Few gas grill owners consider the possibility, but a grill can also be an outdoor oven. Use it to bake a casual dessert when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen, or when you’d just like to spend as much time as possible in the backyard.
Your grill already may have a thermometer. If not, use an oven thermometer, placing it on top of the grate. Heat your grill to the same temperature you’d heat your oven for a particular recipe. Placing small items like cookies or muffins over direct heat will almost certainly lead to incineration. Likewise, cakes and brownies will become blackened on the bottom if cooked right on top of the fire. It’s better to bake them over indirect heat. If you have a two-burner grill, preheat just one side of the grill, then place your items on the cooler side. If you have a three-burner grill, leave the center burner unlit and bake in the center.
You can use your regular cookie sheets, muffin tins and cake pans on the grill. To protect them and avoid scorching, cover bottoms of pans with heavy-duty foil. Another option for certain items: aluminum baking pans that can be discarded after use.
Clean the grill really well. Even though your baked goods aren’t going to come into direct contact with the grill grates, the smoke from last night’s salmon or steak will flavor your brownies, and not in a good way.
Resist the urge to open the cover too often. Doing so will cool down the grill considerably and affect baking time. Of course, if you see smoke billowing from under the grill cover, open it to see what’s going on and adjust the temperature accordingly.
While it’s better to stick with a conventional oven when you are preparing anything elaborate, such as a layer cake, or delicate, such as a cheesecake, many of your favorite simple recipes can easily be adapted for grilling.
Pizza: It’s one of the best and easiest items to bake on the grill. It doesn’t require a pan or indirect heat. Just place the stretched dough on a preheated grill after oiling the grates. Cover, grill your dough until it has nice grill marks on the bottom (a little blackening will give the crust flavor), flip, add cheese and a little sauce (too much will make your pizza soggy), and grill until the bottom is browned and the cheese is melted.
Cake: Simple snacking cakes can be baked in foil-wrapped baking pans over indirect heat. Watch the thermometer carefully and adjust the grill’s temperature as necessary. Avoid uncovering the grill too early during baking. Cakes that haven’t yet set can collapse when cold air rushes in.
Muffins and cupcakes: Wrap a rimmed baking sheet in foil and place the filled muffin tin on top of the sheet before placing it on the unlit part of the grill. Corn muffins with savory add-ons, such as cheese, jalapeños or bacon, are especially good when grill-baked, taking on a slightly smoky flavor
Brownies: These bake beautifully in cast iron, but they also are great in a disposable foil pan. Be sure to grease it well with nonstick cooking spray. Bake your regular recipe, using the indirect-heat method. For s’mores-like brownies, sprinkle with mini marshmallows 15 minutes into baking.
Cookies: Place a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil on the unheated portion of the grill, arrange some balls of cookie dough on top of the foil, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. This works with refrigerated cookie dough from the supermarket, so pick up a package or two with your ice cream, and you will always be prepared to make a quick summer dessert.
Fruit cobblers and crisps: I avoid baking pies on my grill because, no matter how carefully I control the heat, parts of the bottom crust wind up burning before the fruit filling is cooked through. Cobblers and crisps, with fruit on the bottom and pastry or a crumb topping on top, are a better bet.
SKILLET BERRY CRISP
Use a well-seasoned cast-iron pan. Newer pans that come in contact with acidic ingredients may leach iron into your crisp, giving it a metallic flavor.
2 pints strawberries, stemmed and halved if large
1 pint blueberries, picked over
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar, divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1⁄2 tablespoons cornstarch
1⁄3 cup chopped walnuts
3⁄4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into bits
Vanilla ice cream for serving
1. Wrap the bottom and sides of a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
2. Combine the berries, 1⁄2 cup minus 1 tablespoon brown sugar, vanilla and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine, mashing some of the berries with the back of a spoon to release some juices. Stir once or twice while preparing the topping.
3. Make the topping: Combine the walnuts, flour, cinnamon, salt and remaining 3 tablespoons brown sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with your hands, squeezing the bits of butter until clumps begin to form.
4. Spoon the berry mixture into the cast-iron skillet. Spoon the topping over the berries.
5. Preheat a gas grill to medium, clean the grill grates well and cover for a few minutes to heat again. Place the skillet on the grill, cover (don’t leave the cover open too long or you will lose a lot of heat), and bake until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the grill, let rest on a wire rack for 15 minutes and spoon into dessert bowls, topping each portion with a scoop of ice cream, if desired, before serving warm. Makes 8 servings.