No, it’s not parts of camel or baboon that are only eaten by that guy on TV. It’s Grill Baskets!
If you don’t have a grill basket in your selection of BBQ implements, then you’re lacking one of the most useful tools known to the world of grilling. You most definitely need to ask Santa for one, or make a visit to your local Grillin’ superstore to get properly equipped. A grill basket expands the grilling horizon to just about anything that swims, walks, runs, flies, or is anchored into the ground via roots. With a grill basket, you can cook all sorts of stuff over real coals that you’d never otherwise consider putting onto the grill, except maybe foi gras or refried beans!
Grill baskets come in a plethora of shapes and sizes. Some are essentially rectangular or square flat cages, with lids that latch closed. These do a fine job of containing fragile foods like fish so the entire basket can be flipped without fear of consumable goodies falling down into the fire lurking below. Some are elongate, rectangular, and narrow. They’re designed to do kebobs without that pesky bamboo skewer. Some are not baskets at all, but more like a rack of some kind.
Many, however, are clearly and cleverly designed to catch grillers and their hard-earned dollars, rather than fulfill an actual useful role in a griller’s tool kit. There are baskets designed to hold corn on the cob, and there are some that have indentations to hold hot dogs. Other than a nice flat steak, there are few foods in this entire world that are more amenable and perfectly shaped for grilling than are corn and hotdogs. Now it seems to me that a BBQ grill is a kind of basket, in and of itself, so why in the world would one need a basket to grill wieners?
In my opinion, the most versatile and useful of all grill baskets are kind of like flat-bottomed woks full of holes, or a bowl made from stainless steel mesh. Usually these are about 12” dia, tapering down to maybe 8” or so at the bottom where they sit on the grill, and they range from an inch or two to 4-5 inches or more in height. Baskets come in a range of sizes, so be sure to get one that’s sized appropriately for your grill. You don’t want a basket with an 8” bottom that you plan on using on a 4” square hibachi, for instance. Sometimes grill baskets come with a lid, which is a mystery to me because I don’t know why anyone would want to grill something that might jump out of the basket. Baskets with removable handles are nice, since permanent handles tend to get so hot that gloves are in order to move the basket, or to dump the contents once all is cooked. Your basket is going to get really grubby; be sure it’s dishwasher-safe and avoid fancy wooden or other non dishwasher-safe handles as well.
These bowl-baskets facilitate wonderful flavors that you’ve never dreamed could be imparted to foods that may be small, fragile or unusual. With the bowl baskets, you sort of stir-fry your way to eye rolls when your creation hits the table. Plus, with these bowl-baskets, you can still do things like kebobs, but you now have more flexibility! With conventional kebobs, everything is either skewered together, or all in the same kebob basket which makes it impossible to include veggies like squash or potatoes alongside your tomatoes, onions, and bits of steak. By the time the squash or potato is done, the meat is crunchy jerky.
With the basket, however, you can start with cubed potatoes or squash, drizzle with a little olive oil and seasoning of your choice, and grill ‘em until they’re almost done, then add in the onion, cook a little longer, then toss in the tomato and meat. With this technique, you actually end up with medium or rare steak chunks in your kebob alongside perfectly done veggies. The final product won’t look like a kebob because it’ll be jumbled together in a basket, but will taste better because everything is cooked as it should be, and nothing is overdone. Plus, with a gentle stir fry technique, the veggies get bathed in all that wonderful meat juice and end up tasting far better than if they’d all been impaled on a stick with a chunk of meat every now and then.
Here are a few items, some crazy, some more “normal” that I’ve cooked with my grill baskets over the years.
Hominy: Yep, no kidding! I bet I’m the only person in the entire world that has grilled Hominy! With some olive oil and our Steak and Veggie Rub, it was pretty dang good too!
Shrimp: Grill baskets are perfect for doing shrimp over charcoal. These were thawed, then marinated in a few tablespoons of olive oil and an equal amount of Miners Mix XXX-Garlic Seasoning and Rub. The secret to stir-frying shrimp over medium heat charcoal is not to cook them too long. They’re done when they cook 30 sec to a minute or so longer after they turn opaque and begin to show pink near the tail. Try one to see if it’s done before taking them off the grill. Once they’re done, melt about half a stick of butter with 2-3 tablespoons of XXX-Garlic Seasoning and Rub and pour the butter seasoning mixture over the cooked shrimp.
Ravioli: These were thawed and lightly brushed with olive oil then grilled in one of those rectangular baskets. I grilled them until they were lightly toasted. They would have been better if they’d been boiled first, then allowed to cool, oiled, then grilled. Might give this another try at a later date.
Pulled Pork, Carnitas Style: Carnitas are little crispy pieces of pork, and when done correctly, they are wonderful. Next time, instead of serving up mushy, limp pulled pork in sauce, first dump a hunk into your trusty grill basket over fairly high heat. Stir fry it some, and allow it to crisp up and caramelize for enhanced flavor. While the pork is crisping, sprinkle it with more Maynards Memphis BBQ Rub as you stir it in the grill basket. The crispiness of the pork yields a wonderfully unique crunch to sandwiches when mixed with BBQ sauce.
Grilled potatoes, zucchini and squash: Dense veggies like this need to be precooked somewhat in the microwave or by boiling. When close to done, dice them up and drizzle with olive oil and Miners Mix Steak and Veggie Seasoning, then finish them off in the grill basket over medium to high heat. YUM!
Grill Basket Herbed Potatoes: Recipe is pretty similar to the recipe above. Potatoes are precooked, then drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with Miners Mix Steak and Veggie and finished in that grill basket.
Mushrooms: This dish is one of the standards we do at nearly every event or demo where we have access to a grill. It never fails to elicit OMG! along with an eye-roll from everyone who tastes it. Even folks who don’t like shrooms are impressed by this one and it’s one of the reasons that Miners Mix has taken home 5 People’s Choice awards at various EggFest events in CA. Best of all: .IT’S STUPID SIMPLE! Start with white grocery store variety mushrooms (Costco). If they’re large, quarter them, wash, then bag in a ziplock and douse liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle very liberally with Miners Mix Steak and Veggie Seasoning, then dump into the grill basket over fairly high heat and stir fry until nice and done. Taste one or two and use more Steak and Veggie if necessary.
If I figure out how to do refried beans or come across foi gras, caviar, or any other yummy, un-grillable item, rest assured there’ll be a forthcoming blog about my experiences!
Happy grill basketing!