Nothing says summer quite like the smell and sound of food sizzling on the grill. In previous blogs, tips for grilling meat and sides—fruits and vegetables—were shared. Did you know that you can use your grill as an oven for baking, too?
Anything you can bake in a kitchen oven – casseroles, pies, cookies, brownies, pizza, coffee cake, bread – can be baked on a gas or charcoal grill all summer long without heating up the kitchen. While you don’t need to adjust the recipes, you do need to figure out how to turn direct heat into indirect heat. Every grill is different, so you’ll need to figure out what will work best with what you’ve got. It’s also a good idea to start with something simple (I started with brownies and pizza) and work up to more complicated baked goods. It may take some time to get it just right, so be patient and write down what you learn along the way. Here are some tips to get you started.
Start with a clean grill. You don’t want your baked goods to taste like last night’s onions or brats or whatever was grilled last.
Preheat the grill. Weber  has some great tips for preheating and baking with both gas and charcoal grills. I have a gas grill and have found that preheating to 25⁰ F higher than the desired temperature is helpful. Heat is lost when placing the unbaked items inside and is not regained as quickly as in an oven. Every grill is different, so getting the temperature right may take some experimenting. If your grill doesn’t have a built-in thermometer as mine does, invest in one as knowing the temperature inside the grill is important.
Use indirect heat. To create indirect heat, turning off some burners on a gas grill will be necessary to create indirect heat. My grill has three burners so I turn 1 and 3 to medium and turn off 2 allowing me to bake in the middle of the grill. Sometimes, I find the need to turn off both 1 and 2 and use only 3 for heat giving me more space on the grill for baking. For charcoal grills, move the charcoal to one side of the grill and bake on the side away from the heat.
Choose baking dishes that withstand intense heat. A pizza stone or a cast iron skillet are perfect options. I bake cookies, pizza, and bread on my pizza stone and casseroles, cakes, brownies, cobblers, and crisps in my cast iron skillet! Avoid using glassware even if it is Pyrex® as it is prone to breaking despite using indirect grill heat. Grill mats are another options for some baked goods.
Choose recipes that are forgiving. Since grill baking is less precise than oven baking, choose recipes that will withstand the fluctuating temperatures on a grill. Cakes are the most finicky. I’ve had the best luck with pizza, brownies, fruit crisps, and casserole dishes. Flatter, artesian-type breads usually do well for me, too.
Keep an eye on the temperature while baking. Grill temperature fluctuates more than the oven so sometimes adjustment of temperature is necessary. I’ve found this to be particularly true when there is wind. Check the temperature frequently while baking and adjust as necessary.
Avoid the temptation to lift the lid. Lifting the lids releases a lot of heat. Use your nose as much as possible and if you must lift the lid, make it quick. It takes a little practice to know that distinct perfect—DONE—smell. (We all know the one of food baked too long.)
Grill baking time may be different than oven baking time. I find that baking goes faster in the grill than in my oven and that the same recipe can vary in time depending upon grill conditions. While the traditional toothpick inserted into the middle technique works well to determine doneness, it is helpful to insert a temperature probe into the center of the unbaked product to determine when some baked items are done. For example, cake is done when the probe reaches 210⁰ F.
Baking in a grill takes experimentation and patience. Grilled baked goods may not turn out the same as baked in an oven. There may be signs of hot spots or browned more than usual on the bottom. As long as they are not over-baked (burned), they will still be tasty. By using your grill, you’ve kept the kitchen cool. And as a bonus, in the event of a power outage, you will have learned a means of baking without an oven. Check out Get Fired UP! Tips for Grilling Meat and Sides—Fruits and Vegetables for additional grilling tips and get into summer grilling in a big way!
This blog was reviewed by Anirudh Naig, Associate Professor in Hospitality Management & State Extension Specialist for Retail Food Safety at Iowa State University.