5 Food Styling Tips to Let Those Grill Marks Shine

June 13, 2018

We've partnered with Bloomingdale's to share recipes, tips, and videos to help you master the art of styling your favorite summer dishes for photo-ready perfection.

Glowing embers, blazing flames, puffs of smoke—the grill’s got a lot going for it in the visual department. The food that comes off it does, too: a singed pineapple, blistered tomatillos, glistening ribs, charred chicken.

With such stirring raw materials, you don’t need to do much to make food from the grill look irresistible. But for a leg up, we’re sharing a few of the tricks we picked up from styling and shooting more than 60 dishes for our latest cookbook, Any Night Grilling. We didn’t use any fancy tools or contraptions or additives...which means you can use all of these tips at home for your next barbecue.

Elevate your grilled dishes by artfully arranging them on an elegant serving platter; then set the scene with a mix of wine glasses, plates, and bowls. Photo by Julia Gartland

Play up the grilled parts.

We’re all hardwired to gravitate towards fire and the foods that come off it, so no need to hide that your food hit the grill: Show off grill marks, keep spent grilled citrus around, and don’t fear a little blister from the fire. White or light platters and plates will bring out the enticing caramelly, charred parts of your food.

Go gaga over garnishes.

One potential downfall to your grilled food is that it can look very cooked. While a little blister, burn, and char tastes delicious, it doesn’t really read: “Fresh!” To counteract this, play up vibrant, colorful garnishes, whether that’s a shower of herbs, squeeze of citrus, or scallion slivers. You could even double down and include a petite bowl of the garnishes alongside the main dish. (And make sure the bowl you select complements the serveware in the rest of the photograph.)

Make extras.

When you’re cooking over live fire, surprises happen—a calibrated oven it is not. As such, it’s very possible some of your ingredients won’t turn out just as you want them to; heck, a few could very well end up in the coals. If you make a couple of backups, you won’t need to stress about the duds—you’ll be set with enough to fill your platter and feed your guests (though remember, the not-so-cute ones still taste good).

Don't follow the entire recipe.

If you're just worried about taking a good picture, only follow the visually significant parts of the recipe.

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But if your main goal is assembling a pretty plate to eat and enjoy, rather than just to photograph, consider this advice very optional. In the case of the grilled marinated tomatoes recipe below (and pictured above!), if we put the mint on warm tomatoes, it could wilt or brown before it had its moment in front of the camera. By waiting just a bit until the tomatoes cooled, we had a better chance of the dish looking great for longer. We also didn’t bother with marinating the tomatoes for too long—otherwise, they might end up looking too mushy on camera.

Grill until it looks good.

On set, if we know we aren’t going to cut into a steak or chicken breast for the photo, we might just grill it until it looks good on the outside—that way, we don’t risk it looking too dry and shriveling on us. (Don’t worry, we stick it in the oven after so it can cook through and we can eat it.)

In the grilled marinated tomatoes recipe, since you’re only seeing one side of the tomatoes, we didn’t need to flip them and risk smushing them. Of course, if your food is going straight from grill to table to mouth, go ahead and grill it through!

If you remember only one thing, know that the grill is exciting, active, and unpredictable. Let that wildness come through in your food: pick a big platter to let the food spread out. And a little smudge, a little burn, and some disorderly garnishes will make your food look alive. Model, look alive!

The next time you fire up the grill for a backyard barbecue or last-minute dinner party, don't forget to snap a few photos of the end result! Whether you're in need of a picture-perfect serving platter or sleek glassware, our partner Bloomingdale's has everything for your summer entertaining needs.

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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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Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.