Grilling Small Foods: Big Flavors!
It’s common knowledge that good things come in small packages, and this is absolutely true of grilling. From juicy shrimp to cherry tomatoes, many small foods are well suited to grilling. You’ll need to take a little care, of course, to make sure you don’t drop anything between the grill grates. However, there are several solutions to this issue, both purchased and homemade, from grill baskets to easy kebabs. By grilling smaller items, you can take advantage of a whole range of foods you might not have thought you could grill!
Small Foods, Big Surface Area
One of the benefits provided by small foods (and small pieces of food) is increased surface area. For example, a steak that’s 8 inches by 4 inches by 1 inch thick has a surface area of 88 square inches, which is considerable. However when that steak is cut into smaller pieces, say 32 1x1x1 inch cubes, the total surface area goes up to 128 square inches, an increase of almost 50 percent! Because the surface is where food develops flavor as it interacts with marinades, heat, and smoke, increasing the surface area provides more room for flavor development. It also speeds up cooking, getting food to hungry diners faster.
Easy Kebabs and Skewers
One of the oldest methods of grilling small foods is to skewer them. Easy kebabs can be made with seasoned chunks of meat, small whole produce, or small seafood such as shrimp and scallops. Of course, a little attention to detail goes a long way. Match up foods of similar sizes and cooking times. This often means similarly sized vegetables go on one skewer while the shrimp go on another. Speaking of those juicy shrimp, skewering them twice helps them lay flat for better browning. Also, it prevents them from spinning around and widening their hole till they fall off. To prevent any of the food from doing this, try putting two skewers through each batch rather than one.
Grilling With Baskets And Pouches
Another approach to small foods, and also delicate foods such as flaky fish, is to use containers on the grill. Pouches made of foil keep food securely enclosed. However, they seal the food away from the full heat and the smoke of grilling. Baskets are a more permeable option, as air, heat, and smoke can circulate between their bars. A simple grill basket can be improvised with a solid metal cooling grate placed upside down on the grill. The grate easily holds small items such as sweet pea pods and juicy shrimp, exposing them to the full flavors of the fire while keeping them secure.
An option between these is to use a pan with small compartments. The classic muffin pan works quite well on the grill, as long as it’s thick enough to withstand the heat without warping. There are also specially made pans such as oyster grill pans, which can hold bivalves without spilling a precious drop of juice. These also help in grilling unusual but tasty dishes such as cheese-stuffed peppers or even cornbread!
Beyond the Juicy Shrimp
As delicious as it is to grill easy kebabs filled with juicy shrimp, variety is the spice of life. Likewise, there are a wide variety of small foods which grill up beautifully using the above concepts. Some ideas for outside the box and inside the grill basket include:
- Nuts. Heat will crack the shells and smoke enhances their flavor.
- Chickpeas. Soaked chickpeas can be roasted over a fire for a smoky, nutty salad ingredient.
- Brussels Sprouts. These mini cabbages take to grilling as well as their bigger siblings, becoming crisp-edged and caramelized.
- Fruit. Any fruit that’s firm enough to keep from collapsing can be grilled to great effect, and the smaller the pieces the more browning!
- Meatballs. Meatballs cook up like burgers, only more flavorful, and make for easy kebabs. Using skewers or baskets helps get them on and off the grill quickly.
- Poultry giblets. For those of us who consider chicken livers the delicacies they are, the high heat of grilling burnishes them outside while leaving the insides creamy. Likewise, hearts skewer up nicely and have a meaty bite.
Grilling isn’t just for the big cuts. With a little equipment and some knowledge, you can turn all sorts of small foods into delicious grilled dishes!