With some proper techniques and the right ingredients, you can cook virtually anything on your barbecue. And now that your grill is nice and clean following my last column, you can get creative and go beyond the usual suspects of hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks.
Who says you can't barbecue lettuce? There is a world of different foods that can be grilled on the barbecue. From salads and vegetables to fruit and cheese, as well as a variety of different cuts of meat.
A considerable smorgasbord of vegetables from artichokes and avocados to jalapenos and even lettuce and cucumbers are available for outdoor cooking. A head of romaine lettuce, the main component of a classic Caesar salad, can be sliced along its length into quarters, very lightly oiled and then quickly cooked on a medium-heat grill until it starts to char a bit and wilts slightly. Plate and drizzle with your Caesar dressing.
Take an entire head of garlic, slice off the top quarter, drizzle with some olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper, wrap in aluminum foil and roast the packet on the barbecue for just under an hour. A luscious garlic paste will ooze out when you squeeze it making it a great condiment to top burgers, mix into barbecued vegetables or simply spread on a toasted chunk of bread.
As for cheese, skewer pieces of Cypriot halloumi or Indian paneer and grill lightly with a few cherry tomatoes sliced in half. Season with olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper, and you've got a great appetizer.
Meet new meats
There are several cuts of beef — the striploin, for instance — that are popular classics for the barbecue. And there are other, less familiar cuts of beef that can be both delicious and cost-effective. For example, from the animal's abdomen at the bottom of the ribs, skirt steak should be grilled quickly to nothing over medium wellness on a very hot grill, rested for 10 minutes and sliced against the grain. It can have an intense meaty flavour. It's the same with a sirloin cut called tri-tip, which is perfect for cooking on skewers in kabob style. Better specialty butcher shops will likely carry these cuts.
If chicken is your game, spatchcock one: cut out the back bone of a whole bird and nip and tuck until the critter is connected up around its shoulders. Then can open and close like a book. Oil very lightly and season as you like before grilling over a medium to low heat, turning it once. This method creates more and thinner surface area for quick and thorough cooking with lots of delicious brown and crispy bits.
A lobster tail cut in half along its length and grilled is even more delicious on the grill because no water enters the shell and dilutes the flavour compared with when you boil it. Season the lobster meat with some oil, add some salt and pepper and place it meat-side down on a medium to high heat grill and cook it for about seven minutes or so. Flip it over and char the shell side for a few more minutes. Serve with melted butter, of course.
Yes, barbecued pizza is a thing — and it's a good thing, too. Pizza on the grill can work surprisingly well — it offers an additional layer of smoky flavour and you don't have to crank your oven.
Barbecued pizza requires a few key steps. The first is that you are making a crispier, thinner crust. The second is controlling the heat on your barbecue: you want one half warm and the other half medium to high heat. The third step is understanding that the bottom of the pizza will become the top of the pizza.
Place your thin, lightly oiled dough (roll it out on a greased sheet pan) on the directly heated medium to high heat side and let it cook. With a spatula, take a peek underneath to check how it's cooking, then flip it over onto the side of the barbecue with indirect heat, add a bit of oil and your pizza toppings. The combination of possibilities is endless; from roasted meats of all varieties, to cheeses, veggies, seafood, bacon and eggs. You can even add blueberries.
The usual barbecued fruit selections are the harder stone ones such as peaches and apricots, along with pears and apples. However, experiment with cooking different fruits, such as figs. It's a good idea to select fruit that is not fully ripe. They also really benefit from spending some time in a liquor-laced marinade or a drizzling of honey before hitting a medium to low heat grill.
Cut a banana or a plantain in half along its length and rub on some melted butter. Grill the fruit side first on medium heat for nice grill marks and then flip onto the skin side. The skin helps steam the banana through.
Other possibilities are watermelon, lemons cut in half (which can be used as seasoning for all courses), kiwi and star fruit. Try adding grilled peaches or apricots to your favourite summer backyard cocktail, too.