Call This "One-Grill Wonder" Your New Favorite Weeknight Dinner

March 21, 2018

This article is part of Change The Way You Cook part 2, the next installment in our series to help anyone (yes, you!) become smarter, faster, and more freewheeling in the kitchen.

Take a walk with me. You’re in an old-school diner: open kitchen, mammoth griddle, mountain of margarine, endless coffee. The servers are hustling and hollering. The short-order line cook is juggling a dozen orders. His spatula hops here, skips there, this way, that way. Incredible! How can he do so much at once? Even your best one-pot wonder can’t handle searing sausages and crisping hashbrowns and frying eggs at the same time. Well, of course, you say, my pot isn’t that big.

Exactly. But your grill is. Even a petite, balcony-minded model is likely larger than most pots in your kitchen. In other words, the greater the surface area, the greater the possibilities. That’s one of the many reasons we’re firing up our grills more and more—beyond summer, beyond weeknights. (In fact, we’ve written a whole book about just that!)

Just like one-pot wonders, grilling is all about dish minimalism, dinner convenience, dreams coming true. Instead of boiling something here, roasting something there, you focus on one appliance. What’s more, with grilling, you likely won’t even need that pot. It’s just, well, a one-grill wonder.

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Everyone has an opinion about gas versus charcoal and ours might be the most controversial yet: It’s all good. If you’re grilling, great! If you have gas, less time and energy are asked of you. Just turn the knobs, close the lid, preheat for 10 or so minutes. During that time, you can prep your ingredients. If you have charcoal, you’ll achieve a deeper, sultrier, smokier flavor. You need to light the coals, get them glowing-hot, and arrange accordingly (we’ll talk more about this in a bit).

Once your grill of choice is hot, hot, hot, it’s time to get cooking, one-grill style. To do it, keep these strategies in mind:

Grill smarter, not harder

Does this ingredient want special equipment? Say, little, yellow potatoes that want to be cradled in a grill basket, so they don’t fall through the grates? Totally reasonable, but there are always other options. Match your equipment to your energy. If you don’t want to wash a grill basket, don’t use one! Try a wooden skewer or foil purse instead. In Any Night Grilling, author Paula Disbrowe writes that “packets of potatoes (and other vegetables) hold beautifully: Once they’re done, you can keep packets warm in a cooler heat zone while you cook something else (say a steak)." Thanks, Paula! This brings up our next point:

Cook in zones

Think of it like working with two burners: The one on the left is revved up, scorching hot, for a big pot of boiling water. The one on the right is calmer, more mellow, for a small skillet of caramelizing onions. You can achieve this with a charcoal or gas grill. With the former, slope the charcoal, so some is built up high, close to the grates, while the other is shallow. With the latter, simply adjust your temperature dials accordingly. This will become handy for ingredients with different energies. Say, chicken thighs charring over direct heat, while foil-bundled garlic bread gets toasty and warm over indirect.

Strategize timing

Not every dish component wants to start at the same time. Think of them like runners in a race. (You know, a really leisurely, fun-loving race, where everyone is drinking beer and having a good time.) First, estimate the start to finish time of each ingredient. Let’s say you’re making grilled pork chops with caramelized fennel and charred orange salad. (When can we come over?) The pork chops will take about 15 minutes and want to rest a few minutes but not much longer. The fennel will take about 10 minutes and are happy to hang out. And the orange wheels, same time, but then they’ll get chopped up and turned into salad. All want direct heat. Here’s how we’ll do it: Start everything at the same time. 10 minutes in, transfer the fennel to a plate to rest and get started chopping up the oranges. 5 minutes later, pull the pork chops off and let them rest while you finish the orange salad and/or tidy up.

Practice, practice, practice

Everyone has something (probably, lots of things) that they’re not comfortable with. Yet. If grilling is one of those for you, do it more! Whatever equipment you’re using, the best way to find your own game plan is to practice. (Remember, your speciality—be it scrambled eggs or cheesy lasagna—was once a new recipe.) The more you practice, the more you can play around with ingredient combos. Here are a few places to start:

  • Grill halved bell peppers and onions until charred and slouchy. When they’re almost there, add boneless, skinless chicken thighs (bonus points if they’re marinated) and grill for 3 to 5 minutes per side. Pull the chicken, to rest, and the vegetables, to chop. Add foil-bundled flour tortillas to the grill, just to warm, while you assemble any favorite taco-fixings.
  • Get a couple radicchio halves on the grill. Stretch or roll pizza dough (your nearest supermarket and/or pizzeria wants to help) into a circle or rectangle or whatever that shape turns out to be (don’t get it too thin, or it’ll be unmanageable). Brush with olive oil then grill, covered, for a couple minutes on each side. Top with sliced, smoked mozzarella, shaved lemon, and capers. Cook for a few more minutes. Pull off the radicchio and top with olive oil, balsamic, and flaky salt.
  • Halve a big, crusty bread loaf, like ciabatta, and smear with butter, minced garlic, grated parmesan, and lots of chopped, flat-leaf parsley. Close and bundle in foil then get it on the grill over indirect heat. Meanwhile, dress ribeye steaks with olive oil, salt, and tons of black pepper. Grill over high heat until charred on the outside and as cooked through as you like. Let the meat rest for a few minutes, then slice and assemble the smokiest, dreamiest steak sandwiches.

How often do you grill? Do you have a go-to dish? Let us know in the comments!

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Any Night Grilling is your guide to becoming a charcoal champion (or getting in your grill-pan groove), any night of the week. With over 60 ways to fire up dinner—no long marinades or low-and-slow cook times in sight—this book is your go-to for freshly grilled meals in a flash.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.