Barbecue University™

New Ways to Use Your Grill or Smoker

Barbecued Salmon with Brown Sugar Butter Glaze

Direct grilling—where relatively small, tender foods are positioned directly over a hot fire—is the most widely used method of live-fire cooking in the world, practiced by most grilling cultures. In the U.S., indirect grilling and/or smoking is popular, too, especially in the American South.

But there are other ways to engage the power of live fire. And there’s no better time than now, when most of us are depending on our grills to not only provide our loved ones with home-cooked meals, but—let’s admit it—to relieve the daily boredom of social distancing. Here’s an introduction to the techniques you’ll want to add to your repertoire as the grilling season heats up.

New Ways to Use Your Grill or Smoker

Plancha Grilling

Grilling duck breast meat side down

Plancha is the Spanish word for a griddle; it is traditionally made of cast iron. (It is called a champa in South America.) A plancha is usually heated over a wood fire, which allows you to sear, saute, and pan-fry as you would in a cast iron skillet. Work over medium-high to high temperatures, depending on what you’re cooking. It’s a good choice for delicate foods that would fall apart on the grill grate, such as flounder, sole, and other fish fillets; bay scallops or shrimp; snap peas; shishito peppers; strips of chile peppers or bell peppers; breads; even eggs.

Plancha Grilling Recipes:


Smoking with Herbs and Spices

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

You can lay fragrant fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme directly on the grill grate and smoke fish, poultry, and other foods on top of them. Or toss bunches of fresh or dried herbs and spices directly on the coals. When Steven makes Jamaican jerk, he adds whole allspice berries and/or cinnamon sticks to the fire.

Smoking Recipes with Herbs and Spices:


Spit-Roasting (Rotisserie Grilling)

Steven Raichlen with Rotisserie Prime Rib

Spit-roasting is one of the oldest methods of live-fire cooking. It combines the virtue of direct grilling (direct exposure to the fire) with that of indirect grilling (cooking next to, not directly over the fire). The gentle rotation helps the food cook evenly without the risk of flare-ups while it bastes itself. The results? Large cuts of meat (or whole animals, including chickens) with a savory seared surface and an extraordinarily moist interior.

  • For a kettle grill, set up the grill for indirect grilling. Place the rotisserie collar on the kettle and attach the motor to the mounting bracket. Install the spit, securing the end in the socket, and switch the motor on.
  • For a gas grill, light the rear rotisserie burner (a feature on many higher-end gas grills). Install the rotisserie motor and spit following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Some kamado-style cookers, like the Excalibur, come with a rotisserie attachment. (Aftermarket units are available for some cookers.) Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


Salt Slab Grilling

Salt Slab Chocolate Brownie S’Mores

Salt slabs are newcomers to the world grill scene, but we’ve embraced them with gusto. Steven uses these thick rectangles of pink salt from Pakistan often, as a plancha, grilling plank, grill press, as a savory platform to rest steaks and chops, and even as a serving platter. To use, place the salt slab (or slabs) on your grill and set it up for indirect grilling Preheat to medium-high to high. Salt slab grilling is well-suited to whole fish or fillets; steaks or chops; chicken breasts; slices of eggplant, onions, squash, or other vegetables; fruit.

Salt Slab Grilling Recipes:


Smoking with Hay, Straw, Pine, or Spruce

Hay-Smoked Quail Eggs

Richard Dallett

Grasses and leaves can be used for smoking. Place them on the grate or in a grill basket or grill wok over a hot fire with the food arranged on top of them. As the grasses or leaves burn, the food smokes and cooks.

Smoking with Hay and Spruce Recipes:


Leaf Grilling

Banana Leaf Grilled Lionfish

Long before there were grill grates, people wrapped foods in banana, squash, grape, and other leaves, and cooked them in campfires. Leaf grilling introduces an inimitable herbaceous smoke flavor to any food (often seafood) cooked inside of it.

Note: For an interesting variation on leaf grilling, wrap the food in cedar grilling paper and char over a hot fire.

Leaf Grilling Recipes:


Cavemanning (Grilling in the Embers)

Raichlen's Barbecue Trend Predictions for 2020

This is it—the original grilling method pioneered nearly 2 million years ago by our ancestor, Homo erectus. This theatrical method requires no grill grate, just a nice pile of coals. Although similar to direct grilling, caveman grilling gives you a crustier exterior and smokier flavor, the result of varying heat zones and micro-charring of the meat. Build a charcoal fire out of natural lump charcoal and rake the embers out with a grill hoe or garden hoe. Fan the fire with a fan, folded newspaper, or hair dryer to dislodge any loose ash. Lay the food directly on the embers. Try cavemanning steaks or chops (at least 1 inch thick), vegetables like eggplant, cabbage, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, corn, onions, etc. Ember-roasted shellfish are also delectable.

Cavemanning Recipes:


Plank Grilling

Barbecued Salmon with Brown Sugar Butter Glaze

When the first Europeans settled in Connecticut, they encountered native Americans grilling shad fillets on upright boards around a bonfire. Which is to say, that while plank grilling might seem new, it isn’t. What is new is the way we grill—charring the plank without soaking it first. We use this technique to grill everything from salmon to Camembert. The technique is also useful for grilling shrimp and other shellfish, and even fruit.

Plank Grilling Recipes:


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