27 Unexpected Foods You Should Be Grilling

varied foods before open flame
varied foods before open flame - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

Grilling is a surefire way to elevate any summer evening. With either charcoal or gas grills, the act of cooking over a flame will impart depth and smokiness to varied foods. Whether it's burgers, hot dogs, or grilled corn, there are thousands of recipes online for the classic barbecue staples. The most common grilled foods tend to be on the savory side, with meats and veggies often taking center stage.

But if you are hosting a backyard barbecue this summer, or just want to impress your family, there are tons of phenomenal grilled dishes that veer from the classics and are often overlooked. From grilling fresh fruit for a more layered dessert to adding a smoky char to your favorite meat substitute, the possibilities are endless. You'll be surprised at what great dishes you can add to your barbecue rotation, and these unexpected grilled foods will spice up any backyard cookout menu.

Read more: 13 Underrated Cuts Of Meat You Should Be Grilling

Honeydew Melon

sliced honeydew melons
sliced honeydew melons - Gerlow/Getty Images

In the U.S., honeydew melons are at their peak season from the summer months into fall, presenting perfect timing to grab a ripe melon and get creative with cooking fruit outdoors. Grilling honeydew is a great way to introduce a charred flavor to complement the melon's natural sweetness. All the honeydew needs is a quick sear on medium-high heat to get those classic grill marks. It's good to give your grill grates a quick cleaning before cooking, so the melon doesn't pick up any leftover flavors. A great way to eat grilled honeydew is on kebabs with a splash of citrus, or even in a grilled honeydew salsa recipe for a refreshing taco topping.


grilled cabbage slices
grilled cabbage slices - Lena_zajchikova/Getty Images

Cabbage is gaining popularity across the country, and it's about time. Cheap and long-lasting, cabbage is a perfect vessel for other flavors. When prepared as a gourmet side dish — like in a grilled Caesar cabbage recipe — humble cabbage can be the showstopper at any dinner party. To make grilled cabbage, cut the heads into wedges with the core intact to maintain its structural integrity. If the cabbage wedge isn't attached to a piece of the core, it will fall apart. Before grilling, brush the exterior with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle it with salt. Grilling cabbage gives it a nice exterior char while softening the inner leaves.


grilled tofu and tomatoes
grilled tofu and tomatoes - Rimma Bondarenko/Shutterstock

Tofu is an excellent meat alternative that has been enjoyed for many centuries. High in protein, tofu is also filled with essential amino acids and nutrients. If you are hosting a summer barbecue, it's always good to have vegan or vegetarian proteins on the menu. Grilled tofu is a delicious option, as it absorbs flavors well and gets clear, deep grill marks on its exterior. Since tofu is subtle in flavor, it acts as the perfect base for assorted marinades and cooking techniques. Use a jerk-marinated grilled tofu recipe for a flavorful Caribbean spin, or keep it simple with a lime-juice marinade for grilled tofu with mango salsa.


plate of grilled halloumi
plate of grilled halloumi - Koval Nadiya/Getty Images

If you haven't tried halloumi cheese before, you're missing out. Its springy texture and salty, chewy bite make it a tasty side dish or topping. Halloumi cheese works well on the grill because its exterior remains intact, so there won't be any messy drips on the grill grates. When exposed to heat, halloumi develops a light-brown crispy crust and a soft interior. Seared halloumi lends salty richness to a salad, or try a recipe for grilled halloumi skewers with tomatoes. Halloumi has a subtle flavor, making it a great alternative to stronger cheeses like feta — and grilled halloumi makes a great meat alternative for a burger.


grilled peach halves
grilled peach halves - Alleko/Getty Images

Summer is prime peach season, which means you'll get the sweetest, juiciest peaches available. Although peaches are phenomenal on their own, this quick step will elevate them to a whole new level. Grilling peach halves gives the stone fruit a beautiful charred surface and a smoky flavor that complements the peachy sweetness. When the flesh of a peach touches the grill, the natural sugars caramelize, making for a wonderful summertime dessert. Grilled peaches can be eaten on their own, served atop tacos, or muddled to mix up a grilled peach whiskey sour. When picking out peaches, go for ripe or almost-ripe peaches for the best grilling outcome.


cauliflower steak on plate
cauliflower steak on plate - Olgamiltsova/Getty Images

