When the season for belly-flopping contests and chlorine-scented hair rolls around, that can only mean one thing: It’s barbecue season, especially when it comes to cooking veggie burgers, kebabs, and… salad. Yes, you heard that right, salad. Aside from the usual grilling go-tos like hot dogs, corn on the cob, and drumsticks, grilled lettuce might be one of the most underrated and yet-to-be celebrated barbecue items on the menu.
While this technique might be new to some, for Danny Grant, a two-Michelin starred executive chef and partner of Gold Coast steakhouse, Maple & Ash, eating grilled lettuce every summer is the norm. Ready to make it part of your regular summer meal rotation, too? We spoke with Chef Grant to learn exactly how to grill lettuce like a pro, plus he shared his all-time favorite grilled Caesar salad recipe with us so you can try out your technique tonight.
How to make the best grilled lettuce at home
1. Start out with a dense head of lettuce
It all starts when you’re shopping at the farmer’s market or your local grocery store. “The key to making a great grilled salad at home lies in choosing the right head of lettuce,” Grant says. “You have to make sure to grab a dense one—think lots of tight, thick layers of leaves—so it can withstand the intense heat.” A hearty head of romaine is a great lettuce option for grilling, but endive, escarole, radicchio, or green leaf lettuce would be equally delicious.
2. Get your grill blazing hot
“Whether for lettuce or steak, I know everyone wants to nail those amazing grill marks—but you’re never ever going to get them if you are working with anything less than a hades-level blaze,” Grant says. “When going for that steakhouse sear and crust, your fire needs to be absolutely ripping hot.” So make sure to safely set your grill on high if those dark grill marks and delicious seared flavor are what you’re looking to achieve.
How does Grant achieve the ideal blazing-hot fire on his grill, you ask? It all comes down to one must-have tool: a charcoal starter. “This [tool] is as basic as it gets, but I don’t care. I am nothing without my charcoal starter. It’s so important for outdoor grilling because a charcoal starter will give you a much hotter fire. Everything will be both easier and more delicious from there,” Grant says.
3. Only grill a single side
Next, Grant recommends solely charring one side. “This will keep it from turning into wilted mush while still packing serious wood-fired flavor.”
4. Salt before you sear
Whether you’re grilling lettuce or another type of vegetable, Grant says that salting before you cook is a must for maximum flavor and texture. “For instance, I’m also big big fan of grilled summer squash. It has a really nice texture that translates well to salads, sandwiches, and wraps—but I never make it without scoring slices and salting them an hour before I’m ready to cook. This helps to cook them all the way through as it softens up the veg and breaks it down a bit in the best way,” Grant says. (Say goodbye to too-hard-to-chew bell peppers forever.) In the case of lettuce, you can salt right before you sear—no need to do it an hour ahead of time.
Maple & Ash’s fork & knife grilled Caesar salad recipe
Yields 1 serving
1 romaine heart
1/2 ounce extra virgin olive oil (plus more for garnishing)
A few cracks of fresh ground black pepper
2 ounces Caesar dressing (classic homemade or store-bought)
1 ounce parmesan (shredded)
1/4 cup toasted brown butter panko breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp fine herb salad (finely chopped chive tops, watercress, tarragon, and chervil)
Juice of 1/4 lemon
Dash of Maldon salt
1 soft-cooked, 7-minute egg (split in half)
Cooking the lettuce:
1. Heat your grill (preferably wood-fired) as hot as it can go.
2. Cut romaine heart with the root end still attached to make sure the romaine stays on the grill while cooking.
3. Drizzle a good bit of olive oil on the cut part of the romaine and season with salt and cracked black pepper.
4. On your hot grill, put the romaine on the cut side down. You want to get a good char on one side of the lettuce without making the whole lettuce head soggy. Grill for no more than 6 minutes, turning the lettuce 90 degrees after 3 minutes.
5. Transfer the lettuce to a tray to rest for a few minutes before garnishing.
To build the salad:
1. To finish the salad, put the caesar dressing in between the nooks and crannies of the lettuce to make sure each leaf gets a little bit of love.
2. Grate fresh parmesan over the top of the lettuce with a Microplane or cheese grater. Sprinkle on top the toasted panko that has been cooked with browned butter (very simple, just brown some butter and add toasted breadcrumbs). Garnish with fine herbs.
3. Drizzle some quality extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, and fresh cracked black pepper to finish.
4. Serve with a soft-boiled egg that’s been split in half.
What else you should be grilling, according to the chef
So, if you really want to take the grilling game seriously, Grant shares ways to serve grilled foods for every meal of the day—yes, even breakfast. When it comes to grilling first thing in the morning, the chef immediately reaches for the fruit basket. “Throw some pineapple, peaches, or other stone fruit on the grill. Perfect for a well-rounded morning dish when served with greek yogurt, granola, and a little drizzle of honey—essentially a kicked-up take on a parfait,” he says. And when it comes to dessert, Grant also loves grilling fruits for his go-to fire-roasted dessert: fruit glazed with lavender honey served with ricotta cake and a dollop of whipped cream, which he says is the perfect sweet ending to balance out a heavier protein-filled meal. Let’s just say we’re sold.