Episode 311: The Improbable Grill

Grilled Sunflower with Bacon Vinaigrette

Grilled Sunflower with Bacon Vinaigrette

Other Recipes from Episode 311: The Improbable Grill


Grilled Sunflower with Bacon Vinaigrette


  • 1 large sunflower head (see Note below), preferably with several inches of stalk and at least 2 leaves attached
  • Zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt (sea or kosher)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the basting mixture:

  • 3 slices thick bacon, slivered, plus a small chunk of bacon fat to oil the grill hrte
  • 4 shishito or padron peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 3 cherry peppers or 1 small red bell pepper, stemmed and thinly sliced or diced
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

For the sunflower leaf packets (optional):

  • 2 large sunflower leaves (reserved from above)
  • 4 ripe figs, stemmed and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, slivered
  • 2 tablespoons marcona almonds, chopped
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Grilled bread, for serving

You’ll also need:

  • Butcher’s string

Recipe Steps

1: Prepare the sunflower head: Using a sharp knife, cut the stalk from the sunflower head. Discard the stalk, but reserve 2 large leaves, if available, for the goat cheese packets. Remove and discard any gold or green petals from the periphery of the head and scrape off the tiny buds on the face of the sunflower with a paring knife.

2: Place the sunflower head on a rimmed baking sheet or in a baking dish large enough to hold it. Sprinkle both sides with the lemon zest and juice, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

3: Make the basting sauce: Place a cast-iron skillet with the bacon on the stovetop or the side burner of your grill over medium-high heat. Saute the bacon until it renders its fat. Add the shishito peppers, the cherry peppers, and the shallot; saute until the vegetables have softened. Reduce the heat to low and add the butter; allow it to melt. Keep the basting butter warm.

4: Set up your grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium-high. Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well, preferably with a chunk of bacon fat.

5: Place the sunflower head directly on the grill grate, seed side up. Grill for 10 minutes, then baste on the other side with the basting sauce. Insert a bamboo skewer in the center of the head; it should go in easily. Total cooking time will be about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the sunflower.

6: In the meantime, assemble the goat cheese packets, if making. Briefly soften the sunflower leaves on the grill grate; this will take seconds. Lay them flat on your work surface. Top each leaf with 2 slices of goat cheese. Top one with the figs. Top the other with the sundried tomatoes and almonds. Roll the leaves up, burrito-style, to enclose the filling completely. Tie each packet with butcher’s string, then brush lightly with olive oil.

7: Grill the goat cheese packets for 1 to 2 minutes per side–just long enough to melt the cheese and lightly brown the leaves. Snip the strings before serving with grilled bread.

8: When the sunflower head is tender, use a large spatula to transfer it to a serving platter. Spoon any remaining basting butter around the head. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, then sprinkle with coarse salt. Cut into wedges for serving.

Note:: Harvest sunflower heads before the seeds have developed hardened shells; the coatings should be soft, the consistency similar to sweet corn.

Recipe Tips

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Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire is a production of Maryland Public Television, Barbacoa, Inc., and Resolution Pictures. © 2021 Barbacoa, Inc. Photos by Chris Bierlein

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