Cauliflower is one of the most versatile vegetables around. It can be baked, mashed, roasted, and even grilled. A cup of cauliflower contains only 25 calories, making it a light side dish for any meal. Whether using it to make seasoned cauliflower florets for veggie tacos or cauliflower steaks, the grill is a perfect cooking vessel for a smoky, crispy finish, ideal for a grilled cauliflower with tahini and sumac recipe. A whole cauliflower can be grilled when wrapped in foil, ensuring that the interior is soft and juicy with a contrasting crunchy outer layer, while cauliflower steaks can be placed directly on the grill.


hand grabbing pizza slice
hand grabbing pizza slice - Wirestock/Getty Images

Pizza is the perfect meal for large groups, and if you don't have a pizza oven, the grill is a great alternative. The key to a crispy pizza is making sure the dough has immediate contact with high heat. This causes those classic dark spots to form at the bottom of your pizza while ensuring that the dough is crispy and springy. The grill works well for this because it can reach high temperatures and maintain those temperatures for long periods. You can cook the dough on its own and add toppings for a vibrant grilled veggie pizza, or go classic and try out a homemade Margherita recipe.


figs in bowl
figs in bowl - Kajakiki/Getty Images

Figs are sweet and jammy, with a honey-like flavor profile. Often seen on charcuterie boards, made into jam, or paired with cheese, it is a versatile fruit that can elevate both savory and sweet dishes. Grill figs for a delicious appetizer, simply by cutting them in half and putting them on the barbecue over medium-hot heat — this is a simple method to further concentrate the sweetness of the fruit while adding a smoky, caramelized layer that will impress any dinner guest. A grilled fig can bring deep flavor to salad, be the star of bruschetta, or be a delightful topping for ice cream.


grilled watermelon slices
grilled watermelon slices - Juefrateam/Shutterstock

Watermelon is a quintessential summer snack. It's juicy, sweet, and refreshing, with a uniquely soft-yet-crunchy texture. A transformation occurs when watermelon is grilled. The sugars become concentrated, and a bit of moisture evaporates, causing the watermelon to have a lovely chewiness to it. Leave the rind on watermelon when grilling it to create a great appetizer that can be elevated with a splash of citrus, or served with whipped feta dip. It also works well in a grilled watermelon salad recipe, providing a pop of color and sweetness. If you want to get creative, try making syrup infused with grilled watermelon as an addition for cocktails.

Garlic Bread

garlic bread and bulbs
garlic bread and bulbs - Pilipphoto/Getty Images

Garlic bread is always a fan favorite, and it gets eaten almost as fast as it's done cooking. Savory roasted garlic and melty butter are a match made in heaven, but the bread is just as important as the garlicky topping. Properly crisping the bread creates a necessary contrast to the softness of the butter and garlic. A flavorful way to get that crusty crunch is to make grilled garlic bread with a drizzle of olive oil. The bread picks up those char marks beautifully, and the smokiness adds a new layer that can't be achieved by oven-roasting.

Romaine Lettuce

heads of romaine lettuce
heads of romaine lettuce - Bhofack2/Getty Images

A classic salad staple, romaine lettuce is rich in vitamins A and K, and is often eaten raw; it tastes great when chopped and served in an everyday salad with herby lemon vinaigrette. Nonetheless, romaine also shines when cooked. Cutting a head of romaine in half, drizzling it with olive oil and vinegar, and tossing it on the grill makes for a flavorful and healthy side dish. The lettuce develops a char on some bits, and wilting on others. However, you should eat grilled romaine right after it's cooked, and top it with your favorite dressing or freshly grated Parmesan.


feta cheese on cutting board
feta cheese on cutting board - Fcafotodigital/Getty Images

This Greek cheese is soft, tangy, and salty on its own, but when it's cooked on the grill, feta develops a delectable smokiness that pairs well with its original flavors. Feta is often sold in blocks or pre-crumbled in packages, but for grilling, it's best cooked as a block. When wrapped in foil and put on the grill, it only takes a few minutes for the feta to develop smokiness. Grilled feta can be sliced up for Greek salads, whipped to create a smoky feta dip, or broken into small pieces to top a grilled corn and summer squash salad.


block and slices of tempeh
block and slices of tempeh - Arisara_tongdonnoi/Getty Images

