15 Tips For Fast And Tasty Weeknight Dinners Using Your Grill
There certainly is a time and place for low and slow grilling….allowing huge slabs of meat to smoke and become fall-apart, tender chunks over indirect heat. But what of busy weeknights? It’s never easy to get dinner on the table; life is busy with work, school, sports, piano lessons, dance, homework, volunteering, community meetings, errands and all the other things of modern life. Did we factor in traffic??
Even in the summer when, supposedly, the ‘livin is easy,’ we find ourselves with many tasks and activities. Be that as it may, it doesn’t necessarily follow that grilling is out of the question during the week. Your grill doesn’t have to be quiet from Monday to Friday.
The intense heat levels of your grill make it a practical option for quickly cooking steaks, chops, fish, vegetables and more. So if you’re interested in reducing some of the hassles of weeknight dinners, then this article is for you. We will give you 15 tips and some recipes that will get you well on your way to getting dinner on the table in about 30 minutes.
TIP # 1 – USE GAS
This can be optional, and some might want to use their charcoal grill, but remember for this article, we are stressing speed and ease. Your charcoal grill might be something you use on a more laid back weekend. Gas grills heat quickly and more easily and offer instant temperature adjustments.
A gas grill does need to preheat, so keep that in mind in terms of your time schedule. When you start to cook, you want your food to sizzle not stick. So we recommend that as soon as you walk in your door, go to your grill or outdoor kitchen and turn the knobs to high.
All burners to max, lid closed for 10 minutes. Then you can drop the heat to what you need when you start grilling. Make sure you set up different heat zones. You can have one or two burners on high and one or two on low or off.
It is very important to have a safe zone for food that might unexpectedly cook more quickly than anticipated. Use the small, top rack as a cooling zone; that will allow you to do some longer cooking while getting the main entree done. It can also serve as a warming tray for your meat or fish while finishing a side dish.
TIP # 2 – THINK THIN
During the week, we are trying to do everything quickly, so this is the time to use thin cuts of meat that only need a few minutes on the grill. Think skinless, boneless chicken thighs, skirt steak, thin-cut pork chops, pounded lamb chops, veal steaks and, of course, sausage.
TIP # 3 – MARINATING WISDOM
You need to pay attention here. A small investment in the morning (or even the night before) will pay big dividends in the evening. Make sure you marinate before you leave for work. Use freezer, resealable bags, place your food and marinade inside, and put in a bowl in your fridge.
Here is a quick and simple guide to marinades. You need an oil (olive, canola, grapeseed etc.), an acid (vinegar, lemon juice, wine etc) and herbs and spices. Experiment to suit your taste. A smashed garlic clove never hurts.
We have found this quick and easy marinade to work well with chicken, pork, beef, veggies and even fish: https://southernbite.com/quick-easy-purpose-marinade/
You can prepare your marinades in advance on the weekend so you have a supply for the week. If you want to really save time, a classic Italian, store-bought salad dressing always works in a pinch.
TIP # 4 – I FORGOT!!
You didn’t marinate??? Remain calm! After lighting your grill, check your pantry. Use a rub. If you don’t have a pre-mixed one in your pantry, any of these in any combination will do: black pepper, sea salt, chili powder, cumen, paprika, dried herbs, cinnamon. Next time you’re out shopping, make sure to check out the spice section and have a pre-mixed rub ready to go for the next time. And remember, sausages are pre-seasoned….they’re always ready to throw on the grill at a moment’s notice.
TIP # 5 – YES, YOU CAN
Of course you can grill your salad! What did I just say?? Yes, you can grill your salad! If you have an outdoor kitchen, this is easy, but if you only have a grill, you may need to go back and forth between your patio and indoor kitchen a bit. Romaine, radicchio, endive, cabbage, scallions, eggplant, zucchini, green beans and tomatoes are all delicious grilled. Not so much spinach, arugula, cucumbers. Best to use well-oiled, larger sized pieces (so as not to fall through the grates) or continue reading….
TIP # 6 – TRY CAST IRON
A cast iron pan or skillet can take a lot of punishment and is very versatile. On a rushed weekday night, if you want to do your vegetables quickly and not be concerned about food slipping through the grates, then think about using a cast iron pan. You can also marinade your vegetables ahead of time, or simply let their own flavor be enhanced by the smoke of the grill. With a little extra time, maybe clams, shallots and beer, but that’s for another day. However, that stir fry leads us to….
TIP # 7 – THINK WOK
A common complaint among stir-fry lovers is that it’s often impossible to generate the high heat to make them properly at home. Those that cook with gas are a little better off, but most kitchen burners simply don’t cut it. But if you use your wok on your grill, you might never use it inside again! (And thankfully never set off your smoke detector again either!)
The reason this works so well is that your grill gets really hot, and super-high heat is essential to a stir fry. Using a wok on a grill not only allows you to cook more quickly, but the food retains the proper texture and a well seasoned wok will add a smokey flavor. If you use your wok often on your grill, it becomes seasoned naturally.
Regular use of your wok with intense high heat imbues it with a flavor known as the ‘breath of the wok,’ which is transferred to the food. That’s why stir-fries are so delicious in quality Chinese restaurants.
