The confluence of this Seattle summer finally getting at least somewhat hot plus the enduring boredom — I mean, leisure time — of the seemingly endless season of COVID-19 means one thing: grill, grill, GRILL. If you’re lucky enough to have a spot for one, even a little gas grill that doesn’t heat all that evenly is magnificent (hello, Char-Broil Patio Bistro, aka the Grillbot). Grilling is intrinsically fun — you’re cooking outside! And humans are hard-wired to get a charge out of it — you’re conquering fire, albeit in a very small amount! And given a surfeit of hours, days, weeks, etc., and a quest for new-yet-safe challenges, the question becomes: What can’t you grill?
Meat’s the grill go-to, of course, and various seafood, too (oysters cooked over fire till they open is the quintessence of the Pacific Northwest — add garlic butter and/or hot sauce and, ideally, a beach for even more greatness).
But as advanced grillers know and novice experimenters learn, almost any firmer vegetable responds beautifully to grilling after a toss with a drizzle of olive oil, plus plenty of kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper (and any fresh or dry herbs you like, if you’re feeling fancy). Planks of bigger zucchini, or littler ones cut in half lengthwise, come out striped with grill marks, soft-fleshed and magically close to sweet. Potatoes cut small enough that they’ll cook through get roasty and smoky (just don’t cut them so little that they fall through the grill grate and self-immolate). Lightly oil up and grill any kind of mushrooms, bell (or other) peppers, eggplant, whatever! (If you’re using wood skewers, soak them in water first — they’re less useful if the ends burn off.) Local corn is great grilled on the cob (kernels will, obviously, fall through, though you can cut them off post-grilling for a salad or salsa). Local asparagus, grilled in season, is paradise (another reason to look forward to next year).
Grilled vegetables can go prettily on a platter, whether still hot, at room temperature or chilled. They like to be in a sandwich, in pasta (or on regular) salad or shoved directly into the mouth. Try grilling halved artichokes or broccoli — why not? Grilled romaine, however, does not improve a Caesar salad, no matter what anybody says. And just don’t grill tomatoes. They get mushy and their skins get weird and it is a crime against their kind. Just don’t.
Grill some other fruit instead! Halves of peaches, wedges of pineapple, not-too-ripe bananas, citrus with the cut side dusted with sugar, figs from the terrifyingly productive fig tree behind your apartment building — any firmer fruit gets more deeply and richly fruitier-flavored as the sugars caramelize over flame. Google is your friend for figuring out how to grill different fruits, as well as finding many ways to dress them up — as in drizzled with good balsamic vinegar, maybe partnered with some goat cheese, or the merely perfect companionship of vanilla ice cream. And grilled fruits are friends with summery cocktails or mocktails, cooled then squeezed in or deployed as garnish. (Really bored? Make pineapple-juice ice pops with hunks of grilled pineapple in them, then use them as swizzle sticks/ice in a cocktail of vodka and pineapple juice with a little bitters and lots of lime. Pairs well with staying home unless you’re wearing a mask so we can get through this thing!)
Quesadillas want to be grilled. Homemade pizza sounds excellent right now, but getting your oven as hellishly hot as possible in order to make it sounds terrible; here, the grill rolls in. Even an underpowered, smallish grill (hi, Grillbot) can get an upside-down cast-iron pan hot enough to very carefully, yet quickly, slide a pizza onto. While the hand-burning fear factor and having some pies end up foldy is arguably part of the fun, pro tip: Build your pizzas on parchment paper, which stays underneath the pie during cooking, facilitating less hurtful/inelegant transfer (leave a little tab to pull the pizza off — the paper won’t burn).
Or put a cast-iron pan right-side up on the grill and treat it like an exciting, fiery stove top! Deep-dish pizza made on the grill — again, why not? And why isn’t grilled cheese actually grilled?! In the meat-realm, why let a hamburger’s fatty juices drip away through the grill-grate when you can baste with them, plus a ton of melted butter, while still getting that smoky taste in a grill-top cast-iron pan? Everything’s better with butter. And on the grill.