A plant-based protein made from fermented soybeans, tempeh is a specialty from Indonesia, and it is typically sold in blocks that are sliced or cubed. Tempeh is firm and dense, and holds its structure very well when cooked. Nutritious and adaptable, tempeh doesn't have a strong flavor on its own, so it is best served marinated with strong flavors like soy sauce or liquid smoke — but the best way to add smoky flavor to tempeh is on the grill. Grilling marinated tempeh for a few minutes on each side will result in a tender, flavorful meat substitute that everyone will crave.


grilled pineapple slices
grilled pineapple slices - Homydesign/Getty Images

One of the best fruits for barbecuing is pineapple. Pineapple is a great source of vitamin C, and it's packed with antioxidants. It can be eaten warm or cold and has high acidity, which helps to tenderize meat. Grilling pineapple caramelizes the sugars in the fruit and concentrates its sweetness, making it tender and juicy. Grilled pineapple rings are an excellent side for a barbecue, and can be added to a veggie burger for the ultimate Hawaiian BBQ Beyond Burger. This tropical fruit adds fresh flavor to pork and pineapple skewers, or it can be muddled for a sweet and smoky tequila cocktail with grilled pineapple.


clams on the grill
clams on the grill - Hyung min Choi/Shutterstock

Fresh-cooked shellfish is the perfect meal for a hot summer's day. Whether it's clams with linguine or steamed littlenecks with white wine, clams are always a showstopping dish. One of the simplest methods of cooking clams is also one of the most flavorful — putting the mollusks straight on the sizzling grill, with nothing else added, and wait until they open naturally after a few minutes. The shells will be hot to the touch, as they directly contact the grill, so make sure to use tongs when removing them. Once cooked, grilled clams and garlic butter make a wonderful pairing.


grilled avocado halves
grilled avocado halves - Tema_kud/Getty Images

Avocados are soft, creamy, and have a subtle nutty flavor. When at perfect ripeness, they are soft but still maintain their shape when peeled. A ripe avocado will allow for gentle pressure, but shouldn't leave an indentation after being pressed. Avocados are great in guacamole or sliced on toast, but an innovative way to enjoy their natural flavors is through grilling. The best way to prepare grilled avocados is to halve them and place them flesh-side down with the skin still on, in order to maintain structural integrity. After a few minutes, the flesh should be slightly charred with the interior warm, soft, and creamy.


grilled artichokes on plate
grilled artichokes on plate - BearFotos/Shutterstock

An artichoke is a thistle with delicious meaty hearts. They are packed with nutrients, and might help lower blood sugar levels. Artichokes can be daunting to those who haven't cooked them before, but don't fear. They can be enjoyed with just a few prep steps. A grilled artichokes recipe calls for trimming and boiling them before placing them on the barbecue, adding a bit of char to the soft interior. That charred flavor amplifies the creamy texture of the artichoke flesh. Charring a lemon and squeezing the juice over the artichoke adds a final pop of brightness to this dish.


octopus tentacles on grill
octopus tentacles on grill - Alika Obrazovskaya/Getty Images

When the weather is nice, there's nothing better than fresh seafood. When it comes to cooking octopus, look to the Greek islands, where octopus has been eaten for centuries. Here octopus is often grilled and served with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Some people expect octopus to taste fishy, but it is actually quite mild in flavor. Grilled octopus adds char to the exterior skin of the tentacles, while rendering the interior tender. It can be served simply on its own, or it can be flavored with various seasonings, as seen in a Mexican-inspired grilled octopus and ancho salsa recipe.


grilled quesadillas on board
grilled quesadillas on board - Arman Armaghanyan/Shutterstock

One of the most versatile and cheesy dishes out there, quesadillas can be either an appetizer or the main attraction. They can be made in minutes and be filled with endless combinations of proteins, cheeses, and veggies. From shredded chicken quesadillas to sheet-pan quesadillas filled with refried beans, quesadillas are a cheap, filling meal option that appeases people of all ages. The best way to make multiple quesadillas is to prep a few at once and throw them all on the grill for a few minutes, until the tortillas have brown spots and are crispy. Serve with sour cream or salsa.


gnocchi dusted in flour
gnocchi dusted in flour - Cappels/Getty Images

Gnocchi are dumplings made from flour, eggs, and potatoes, with many flavor variations available that range from pumpkin to spinach to ricotta. Typically boiled and served with pesto or tomato sauce, gnocchi aren't usually grilled, but preparing them this way draws out a whole new texture. When grilled, the gnocchi become crispy on the outside and very soft and tender on the inside. An effective grilling method for these dumplings is to skewer refrigerated gnocchi, brush with oil, and place them on the grill. Once cooked, they can be tossed with veggies or herbs, and topped with freshly grated cheese.

