How-To & Diy

Grilling Without Aluminum Foil

August 17, 2013

There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it, once a week, to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to keep the conversation going.

Today: Aluminum foil isn't the only answer to grilling delicate or small items. 

Grilling Without Aluminum Foil, from Food52

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Summer season is synonymous with grilling season. No warm weather get-together is complete without lighting the grill and throwing on the standard fare -- burgers and hot dogs -- or even something a little more unusual.

With small or delicate foods, such as vegetables or fish, grillers often turn to aluminum foil to keep everything contained and to prevent burning. But when Jennifer asked for eco-friendly alternatives to foil on the Hotline, our community chimed in with plenty of great suggestions:

  • Good metal cookware -- and cast iron skillets in particular -- can be used on the grill (even to make challah).
  • As long as corn is left in its husks and soaked, it can go directly on the grill, no foil necessary.
  • Use a small grill basket for vegetables.
  • And, if you're looking to reduce foil usage and impart a smoky or salty flavor, try using a wood grilling plank or a salt plate.

How do you avoid foil when grilling? Add your two cents to the question on the Hotline here or continue the conversation in the comments below!

Photo by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Tim Reed
    Tim Reed
  • withinseason
  • Moe Rubenzahl
    Moe Rubenzahl
  • Dr ROK
    Dr ROK
  • Jason Hargrove
    Jason Hargrove
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Tim R. July 21, 2018
I smoke ribs for several hours. The last couple of hours, they're wrapped in foil with apple juice to simmer. Trying to figure out an alternative after reading this. Any suggestions? If I can find one, I'll blog about it and mention you on Thanks.
Jason H. July 5, 2019
i think direct contact is bad but you can put it in a metal pan and cover with foil
Andi B. April 22, 2021
When we grill or roast meat, especially pork or beef, we use the following homemade BBQ sauce. The trick is to get the meat cooked as thoroughly as you can before adding the sauce, then, in the last half hour or so, bathe it in this sauce while it finishes cooking:

Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipe

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar –
(To make brown sugar, blend one cup white sugar with one teaspoon unsulfured molasses.)
2 tablespoons ketchup

Blend well and use for marinade or BBQ sauce – especially good for pork chops!

Makes ½ cup of sauce.

Make 2 cups:

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup brown sugar –
(To make brown sugar, blend one cup white sugar with one teaspoon unsulfured molasses.)
3/4 cup ketchup

You can even make it and store it in the refrigerator for up to five days in a glass container. Enjoy!
withinseason August 21, 2013
A few techniques come in handy. Kabob skewers (metal or using a woody herb like rosemary) keep cut meat and veg from falling in the fire. Large cuts on the veg can be both practical and add a new twist, such as cutting potatoes lengthwise (+ a parboil) before cooking them on the grate. Consider making a reusable DIY surface out of chicken wire or wire mesh.
Moe R. August 21, 2013
I would avoid wire mesh and chicken wire as they are galvanized (zinc-coated). I know zinc is toxic if heated to very high temperatures, not clear to me from my research whether cooking temps present a hazard. I think not, but grilling baskets are my pref.
withinseason August 21, 2013
Moe - good word of warning. I looked into it a bit more. I hadn't been worried about it, as a certain famous British chef talks about using chicken wire to cook salmon using a homebuilt smoker (a metal tin + chicken wire) over medium heat on the stove or grill in his seasonal cookbook. So, I assumed direct heat would be safe.

I found this forum, which provides a knowledgeable response. Basically, a patina goes a long way, but no one will ever tell you that it is safe. You DO have to be absolutely sure that you never use anything containing cadmium - such as the metal racks from old refrigerators, which can make people sick.

Pig roasters are often faced with the same dilemma since their methods often use homebuilt setups. “We always use it and we’re ok” vs “now that I think about it we should look into the safety question.”

It might be safe-ish for grilling meats, but I’d be wary of the reactivity of a tomato.
Moe R. August 18, 2013
I almost never use foil. The craziest thing, in my opinion, is foil-wrapped items. If you're sealing it in foil, why grill? Might as well use the oven.
Rita P. June 19, 2017
I get what you're saying, but not using the oven keeps the house.
Dr R. August 17, 2013
Perforated pizza pan.