Mention grilled fruit to most people, and their response might be, “Why bother?” After all, tree-ripened fruit is perfect; all you usually need is a knife to cut it or a sink over which to eat it. But I’m not talking about using the grill to cook fruit, only to heat it enough to caramelize its natural sugars, intensify its flavors, and add a luxurious softness. It takes only a few minutes and isn’t just for dessert.
It helps to think about fruit the same way you think about anything else that you grill—you can make the fruit savory or sweet depending on what kind of marinade, rub, compound butter, or spices you use. With just a few ingredients, grilled fruit makes an unexpected appetizer, an impressive main dish, and with the addition of ice cream, some spoon-licking desserts.
The larger the fruit, the easier it is to grill. Pineapple slices, halved nectarines, bananas, and peaches work best, and those are the ones I’ve featured in my recipes. When you cut fruit to grill, keep in mind the size of your cooking grates and make sure the fruit is large enough that it won’t fall through. Even if your finished dish calls for smaller pieces of fruit (such as for my Grilled Mango, Poblano & Passionfruit Salsa), it’s much easier to chop the fruit after it is grilled.
That doesn’t mean you can’t grill smaller fruits like figs, strawberries, and apricots. These fruits are best grilled whole (in the case of strawberries) or cut in half (for figs and apricots) and can be set directly on the cooking grates or skewered for kabobs. Use double-prong skewers or two bamboo skewers so the fruit doesn’t spin around as you grill it.
Perfectly ripe fruit is not the perfect choice to grill. You want fruit that is slightly underripe for best results, as falling-apart ripe won’t hold together. If you’re lucky enough to have farm-fresh fruit in your kitchen that isn’t quite ripe, grilling it is a simple way to make it sublime. And even though it’s high summer, some of us may have to resort to grocery store fruit that’s shipped less than ripe; grilling is a fast way to intensify its natural flavor.
To avoid sticking, be sure to clean and preheat the grate before grilling any fruit. Part of the beauty of grilled fruit is the way it gets soft and fragile on the grill, so you don’t want to tear it by fighting to get it off. I use a wire brush to get rid of any residue on the grate; not only does this prevent sticking, but it also keeps the grilled peaches from tasting like the hamburgers. Heating the grill before putting the fruit on will also help prevent sticking, as will brushing the cut side of the fruit with an olive or nut oil or treating it with a marinade or rub before grilling. This also keeps the fruit from drying out.
Use moderate heat so you don’t burn the fruit. When using gas, I grill fruit with the lid down to take advantage of ambient heat, but I also keep the temperature to medium-too high and the hot grates will burn all that natural sugar in the fruit.
Because fruit is delicate, I move it around as little as possible. I use tongs and usually find that they are adequate for turning and removing fruit from the grill. For a little extra help, I hold the back of the fruit in place with a pair of tongs and slide a spatula under the fruit to flip gently. I like a silicone spatula with a deep off-set neck so you don’t have to dig under the food, just simply slide and lift. If the marinade or rub causes the edges to stick or they’ve burned a bit, I gently loosen with the edge of a tong or spatula before turning or removing from the grill.
Serve when you like. One of the best things about grilling fruit is that it never needs to be served piping hot. In fact, many fruits are better once they have cooled to room temperature, so you can grill the fruit in advance. If you do want the fruit to be piping hot, plan on about 10 minutes to grill the fruit and serve it. If you’re serving it over ice cream, be sure to let it rest a few minutes or it will melt the ice cream faster than you can serve it.