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Grill Your Dessert, Never Look Back

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You may not know it yet, but your trusty grill wasn't made for just meat and veggies. We've partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and its new cookbook, How to Grill Everything by Mark Bittman, to share easy recipes that make grilling a surprisingly sweet adventure.

When I hear “grilling,” I can’t help but think of burgers, chicken wings, corn on the cob, and the smell of smoke hanging in the warm, thick evening air. My—and most people’s—idea of a typical grilled meal involves some combination of vegetables and meat. And when summer magazine issues hit the stands, it’s always grilled hot dogs or steaks featured on the cover.

We bought our first serious grill last summer. Before that, we’d cooked over a flimsy little Weber on our tiny apartment terrace, my husband bent uncomfortably down to flip ingredients. A big-time grill is a game changer, and it happily coincided with the summer we planted our first garden. We got adventurous (or so I thought), basing all of our dinners on a loose template of whatever meat looked good at the farm nearby (sweet pork sausages, spicy lamb kofta, or big marbled steaks) plus whatever vegetables we picked from the garden.

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This meant experimenting with the grill. I threw on anything we had: whole heads of romaine and carrots with their tops on, and even whole tomatoes. As it turns out, a little char makes most foods better.

But what I deemed “adventurous grilling” was, in reality, just the tip of the iceberg. Flipping through Mark Bittman’s latest cookbook, How to Grill Everything, reminds us of exactly that: There are no boundaries when it comes to the grill. Treat it as you would your stove or oven, and don’t stick to the usual suspects of summertime picnic foods. Grill everything! Paella, avocados, bread, pizza, steak, and beyond.

My two favorite recipes from the book aren’t standard grilling fare—in fact, they’re not savory in the slightest. Both recipes, one for grilled Strawberries Romanoff and another for grilled Bananas with Chocolate and Crushed Peanut Brittle, come from the very inspiring dessert section of the book. They sound simple, so you might be tempted to overlook them in favor of more exciting options like pound cake or berry cobbler. But you’d be missing out.

I’ve grilled stone fruit before, but I’ve always assumed berries and bananas would be far too delicate and soft for the high, smoldering, aggressive heat of a grill. Not so. His recipe for grilled strawberries couldn’t be easier: Just sprinkle whole berries with sugar, grill them for a few minutes (rolling them around once), then toss the hot berries with a splash of Grand Marnier. The result is stupendously flavorful—the berries taste deeper and more intense, the same way their flavor is intensified when you roast them in the oven, but with a light touch of smoke and char.

Bittman offers some other stand-ins for strawberries in this method, like mango, as well as variations, such as adding additional fresh berries to the grilled fruit or using a lemon syrup instead of the Grand Marnier. I liked the original version best. We ate them warm, spooned over vanilla ice cream, and I set aside the leftovers to stir into yogurt for a snack the next day.

I imagine they'd also be great on top of a piece of grilled sourdough bread with a swipe of fresh ricotta and a few grinds of cracked black pepper, or over pancakes.

Yes, you can grill delicate fruits like strawberries.
Yes, you can grill delicate fruits like strawberries. Photo by Rocky Luten

Next up, I tackled the grilled bananas and nearly fainted with excitement at the first bite (not an overstatement). Bittman tells you to slice whole bananas three-quarters of the way through, leaving the bottom peel intact. You stuff the bananas with dark chocolate and butter (see, this can only be good), and grill them briefly. The bananas get soft and take on a deep, almost caramelized sweetness. You can eat them straight from the peel with a spoon, or scoop them out and serve them as a topping over ice cream or pound cake, or just plain.

Here again, he offered a few variations, including two alternate toppings—a "rocky road" style version with chopped walnuts and marshmallows added instead of the peanut brittle, and a praline take with brown sugar and toasted pecans—and a suggestion for using a very ripe plantain paired with honey, toasted coconut, and cashews. I liked the chocolate version, but I also loved playing around with the technique. We stuffed some with butter, toasted nuts, and cinnamon sugar, and others with espresso powder and brown sugar.

Go ahead—go bananas!
Go ahead—go bananas! Photo by Rocky Luten

Both are easy and fast desserts, but impressive and pretty versatile in terms of flavor. If you’ve already got the grill on to make dinner, just throw the fruit on at the end of your meal, and you’ll have dessert ready to go in minutes without any extra effort.

This summer, I will be making room on the grill for fruit every time we cook. And with these recipes, I suspect grilled meats will no longer be the star of the summertime show.

Get the recipes

Grilled Banana with Chocolate and Crushed Peanut Brittle

Grilled Banana with Chocolate and Crushed Peanut Brittle

Mark Bittman Mark Bittman
Makes 1 grilled banana
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons crushed or chopped peanut brittle
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 ripe banana (you want a yellow or darker banana)
  • Ice cream of your choice (optional)
Go to Recipe
Grilled Strawberries Romanoff

Grilled Strawberries Romanoff

Mark Bittman Mark Bittman
Serves 4
  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream
Go to Recipe

What are your favorite ingredients to throw on the grill? Tell us in the comments below!

Boost your grilling game just in time for summer with some help from our partner Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's new cookbook, How to Grill Everything by Mark Bittman. Packed with hundreds of recipes for terrific flame-cooked food, along with practical tips and tricks, grilling newbies and pros alike will find plenty to feast on.