10 Tips That Will Help You Do Most of Your Summer Cooking on the Grill (Because Air Conditioning Gets Expensive!)

published Jun 18, 2018
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(Image credit: Emily Han)

Raise your hand if summer heat — and a lack of central air — has ever brought you to the point where you lie on your kitchen floor in utter defeat, overheating and cursing and wondering if you’ll ever have the gumption to light a stove burner again.

You too? Well, give me that hand. Let me help you up off the floor … and lead you outside to the grill. As one of the many air conditioning-challenged, fixer-upper-owning cooks out here in the American suburbs, I have suffered one summer too many in my sweatbox of a kitchen.

Here’s my epiphany: If I’m going to be sweating anyway, I might as well do it in my backyard, where the atmosphere is much nicer than the indoor whine of the window A/C unit losing the good fight against the heat of my range.

Now my summer goal is to use my grill to cook anything and everything within reason. I highly recommend you try it too. It’s honestly more fun and relaxing to take your meal prep outside, and why not make one-pot mac and cheese or deep-dish pizza or even corn chowder on the grill? It’s all totally possible; just keep these tips in mind.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

1. Get yourself a good cast iron skillet.

Cowboys, campers, and pro cooks all agree: The cast iron skillet is truly a go-anywhere, do-anything marvel. The heat-resistant, insulating properties of cast iron make this the one pan you’ll need to start grill cooking. I recommend at least a 10-inch skillet for starters; it will comfortably fit two to three chicken breasts or make a one-pot meal for four people.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

2. Grab a Dutch oven, too.

While you can certainly can get along just fine with your skillet for most grill meals, it’s nice to be able to cook more than one thing on the grill simultaneously, right? For simmering soups, stews, and sauces like marinara or BBQ, or for making larger casseroles, or baking bread, you’ll appreciate the capability of an enameled cast iron Dutch oven.

3. Batch cook with a griddle.

Once you’re on board with grill cooking, you’ll want to expand your repertoire. A griddle helps you batch cook foods like sandwiches (yes, truly grilled cheese!), calzones for a crowd, fried eggs or bacon for weekend brunch, nacho platters, or quesadillas.

4. Always monitor your grill temperature.

While no stove or oven cooks at exactly “medium” or 350°F, having those benchmarks for cooking are good guidance for a reason — no one wants an undercooked piece of chicken or a burnt pan of pizza rolls. Grills tend to get much hotter much quicker than indoor ranges, so keep an eye on that temperature gauge on your grill hood, and try to keep the temperature a little lower than what you’d normally bake or roast at, just to be on the safe side.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5. For ease and reliability, go with gas over charcoal.

We’re lucky enough to have a dedicated gas line in our backyard, so gas grills have always been a part of my backyard cooking repertoire. While they might not offer up the same smoky flavor as charcoal, I feel that they more effectively mimic an indoor range when it comes to everyday cooking. For consistency of temperature and sheer overall ease, I will defend my Weber with pride.

6. Never underestimate the side burner.

And yeah, my gas grill has a side burner for those summer nights when it’s so hot that I can’t even contemplate turning on a stove burner to boil water for pasta. Even if you don’t want to fire up the entire grill to cook a meal, you can always just light up the side burner and make a quick meal or reheat leftovers. I’ve also been known to use it on a popcorn-for-dinner night every once in a while.

7. Know when to use the grill like an oven versus a stove.

While it seems counterintuitive to keep the grill hood open while you’re cooking, letting all that built-up heat escape, it’s a totally valid strategy and not a wasteful move. Think of it this way: If you’re cooking something you’d normally make on a stove burner, like searing or sautéing, you’ll want to keep the grill lid open for stirring and flipping. If you’re cooking something you’d normally make in the oven, like roasted potatoes or pizzas, close the lid and let the grill work like a convection oven.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

8. Set up your mise en place.

Unless you are lucky enough to have one of those full outdoor kitchens (and if you do, can I move in?), you don’t want to have to keep running back to the refrigerator and sink while you’re making a meal outside. Pre-chop and measure all your ingredients and load up a tray to take outside with you — I keep a bar cart next to my grill with everything I need, including extra towels, so I don’t have to make extra trips.

9. Always have aluminum foil on hand.

Is your soup broth boiling furiously instead of simmering? Crunch a piece of foil into a ring to use as a diffuser under your Dutch oven. Making a huge party plate of nachos? Line your griddle before stacking it up with tortilla chips and cheese. Want dessert? Use a doubled-up piece of heavy-duty grill foil in place of parchment paper to bake a freeform fruit galette on your grill. Aluminum foil is the perfect assistant every time.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

10. Grill a lemon for your G&T.

Here’s one thing you can do on a grill that you can’t on a stove: Throw a lemon half cut-side down onto the grill along with your meal components, and squeeze the charred citrus into a cocktail or a glass of seltzer as a little cook’s bonus. Hey, you’re cooking outside, you should take advantage of it!