If paleontologists in the distant future were to research live-fire cooking in North America, focusing in particular on the late 20th and the early 21st centuries, they might find fire-roasted fruits at their dig sites. They’d surely unearth a few carbonized marshmallows. When I was growing up, there was only one grilled dessert on the “A” list: the s’more. Today’s pit masters are grilling everything from apples to bananas to pineapple.
Grilling can bring out the best in many fruits, intensifying the flavors and caramelizing the natural sugars. And they’re not just for dessert: drinks (grilled nectarine smoothie—see Beer Can Chicken page 309), appetizers (prosciutto-wrapped peaches with a balsamic drizzle—see BBQ USA page 39), condiments (see the grilled pineapple salsa in Barbecue Bible, page 451), etc. Grilled fruit can play all the roles.
Grilled fruit may still be a novelty on some parts of the American barbecuing scene. That’s certainly not the case in other parts of the world.
In Italy, fresh figs stuffed with gorgonzola dolce and chopped walnuts are grilled as an appetizer. In Brazil, fruit makes a triple play in cana de açúcar com camarão— tamarind-marinated shrimp grilled on sugarcane skewers and served with spears of grilled pineapple and mango. In Thailand, a popular street snack is grilled bananas smashed into a kind of patty, soaked in a syrup of coconut milk and palm sugar, then returned to the brazier until golden and caramelized.
The quality and variety of fruit in my adopted hometown of Miami has sponsored much experimentation in the years since I’ve been writing about barbecue. Flame-seared fruit is always part of the curriculum at Barbecue University in both savory and sweet preparations. BBQ U faves include “Village Hammers” (Serbian bacon-wrapped prunes stuffed with gouda cheese on toothpicks), molasses and spice-grilled bananas, and several variations on the smoke-roasted apple theme.
- Always begin with a clean, freshly oiled grill grate when grilling fruit (or anything!). You know my mantra…“Keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated.”
- Select fruit that is ripe, but still firm enough to hold its shape when exposed to the searing heat of the grill. My short list of favorites includes apples, apricots, bananas and plantains, fresh figs, mango, papaya, peaches and nectarines, pears, pineapple, plums and pluots. For exotics, including small African pineapples with tender, edible cores, go to www.melissas.com
- Choose the proper grilling method depending on the texture, size, and shape of the fruit. Pineapple, for example, can be spit-roasted if whole, direct grilled if in slices or chunks, or indirect grilled if halved, hollowed and stuffed. (A great example of the latter is the “Baked Hawaii” on page 306 of Beer Can Chicken.) Smoke-roasting is an option for some fruits. Dense, whole, round fruits, like apples and pears, do well indirect grilled or smoke-roasted whole in the skin (I like them stuffed with butter, brown sugar, and cookie crumbs). You can use grill rings to hold the fruit upright.
- Soft, succulent fruits, like figs, peaches, plums, and pineapple, are better suited to direct grilling over high heat. Cut them in half to maximize the surface area exposed to the smoke and fire.
- Butter, sugar, and alcohol-based mop sauces tend to spark flare-ups, so maintain a safety zone on your grill where you can move the food to keep it from burning.
- If the fruit is small (strawberries, kumquats, figs, cherries), thread it on bamboo skewers or use a grilling grid to prevent pieces from falling into the fire. Or, you can load up my flat skewers or telescoping fork, both of which prevent fruits from spinning.
- For grilled fruit desserts, brush cut fruit with butter, thinned honey, simple syrup, coconut milk (sweetened or unsweetened), fruit liqueur, eau de vie (fruit brandy), fruit juice, maple syrup, molasses, wine, port, and/or corn syrup.
- One super easy, slam-dunk great dessert is to brush slices of your favorite fruit (bananas, peaches, pineapples) with melted butter, then sprinkle with sugar and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. To make your life easy, use my Best of Barbecue Dessert Rub
- Sweet stuffings for round fruits, like hollowed apples and pears, might include toasted chopped nuts, coconut, candied citrus peel, cream cheese, whipped cream, or warmed jam, and of course, butter and brown sugar.
- For savory preparations, brush cut fruit with olive oil or melted butter, dust with chili powder or your favorite barbecue rub, stuff with cheese, and/or wrap with bacon, pancetta, or prosciutto. There are many possibilities. Some fruits, like figs, pair well with mustard.
- Berries are too fragile to grill directly, but make wonderful smoke-roasted crisps and cobblers (see recipe below).
Smoke-Roasted Pear-Raspberry Cobbler
Raichlen’s Rule holds that if something tastes good baked, fried, or sautéed, it probably tastes better grilled. Case in point: the cobbler—here indirect grilled in the fragrant smoke of your favorite hardwood. I like to cook this in a cast iron skillet—you don’t need to worry about the smoke discoloring your favorite baking dish.
