Grilling season is a delight for anyone who enjoys perfectly charred burgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers and other flavorful items ― so much so that people these days tend to throw just about anything on a grill, from watermelon to lettuce. That said, a fired-up propane, charcoal or natural gas grill isn’t the ideal place to cook every type of food.
We asked professional chefs, cookbook authors and grilling experts to name the foods that they don’t recommend for grilling. They mentioned these 10 items, some of which might be a bit surprising.
Grilled fish is a summer staple for excellent reason, but certain types of fish work better on a hot grill than others. Joonas Jokiniemi, a former pro chef who runs grilling-advice site Grill Smoke Love, told us that “dry and flaky fish are not good for grilling. They are very delicate and easily stick to the grill grates and fall apart. In addition, they usually end up being dry and tasteless when grilled.”
Hank Shaw, a cookbook author and James Beard Award winner behind the podcast ”Hunt Gather Cook,” also pointed out that skinless fish fillets can be problematic on the grill. “Fish is so delicate that you need the skin to hold things together ― if you lose that, the meat flakes apart and will fall through the grill grates.”
Shaw explained that most freshwater fish ― including walleye, perch and bass ― fall into this category, as would black seabass, flounder, snapper and Pacific rockfish.
“All do work well if you have the skin on the fish, but even then, the trick is to not flip the fish,” Shaw advised. “Simply cover the grill and let the ambient heat finish cooking.” To be on the safe side, stick with fattier and more oily fish (like tuna and salmon) when cooking on the grill.
A dense cut of beef from the chest and pectorals of the cow, brisket does best when it’s “braised or cooked slow,” said Ryan Cade, co-owner of the R-C Ranch digital butcher shop. Brisket tends to take on a tough texture when it isn’t given the time to break down its connective tissue and release its juices, which is why it’s best prepared Texas-style, or “slow and low on a smoker that regulates heat well,” Cade said.
When cooked on the grill, shrimp takes on a beautiful level of smokiness that highlights its natural sweet and briny notes, making for an ideal warm-weather meal. However, the key to top-quality grilled shrimp is to keep the peels on.
Peeled shrimp doesn’t fare nearly as well on a grill, because “they tend to dry out too easily. They literally take one to two minutes on each side, and it’s easy to overcook them,” explained Mareya Ibrahim, a Los Angeles-based chef and cookbook author. Ibrahim said the best way to cook shrimp on the grill is to “keep the peels on and watch them closely, basting them to keep them from turning into little pieces of rubber.”
Like shrimp, scallops are a challenge (and not always a justifiable one) on the grill, which is why Nathan Voorhees, chef de cuisine of Epping’s on Eastside in Lexington, Kentucky, doesn’t recommend them for this style of cooking.
“There are so many grilling taboos, but scallops come to mind first,” he said. “They are such a lean protein and cook so quickly. They tend to dry out on the grill, potentially ruining a beautiful ingredient.” Instead, get the most out of your scallops by pan-searing them while basting with butter, “which will yield that beautiful caramel crust and juicy interior.” Voorhees said.
Meat-free grilling has never felt more possible or more exciting than it does right now, with plant-based patties reaching unprecedented levels of popularity. Unfortunately, not all vegan proteins are as well-suited for the grill as Beyond Meat and Impossible Meat.
“I see a lot of people try to grill tofu, but it falls apart and doesn’t turn out great,” Josh Healy, chef de cuisine of Loro Asian Smokehouse & Bar in Dallas, said. Instead, he prefers to “fry tofu, get it crunchy, and toss it with your sauce of choice.”
When you select the right veggies for grilling, the end product is charred on the outside, juicy on the inside, and a delicious addition to a summer entree. Leafy greens, however, don’t fall into that category, despite many home cooks’ attempts to make grilled Caesar salads.
“If your grill is not ripping hot, the greens will wilt. In addition, you risk the greens falling through the grill grates,” said Brian Jupiter, the executive chef of Frontier Chicago and Ina Mae Tavern, both in Chicago. He said another way to char greens is to “use a cast iron pan on the highest heat on your stovetop. Or, if you’re set on using the grill, crank the grill up to its highest heat for 20 minutes, then place the cast iron pan filled with your greens on the grill grates to begin cooking.”
Any cheese that’s capable of melting will create a huge mess on your grill, as Morgan Bolling, executive chef of cooking magazine and recipe database Cook’s Country, explained. “Cheeses that melt aren’t great for grilling, like halloumi or an aged provolone. But if it’s a melting cheese, it will melt right through the grill grates.”
Instead of grilling those melty cheeses on their own, go with a classic technique and put a slice of cheddar or American cheese on top of your hamburger as it sizzles on the grill.
Pork shoulder and pork ribs are grilling MVPs, but you might be surprised to learn that pork chops aren’t quite as grill-friendly as their tasty compatriots. “Contrary to popular belief, pork chops are not great on the grill because they have a lower fat content than the pork shoulder. Therefore, they can easily dry out,” said Jakob Esko, the resort executive chef of Gaylord Hotels. Searing your pork chops on a hot skillet and then transferring them to the oven to cook through is the best way to keep this cut moist and tender.
Bacon already has a smoky flavor, so it should really come into its own on the grill, right? Well, the truth isn’t quite so simple, as Chris Riley, the recipe developer of barbecue blog Smoked Meat Sunday told us.
“Tossing bacon on the grill will most likely cause a fire, as the grease is easily flammable,” Riley said. “This can burn the bacon and ruin its taste before you can even react. Furthermore, a sudden fire can be quite dangerous. It’d be best to keep the bacon away from the grill. Simply cooking it in the oven or in a nonsticking frying pan will be easy, keep the bacon’s juices, and guarantee the best taste.”
A tomato’s juiciness is among its most appealing characteristics, but it’s also a major source of dysfunction when grilling is involved.
“Tomatoes are rich and delicious when roasted alongside meat and veggies, but may fall apart or not hold their structure well when cooked over direct flame,” said Josh Aslanian, owner of Fireside BBQ and Appliances in California. “The mess and the dried-out effect won’t do you or your guests any favors.”