This was the summer I was to become the Grill Master in our house. Sure, I was a vegetarian for well over half of my life ... and no, we didn't even own a grill. But I'd always looked on at friends finessing their grilled flank steak and chicken thighs with wonder, thinking that'd be me someday. Mastering the grill appeared to be the pinnacle of reformed-vegetarianism to me, and I've had "buy grill" on the Google Calendar for about 9 weeks now.
But wedding planning and busy work schedules have consumed the summer, so sadly, I'm not yet a Grill Master. But I realized this week that it may not matter as much I thought; our grill-free life has actually been pretty great, and here's why.
Do You Have to Have a Grill for Outdoor Entertaining?
I always felt like I didn't truly know how to cook or prepare meat unless we had a grill. I had visions of us hanging out in the backyard, with chicken cooking away — few cares in the world.
The reality of what that would look like, however, is that there would be many cares in the world. I'd be stressing out about how to tell if the chicken was done, making sure I didn't overcook it and checking the temperature frequently to ensure it was done enough.
There would be lots of research involved. Knowing myself, I'd probably buy (or check out) a few grilling books and really dive in. And this summer just hasn't afforded that kind of time. Regardless, we've been cooking and eating much like we are Grill Masters, realizing that perhaps that wasn't the end goal anyway: there's a lot you can do indoors that tastes great and affords the same outdoor, carefree entertaining.
So here are a few things we've been cooking in our home lately without a grill. And dare I say, you'd never know. When we have friend over, we plate it and bring the meat outside with a big salad and crusty bread and the outdoor eating experience is all the same — nothing is compromised.
It looks like we skated through yet another summer without buying a grill. We'll see what next summer brings.
5 Dishes You Can Master Without a Grill
1. Kabobs: I think kabobs are so often thought of as easy grilling food — and for good reason. You simply skewer pieces of veggies or cubed chicken or beef and throw them on the grill. Perhaps you dust them with a bit of seasoning or brush them with your favorite marinade —but this is not a difficult thing to pull off and is often met with great happiness.
In July we realized that you can do kabobs just as easily in a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Sometimes I'll cover the pan for 5 to 8 minutes or so to let the onions and pepper soften a bit, but besides flipping and checking for doneness, this has been a big success for us this year. I've found it's also a great way to use up bits of veggies and leftover meat.
2. "Barbecued" Chicken: I'm not going to lie and tell you that we've figured out a way to master that delightful char or grill marks that come from making chicken on the grill. We're not magicians.
But we have found that baking chicken with a great homemade barbecue sauce and then finishing it in a pan over high heat allows it to get that crispy exterior while also maintaining a nice juiciness on the inside.
3. Burgers: Again, no grill markings, but burgers done in a cast iron pan have been just as enjoyable as burgers done on the grill. They have great, full flavor and a nice dark exterior. And the unexpected bonus is that not having a grill has given us the opportunity to fuss with other elements of making a great burger, like seasoning, which I think we've mastered.
4. "Grilled" Pizzas: Grilling pizzas is so wonderful because ideally you want really high heat to char the crust and cook the pizza well. It's really tough to do in many home ovens. For instance, our oven maxes out at about 480°F, but we have friends who have ovens that can go up to about 520°F and they make delicious baked pizzas we've enjoyed this summer. When sliced and brought outside with a good bottle of wine, you'll never miss the grill.
5. "Grilled" Peaches: One of my favorite desserts this season has been our "grilled" peaches and homemade ricotta. I do them with a mixture of olive oil and a little honey and they get nice dark char marks just like they would on the grill; it's possible no one will ever know. If we have a little basil, I'll finely chop that and sprinkle it on top.
Someday I hope to grill them on an actual barbecue, but in the meantime, they char up beautifully in a hot pan over pretty high heat.
(Image credits: Kristin Teig; Maxwell Ryan; Nealey Dozier)