NOTE: Be sure not to use a non-stick wok; the high heat of the grill degrades the composition and you risk contaminating your food. Your grill and wok are perfect together for weeknight meals – quick and flavorful.
Here is a superfast, tasty meal (a Five-minute Pepper Steak Stir-Fry) incorporating your grill and wok:
TIP #8 – AN ADDED ATTRACTION
Try a grill basket. A simple concept. A wire basket usually in a large weave mesh. It can take the shape of a bowl or a closed and flip style (like a flat cage, allowing you to grill on both sides). Either one can be purchased for a very reasonable price.
A grill basket allows you to cook vegetables quickly, with just an occasional toss, in about 10 minutes. It allows you more space on your grates, you can cook several different vegetables to blend flavors, and it prevents food from falling through the grates.
The basket also works especially well with fish. Just another way to maximize your grill and bring weeknight dinners quickly to your table with no loss of variety or flavor.
Ready for another quick dinner recipe idea? How does 15 minutes sound? This is a great combo of shrimp, zucchini, tomatoes and feta with outstanding flavor.
TIP # 9 – DON’T ARGUE WITH TONY SOPRANO
Sausages are like high school athletes….before this era of specialization, you played football, basketball and baseball. Period. Well, sausages can play and enhance every meal. They combine the best characteristics of pork cuts (chops, tenderloin, ribs) into one perfect, always well-seasoned, taste package. As an added bonus, they’re inexpensive, so there is no excuse not to use quality brands with quality ingredients and minimal or no additives.
Here is a classic combo of fennel-scented Italian sausage with sweet/tangy peppers and onions. The flavor composition is amazing!
TIP # 10 – WANT SOME SAVORY/SWEET?
There’s no fruit you can’t grill….or at least we don’t think so! Pineapples, bananas, apples, peaches, mangos – just slice or cut in half, grill with melted butter, a touch of brown sugar and spices, and you will be in flavor paradise.
Want a savory 15 minute dessert? Try Grilled Dessert Nachos with Gooey Caramel and Chocolate Heaven
TIP # 11 WHERE DID THE TIME GO?
Time is crucial. Food continues to cook after it comes off the grill so it’s best to remove it just before it’s reached its doneness. Don’t lose track of time. You want to keep checking on your food, especially as you’re nearing the desired temperature or time.
TIP # 12 – INSIDE OR OUT?
Let’s face it – did you ever cook a crispy skinned snapper inside (think fishy, smelly kitchen – an aroma that can linger for days.) Some foods smell delicious while they’re cooking, while others are less desirable. What about blistered green beans and your smoke detectors?
A lot of stresses and messes can disappear when you cook outside. Oil can sizzle, the pan can be screaming hot and fish can smell like fish. An outdoor kitchen or grill area allows you to cook anything and still be able to walk back into a pristine and clear smelling kitchen.
Also, when you grill outside in the summer, your air conditioner doesn’t have to work overtime in order to keep your house cool. Grilling not only enhances the taste of your food, but many grilling techniques are especially friendly to your waistline. Fat drips off meat while grilled, thus it’s healthier and less calories are derived from fat.
Also, if you don’t have an outdoor kitchen, make sure you are organized as to things that are essential to your grilling so that you can have quick weekday dinners. Things like cutting boards, knives, a seasoning stash, olive oil, tongs and spatulas should be at the ready and all in one place for you to grab when you need them.
TIP # 13 – TRY A LITTLE CLEANLINESS (sorry Ottis)
Cut an onion in half and scrub it over your grill when finished cooking and the grill has cooled. It cleans, but also leaves a nice residue that adds flavor to your grill. You can also use aluminum foil to clean your grill. Scrunched up, it makes a great grill brush and you can use your tongs for a handle. Personally we like to use the foil first and then finish with an onion. Make sure you check the drip pan on your gas grill so that you don’t have a build-up that could ignite. Finally, sprinkle some crushed red pepper flakes on the bottom of your grill to keep the pests away.
TIP # 14 – AN OUNCE OF PRECAUTION
Just remember, a regular kitchen pot holder is not a glove or mitten specifically made for grilling. Make sure you get a good glove, your hands will thank you!
TIP # 15 – SOME MORE RECIPE IDEAS
Grilled Scallop Scampi Kebabs with Arugula and Herb Salad – Loads of flavor with the combination of olive oil, garlic and reduced white wine that serves as a basting liquid and a dressing
Grilled Fish Tacos and Taco Sauce – Not your normal battered and fried fish taco. Grilling allows the fish to retain it’s natural flavor
Smoky Portobello Mushroom Cheeseburgers – Smoked Gouda, tangy Peppadew peppers and spicy arugula turn a meatless burger into something even a meat lover might crave
Balsamic Marinated Flank Steak – A flavorful mixture of vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic and basil
Easy Grilled Pork Tenderloin – A prime cut of tenderloin makes for a flavorful meal
So there you have it – our guide to easy, quick, almost hassle-free weeknight dinners. We will leave you with this, not included in our tips but something we will explore in a future article – consider making Sunday a longer grill day to have all the fixings ready for a week of weekday dinners.