Brussels Sprouts

bowl of Brussels sprouts
bowl of Brussels sprouts - Veselovaelena/Getty Images

Brussels sprouts are nutrient-rich, high in fiber, and packed with antioxidants. They can be oven-roasted, added to pasta dishes, or shredded thin for a Brussels sprouts slaw recipe. Brussels sprouts are also a flavorful side dish that pairs well with grilled meats. If you plan to cook outdoors, instead of repeatedly running inside to check on oven-roasted sprouts, feel free to pop them on the grill. They can be skewered or cooked in a foil packet with olive oil and your choice of seasonings. Once cooked, drizzle the sprouts with balsamic glaze for an extra pop of flavor.

Pound Cake

sliced pound cake
sliced pound cake - Birute/Getty Images

A true dessert classic, pound cake is a spongey, buttery delight that has been around for centuries. Nowadays, you can buy it pre-made at the grocery store for a quick and easy post-dinner treat. If you have extra pound cake that is starting to get stale, a good way to liven it up again is to grill it in slices. Brushing each slice with butter on both sides and popping them on the grill for a few minutes will add a smoky char to the exterior while warming up the cake. Top the slices with a dollop of cream or fresh fruit.


red and golden beets
red and golden beets - Debbismirnoff/Getty Images

If you are looking to bring a burst of color to your backyard grilling spread, look no further than beets. Both red and golden beets have a vibrant color and are jam-packed with nutrients. Although they are commonly boiled or roasted, beets taste great on the grill as well. They can be tossed in olive oil and wrapped in aluminum foil to be grilled whole. The foil allows the beets to steam in their own juices. Beets can also be cooked in slices directly on the grill, which caramelizes them and brings out their sweetness. It should be noted that a grill that's too hot will burn them, so low heat is the best bet here.

Shishito Peppers

skewered shishito peppers
skewered shishito peppers - Glenn Price/Shutterstock

Shishito peppers are generally mild, although occasionally you'll bite into one that has a kick of spice. Slightly sweet and slightly spicy, shishitos are often served blistered, a cooking technique that calls for placing vegetables on a hot surface and leaving them alone until their heat-exposed exteriors bubble and blacken, while their interiors remain deliciously fresh and crunchy. For an outdoor variation of a simple blistered shishito peppers recipe, try using a heated grill, after skewering the pods to keep them from slipping between grates. Once blistered, squeeze fresh citrus over the peppers to further bring out their flavor.


pile of scallions
pile of scallions - Xugen/Shutterstock

Scallions, also known as green onions, are an excellent addition to soups, salads, or even on upgraded fried eggs. Scallions are often a topping or added ingredient, but they deserve more love. Grilling whole scallions allows these slender alliums to shine. All you need is a grill and a bit of olive oil to transform these veggies into the main event. Scallions will get charred within minutes, so save them until the end of your grilling session. Serve them on their own with a sprinkle of salt, or include them in a grilled Latin American feast of churrasco with grilled scallion chimichurri.


bowl of kimchi
bowl of kimchi - Whitewish/Getty Images

A classic Korean side dish, kimchi is made with salted and fermented produce, typically including cabbage, carrots, garlic, and ginger. South Korea's national dish, kimchi has been made and consumed for thousands of years. The specialty is spicy, tangy, and a little bit sour. It is a great accompaniment to meat dishes like grilled bulgogi BBQ beef, chicken, or steak. Grilling the kimchi until it's slightly charred gives it smokiness. Kimchi is served chilled, so after grilling, be sure to let it cool and refrigerate it until serving. Grilled kimchi would pair well with other veggie-based sides, like cucumber salad or pickled radish.


grilled tomatoes on board
grilled tomatoes on board - Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

When they are in season during summertime, tomatoes are incredibly vibrant and flavorful, making this the perfect time to grab some for the grill. Tomatoes are incredibly versatile in that they can be eaten raw, cooked down into a sauce, or roasted. Heirlooms are great in salads or sliced and seasoned, but firmer tomatoes like romas are commonly used in sauce. A great way to taste the full flavors of tomatoes like heirlooms and romas is to grill them. Halve the tomatoes or cut them into very thick slices, and sear them on the grill — this will allow for their tangy, juicy flavors to shine.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.