublime. But you could also dress them with a dry fried string bean sauce, chili oil, romesco, or really anything else you want.
Nexgrill Flexible Grill Basket, $15.97 from Home Depot
5. Grilled Cucumber
We don’t tend to cook cucumbers—they’re usually eaten raw, and if they’re processed, it’s by pickling. But even these crisp, tender veggies can go on the grill. You can slice them like in this Grilled Strawberry and Cucumber Salad recipe, spear them à la this Shrimp and Cucumber Skewers recipe, or cut them in wedges as in this Grilled Cucumbers with Creamy Pickled Feta Dip recipe.
Baked potatoes, fried potatoes, and now, grilled potatoes. There’s no wrong way to eat a spud, but there is more than one method to BBQ them. In any case, we like to parboil them first since they’d burn before they’d cook all the way through on the grill (even if they’re cut into relatively small chunks for skewers). Check out our Grilled Potato Bacon Kebab recipe for one way to do it, and our Grilled Sweet Potato recipe (shown at the top of this page) for another.
7. Grilled Carrots
You can, if you are so inclined, make yourself an eerily convincing vegan carrot hot dog, but these sweet root vegetables also make a great grilled side dish for anything else you’re eating. If you have slender carrots, you can grill them whole over indirect heat, but if yours are larger, cut them lengthwise into skinnier sections first. Simple dressings with lemon or vinegar, oil, and herbs are all you need, but play around with spices too. Try this Grilled Carrot recipe with harissa and mint for starters.
No, not the sandwich (though you could totally try it in a skillet on the grill, or, if you’re camping, wrapped in foil on over the fire), but actual grilled cheese. Firm halloumi is the classic choice for cooking on the grates, but with a little ingenuity, you can even BBQ soft, melting cheeses like brie. See our guide on how to grill cheese for all the details, and recipes of course.
9. Grilled Bread (Flatbread, Grilled Pizza, etc.)
While this might not be such an esoteric option any more, for anyone who hasn’t tried it yet, grilled pizza is too good to miss, so we must spread the word at every opportunity. And just as pizza dough does beautifully on the BBQ, so does flatbread; simply follow your recipe up to the rolling out stage, then grill the rounds until golden and as charred as you want on each side (about 3-4 minutes), and serve with whatever dips and spreads and other grilled goodies you like.
But don’t forget about already baked loaves; charred slices of baguette make a fab foundation for bruschetta, and grilled sourdough slices can be cut or torn into smoky croutons or turned into panzanella. Advanced grillers can even bake loaves of bread on their BBQ; a good intermediate option is skillet cornbread on the grill.
10. Grilled Oysters
Chances are good you’ve grilled shrimp, but what about other shellfish? Grilled lobster, crabs, clams, and scallops are all great options, but grilled oysters may be one of the best. Especially if you can eat them on a beach, but even in the backyard, they taste superb (and are incredibly easy to pull off too). See our guide to grilling shellfish for more on every mollusc and crustacean you could want to BBQ.
OK, so this is about an uncommon technique and not a specific ingredient, but if you’re routinely disappointed by the stir-fries your stovetop produces, try taking your wok outside. The high heat of the grill will give you far better results than your average under-powered kitchen equipment. See our guide on how to use your wok on the grill.
Grilled fruit is amazing in almost any form, but grilled watermelon may be the most unlikely example—it doesn’t seem like it would hold up well to heat, and it’s so good ice cold, why would you even bother? Because it caramelizes where it hits the grates and gets a hazy note of smoke that pairs perfectly with salty cheese and strong savory flavors. See our guide to grilled watermelon with recipes for more ideas.
Like we said, grilled fruit of all kinds is great, and you can see our grilled fruit guide for many other delicious ideas, from grilled strawberry skewers to grilled nectarine crumbles. Even better, you can take most grilled fruit sweet or savory (though grilled bananas are one exception that we’d keep in the dessert camp.)
Speaking of dessert, when it’s too hot to bake in the oven, you can make your crisps, cobblers, and crumbles outside on the grill. A cast iron skillet is a great help (see this Skillet Blueberry Peach Cobbler recipe for one example), but even disposable aluminum pans work—like in our Grilled Coconut Apple Crisp recipe above.
15. Grilled Cake
If you start with a finished product, like pound cake or angel food cake, you can simply toast the slices on the grill before serving them with ice cream, fruit, or whatever else you want. But as with cobblers, you can bake upside down cakes in skillets, and even grill cupcakes. Check out these expert tips from Weber to guide you. And if you’re camping, get even more creative and try baking cake in an orange rind. Frankly, it’s a neat trick to pull off at home too. See our guide to grilling dessert for more sweet ideas.
Everything Else You Need to Know
Header image by Chowhound.