At first, it might seem tricky to grill a potato successfully, but fortunately potatoes are incredibly accommodating. The delicious flavor and texture of a grilled potato is a great reward for learning to manage one tiny problem: getting the potato cooked on the inside before it burns on the outside.
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To be sure that you’ve got a grilled potato that’s cooked through, follow one of the methods I’ve detailed in the techniques below, depending on what kind of potatoes you have and what else you’re cooking. Each of these techniques is completely adaptable to your own palate: once you’ve tried the basic recipe, feel free to alter the seasonings as you like. Soon you’ll be perfecting your own versions of delicious grilled potatoes—as habit-forming as the best mashed or roasted.
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Technique #1: Par-cook potatoes before grilling for better control
It may seem like extra work, but I like to partially cook (by simmering) most potatoes before grilling them. Here’s why: first, it cuts down on the final grilling time, so I can put the potatoes on just as I finish grilling the meat or whatever else I’m making. Since the potatoes are already mostly cooked, they only need to be seared over direct heat to create a golden brown crust. I’m mainly looking for visual clues to see when the potatoes are done, so I don’t have to pay as much attention to them. I also don’t have to cover the grill, so I can grill a steak at the same time. And if I’m entertaining, I can hand off the grilling to someone else, knowing they just have to look at the potatoes to know when they’re done.
I especially like to use this method for dense-fleshed potatoes like Red Bliss and Yukon Gold. Grilled this way, they have almost the texture of french fries by the time they’re done: golden on the outside, fluffy and cakey on the inside.
I always cut the potatoes before I simmer them (I like slices, but quarters and wedges work, too), and I let them drain well after simmering. I can do this ahead of time and leave them at room temperature while fixing the rest of dinner. Then, I coat the potatoes well with either oil and herbs or a combination of a little bit of mayonnaise and mustard, since the fats help keep the moisture inside the potatoes when they hit the grill, and also help to keep the tender flesh from sticking. While I think it works best to season your potatoes before you grill them, that doesn’t mean you can’t season them afterward, too, or use them in other recipes, such as Grilled Potato, Corn & Red Onion Salad over Arugula.
Technique #2: Cook potatoes from start to finish on the grill
If you don’t want to bother precooking your potatoes, you can cook them start-to-finish on the grill by using a combination of direct and indirect cooking. When building your charcoal fire, be sure to bank the coals to one side so that you’ll have a hotter side and a cooler side. On a gas grill, heat one side of the grill to medium high; keep the other side on medium low. When planning what else you might want to cook on the grill, keep in mind that you’ll be covering the grill, and using it for a little longer when cooking potatoes this way.
I like this method for wedges of Idaho potatoes. When they sear on the hot grill, their starch seems to seal in their inherent moisture, and the result is crispy outside and flaky inside. I don’t like this method quite as well for red and yellow potatoes.
Technique #3: Wrap potatoes in foil to keep them moist and to blend flavors
One of the easiest and most delicious ways to cook potatoes on the grill is to toss them with a lot of the same goodies you might use for roasted potatoes and wrap them tightly in foil. Put the package on the grate directly over the heat, cover the grill, and in 40 minutes you have a delicious side dish.
Grilled this way, the potatoes steam to a moist but firm texture and bathe in the juices of roasting aromatics. Garlic, onions, and peppers practically melt into the potatoes for extra flavor. And if your coals are hot enough, the potatoes closest to the outside of the package will have nicely charred edges, too. The package can sit off the grill, unopened, for up to 15 minutes, while you grill the main course.
A few things to keep in mind: First, before wrapping the potatoes in the foil, spread them out so that the pile is an even thickness, about 1-1/2 inches deep. This will let more potatoes come in close contact with the heat of the fire, ensuring even cooking. Second, mound the coals so that they’re 5 to 6 inches below the center of the grate (but no closer). Then set the package directly over the hottest spot. Ideally, the potatoes on the bottom will be just beginning to char when they’re flipped after 20 minutes. Last, be sure to cover the grill completely (leave the top and bottom vents open) so the potatoes bake in the oven-like atmosphere. You can cook foil-wrapped potatoes on a gas grill, too, but you may have to cook them longer (or heat the grill to high).
When you first try this method, you might want to use slightly shorter cooking times and check the potatoes (unfold the foil with tongs; the steam will be hot enough to burn). If they aren’t quite done, rewrap them and grill for a few more minutes. If they’re too charred but not done in the middle, put them back on, away from the coals, and cover the grill
Seasoning potatoes for the grill
Use the seasoning mixes below to flavor 1 pound of potatoes before they go on the grill (12 to 14 baby potatoes, 6 medium red- or yellow-skinned potatoes, 2 large red- or yellow-skinned potatoes, or 2 small Idahoes make a pound). Cut baby potatoes in half, others into 3/8-inch slices or wedges or quarters. If par-cooking potatoes (see Technique #1), season them after simmering and cooling but before they go on the grill.
For Par-Cooked Potatoes:
Extra-virgin olive oil &fresh herbs: Toss the potatoes with enough olive oil to coat well (2 to 3 Tbs.) and season with coarse salt, freshly ground pepper or a few hot red pepper flakes, and 2 to 3 tsp. chopped hardy herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, or sage.
Mustard, mayonnaise, & herbs: Combine 1/4 cup mayonnaise with 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard and 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary. Coat the potatoes with this mixture and season with salt and pepper.
Mustard & olive oil: Combine 3 Tbs. olive oil with 1-1/2 Tbs. savory mustard and toss together with potatoes. Or replace the mustard with 1 Tbs. black olive tapenade or sun-dried-tomato pesto. Season well with salt and pepper.
For Grill-Only Potatoes:
Dry spice rub: Coat the potatoes well with 2 to 3 Tbs. olive oil and then sprinkle your favorite dried spice rub over all the cut edges. Be sure to include a lot of salt in the spice rub. A good rub recipe: combine about 1/2 tsp. each of ground cumin, coriander, paprika, chili powder, allspice, freshly ground black pepper, and dried thyme with about 1-1/2 tsp. salt and a little sugar, if you like.