These Days, My Grill Is My Lifeline. Here’s How I Use It for Easier Weeknight Meals.

updated May 20, 2020
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Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

With so much time spent indoors, the changing of the seasons has been quieter, making the arrival of sunnier days seem sudden. But the one warm-weather cue that’s impossible to miss is the smoky fragrance of putting fire to food. After being cooped up for weeks, grilling thrusts us outside, with the hot sun beating down on our backs. It gives our tired taste buds the thrill of char and smoke. And in a practical sense, it gives us a reprieve from the never-ending dirty dishes, and keeps the kitchen clean.

Recently, as I’ve found myself completely burnt out from all the snack-prepping, dinner-making, and dish-washing I’ve done over the past two months, the grill has been my lifeline. In one single outdoor session, I can prepare a week’s worth of proteins, vegetables, dips, and desserts, giving me a much-deserved break from weeknight cooking. Whether you’re a total newbie at the coals or just rusty from a break in the off-season, here’s how you, too, can use your grill to help you out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

How to Maximize Your Grill to Minimize Weeknight Cooking

There are two ways to use your grill to reduce weeknight work: You can grill everything at once and reap the rewards for days to come, or you can prep a few things now for faster weeknight grilling.

The first option is ideal for avid meal preppers — anyone who prefers to devote a solid chunk of time to getting the majority of the week’s cooking out of the way. Even if you’ve taken a break from meal prepping these past few months, firing up the grill is a thrilling way to get back into the swing of things, and a way to revive any lost excitement around cooking. It’s also great for anyone looking to do the least amount of weeknight cooking as possible.

The grill is well-suited for meal prep for multiple reasons. The square footage of cooking space is often more generous than the stovetop, giving you room to cook more food at once. Additionally, grilled foods don’t need many added flavorings beyond smoke and flame, so it’s actually best to season foods simply for the greatest versatility. When you’re finished, brush the grates while they’re still hot, and cleanup is done. With the cooking and cleaning out of the way, the rest of the week is a matter of simple assembly, adding the grilled meats, vegetables, and tofu to salads, tacos, and sandwiches.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

If the thought of more frequent weeknight grilling excites you — but only if it’s quick and easy — opt for the second approach. Here, you’ll greatly reduce weeknight work by getting everything ready for the grill just short of lighting the coals.

For this style of meal prep, your fridge will be full of marinades, threaded kebabs, and pre-cut vegetables. This method is also best if you favor tender grilled foods that are best eaten immediately, like tomatoes, fruits, and cheeses. With some of the prep work done, you’ll dirty a fraction of the dishes, and come dinnertime, you can fire up the grill and enjoy the sunshine with tongs in hand (and still sit down to eat at a reasonable time).

If you’re already dreading an hours-long prep session, know that even 20 minutes can be incredibly beneficial. Mix up a few spice rubs to use to season your food as the grill heats, have everyone in the family assemble a foil packet, or simply make a list of the things you might want to grill during the week. Even without a ton of advanced work, your grill can provide you relief. Think of it as the warm-weather equivalent to sheet pan dinners and one-pot meals: It cooks everything at once and you’ve only got one thing to clean.

Looking for more complete grilling prep plans? Here are five we love, with grocery lists and timelines for prep.