You need to start grilling fruit. No, really. You’ve already got your trusty grill fired up for backyard BBQs and potlucks, so you should just go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? At least, that’s what Jonathan Ferguson, chef de cuisine at Main Street Meats believes. Take it from us, he knows his stuff. Though you may be a little (or a lot) skeptical about tossing your fave tender fruits atop flaming heat, trying something new could pleasantly surprise you. Here, Jonathan offers his top-tier tips and tricks for making a twist on summertime eats!
B+C: What fruits are best for grilling? Why?
Jonathan: Honestly with the right equipment, you can grill any fruit, but for simplicity, let’s stick with fruit that you can throw on any backyard grill. I personally love splitting Alabama peaches and tossing them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper before throwing them on a charcoal grill. Peaches are a super versatile fruit, so it makes sense that they do so well. They have the perfect texture and sugar content, which makes grilling them incredibly easy. I also love grilling figs, but they can be trickier on my Weber at home.
B+C: Why *should* you grill fruit?
Jonathan: Why not? I love cooking on charcoal grills, and when I go through the pageantry of getting the coals lit, carefully tending to them until they are perfectly ashed over and raging hot, I want to get the most out of that fire. So, I will grill anything I can get my hands on. The natural sugars in fruit offer up the perfect vessel for that smoky charred flavor – which is why we grill in the first place.
B+C: What textures and flavors does the grill bring to fruit?
Jonathan: Grilling fruit that is not quite ripe yet softens them up just enough to bring out the natural sweetness of the fruit, while remaining firm enough to easily slice. When you are cooking over a live fire, they’ll pick up those subtle flavors carried by the smoke. I love how as the char develops, it enhances the sweetness of the peach, while carefully attaching a savoriness that carries the fruit through tremendous peaks and valleys.
B+C: What foods would you recommend pairing with grilled fruit?
Jonathan: While it may be a touch on the nose, I think grilled fruit belongs on pork. Of course, people automatically think of grilled pineapple and pork, but grilled peaches, nectarines, figs, pears, grapefruits, and mangoes all love being tossed with olive oil and herbs before being laid to rest atop a perfectly grilled pork chop.
B+C: How long should fruit be grilled?
Jonathan: Until it’s done. Honestly though, that is a matter of preference. When it comes to peaches, I take them as far as I can over high heat, allowing them to burn without compromising their structure. As long as you only char the surface, there is plenty of fruit left to have a good time with the burnt side. I think the most important thing is to not be afraid – if you take it too far, you might find out that’s how you like it.
B+C: What about grilled lettuce? Wouldn’t it wilt?
Jonathan: Lettuce can be a little trickier. I find that grilling whole heads or little gems and hearts of romaine work best. If you try to grill lettuce leaves, they will more than likely wither away. One of my favorite salads is a grilled romaine Caesar salad – it’s simple, and I get to use my grill. If you are feeling a little frisky, grilled Belgian endive is what the gods eat.
B+C: Any best tips for grilling in general?
Jonathan: When grilling just about anything, you want to make sure your grill is hot. The best test for this is to hold your hand over the grill and start counting. If you make it to five seconds, you need to let it warm up a little longer. Then you want to clean those grates with your trusty grill brush. Finally, you need to get those grates lubed up. Take a good grip of paper towels, dip ’em in some olive oil and wipe those grates down with your tongs. When it comes to prepping fruit for the grill, you want a good amount of surface area, so cut the fruit accordingly. Then just pat them dry with some paper towels, toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and you are ready to go.