Method: Indirect grilling
3-1/2 pounds pears, cored and diced (for about 6 cups)
1 pint fresh raspberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar, or more to taste
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (separate uses)
2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Vegetable shortening or cooking spray for greasing the skillet
For the topping:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold salted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup slivered almonds or chopped walnuts (optional)
You’ll also need:
One 10-inch cast-iron skillet
1 cup wood chips or chunks (preferably apple), soaked for 1 hour in water to cover, then drained
Vanilla ice cream for serving
1) Rinse the pears and blot them dry with paper towels. Cut each in half, remove and discard the core, and cut the fruit into 1-inch chunks. Pick through the raspberries, removing any stems, leaves, or bruised or shriveled berries. Rinse and drain.
2) Place the granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and the cornstarch into mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Stir in the pears, raspberries, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Taste for sweetness, adding more sugar or lemon juice as necessary. Coat the skillet lightly with vegetable shortening or cooking spray. Spoon the filling into the skillet.
3) Place the butter, flour, oatmeal, and brown sugar, and the remaining half cup of granulated sugar as well as 1 teaspoon of cinnamon into a food processor work bowl fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. The butter should form pea-sized pieces. If you don’t have a food processor, use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, or use a pastry cutter or two knives—it’s like mixing pie crust. Stir in the almonds if using. Spoon the topping evenly over the pear-raspberry filling.
4) Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a gas grill, place all of the wood chips or chunks in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and run the grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, preheat it to medium, then toss all of the wood chips or chunks on the coals.
5) When ready to cook, place the skillet on the grill grate (not over direct heat), and cover the grill. Cook the cobbler until the filling is bubbling and the topping is nicely browned, 40 to 60 minutes. Let the cobbler cool for a few minutes, then serve with vanilla ice cream.
3 tablespoons butter (separate uses)
1 small onion finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
6 ounces uncooked pork sausage, removed from the casing
3 fresh sage leaves, minced, plus more for garnish
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
6 large baking apples, cored (but leave the bottom intact, so you make a sort of hollow cavity)
2 to 3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 cup wood chips (preferably apple or maple), soaked 1 hour in apple cider or water to cover, then drained
6 small grill rings from Best of Barbecue, or 2-inch rings fashioned from crumpled aluminum foil
1) Melt 1-1/2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add the sausage and sage, increase the heat to medium high, and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the pork is lightly browned, 6 to 10 minutes. Drain off excess fat and reserve the fat. Season the stuffing with salt and pepper.
2) Position the apples on the grill rings. Divide the stuffing evenly among the apples, pressing it in firmly. Pour a little of the maple syrup over the stuffing in each apple. Cut remaining butter into 6 pieces and place one on top of each apple. Brush the sides of the apples with the reserved sausage fat. The apples can be prepared several hours ahead to this stage; cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
3) Set up the grill for indirect grilling. Place a drip pan in the center. Arrange the apples in the center of the grill over the drip pan on grill rings, if using. Toss half the wood chips on each mound of coals and cover the grill. Adjust the vent holes to obtain a temperature of about 350 degrees F.
4) Smoke-roast the apples until tender (the sides will be squeezably soft) and the filling is browned and bubbling. Depending on your grill and the outside temperature, this will take 40 to 60 minutes. Transfer to plates or a platter. (Grill rings will be hot.) Optional: Garnish each apple with a leaf of fresh sage before serving.
Serves 4 to 6
2 bottles semi-dry white wine
1/4 cup Cointreau, Triple Sec, or other clear orange liquor
1 bunch green seedless grapes (about 8 ounces), stemmed, each grape cut in half lengthwise
8 ounces cherries, washed and stemmed
1 apple, cored and cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 cinnamon sticks
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar or honey (or to taste)
1) Place the wine and Cointreau in a large pitcher. Remove 4 strips lemon zest (the oil rich outer rind) with a vegetable peeler. Insert a clove in each and add to the wine. (This keeps someone from choking on a loose clove.) Cut the remaining rind off the lemon and discard. Thinly slice the peeled lemon, removing and discarding the seeds. Add the lemon slices to the wine mixture. Juice the other lemon and add it to the wine mixture.
2) Cut one orange crosswise into 1/2 inch slices, rind and all. Cut each slice in quarters, removing and discarding the seeds. Add them to the wine mixture. Juice the other orange and add it to the wine mixture. Add the grapes, cherries, apple, and cinnamon sticks and stir to mix. Add 2 tablespoons sugar or honey and stir to mix—you can always add more. Place the sangria in the refrigerator and let the flavors blend for 2 to 4 hours.
3) Just before serving, check the sangria for sweetness, adding sugar or honey to taste. Serve in wine glasses and be sure to provide spoons for eating the fruit.