Hot dogs, hamburgers, BBQ’d chicken—every summer, I look forward to the traditional grilled fare with almost embarrassing anticipation. And while I crave the charred, smoky bite of each of these standbys, it’s honestly the more unique grilling ideas that pique my interest and inspire the best warm-weather gatherings.
When it comes to food-centric parties (which, in reality, is the driving motivation for all the best parties), I often dismiss the details and am more drawn to the opportunity to connect, laugh with, and simply be in the presence of those I love.
And though this is undeniably true, I’m also grateful for the sensory-driven aesthetics that support these simple, but profound human pleasures. There are of-the-moment playlists that immediately transport me to long-ago nights, artful floral arrangements that make me smile at the memory of who was sitting across the table, and beautifully-composed tablescapes that cue me to conversations I’ll never forget. And at the center of this all are dishes that form the well-seasoned palate of my life’s simplest, but most significant moments—those spent in the loving company of friends and family, both old and new.
Featured image by Café Gratitude.
But I’ve romanticized the following unique grilling ideas long enough. If you’re looking for ways to spice up your summer cookouts, below is all the inspiration you’ll ever need. While I’m certainly not saying that you have to give up the classics, (again, I’m a burger girl forever), there’s always room for a few more surprise-and-delight dishes at your table. Without further ado, these are the best unique grilling ideas for every diet, taste preference, and type of gathering, guaranteed.
And I want to know: If you have a few favorite, unique grilling ideas to share, sound off in the comments! A summer of grilling awaits.
8 Unique Grilling Ideas for Creative Summer Cookouts
There’s endless understated pleasure in a pizza thrown on the grill. While I love pizza done all ways (if a slightly sour, crispy crust is involved), grilling my pie is preferable. Why? Pizzas, though in essence are a simple dish, are composed of a few key factors that vary widely in optimal results. I’m after that almost cracker-like crust (deep dish folks, my apologies), a thin layer of bubbling, indulgent cheese, and toppings that get caramelized and crisp all at once. Grilled pizza is an easy-breezy way to ensure these expectations are met.
Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Pizza
Why We Love It: I’m fully in support of any and all pizza topping preferences (well, almost—I can’t get on board with pineapple), but this Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Pizza has just about every other combo beat. It might seem excessive to dedicate a full hour to cooking down and getting your onions perfectly caramelized, but the (mostly hands-off) effort is worth it. The extra time and care you give to your alliums results in a subtly, but undeniably sweet sauce, one that pairs wonderfully, and perhaps surprisingly, well with the crispy bits of prosciutto.
Hero Ingredient: A splash of balsamic vinegar cuts the onions’ sweetness with a slightly acidic bite. After all, life benefits from a little balance.
Get the recipe for Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Pizza.
My undying love of avocado goes far beyond toast. It’s on my bucket list to enjoy the fruit in every form—from thick, panko-breaded baked wedges to the base of my favorite plant-based chocolate mousse, avocado has a knack for doing it all. And when thrown on the grill, avocado becomes all the more deserving of a standing ovation. Slice your avocados in half, take out the pit, and grill cut side down for just a few minutes. Eye-pleasing grill marks and a creamy interior ensue. Serious question: Is there anything better?
Grilled Avocado With Veggie Ceviche from Love & Lemons
Why We Love It: When June and July come around, you can bet I’m making and ordering ceviche every chance I get. I love the fresh and often zesty bite of citrus-cured fish and its inevitably colorful presentation. This vegetarian-friendly take retains all the best parts of the Peruvian dish, supplying spice, a little pungency, and a whole lot of flavor.
Hero Ingredient: The vegetarian secret that perfectly mimics fish’s traditional tender bite? Hearts of palm—don’t knock ’em until you try ’em.
Get the recipe for Grilled Avocado With Veggie Ceviche.
As I’ve become more well-versed in the world of all the many diverse and delicious leafy greens, I’ve admittedly neglected the tried-and-true romaine hearts. A big mistake. And though I can’t make up for lost time, I’m doing my best to enjoy their substantial crunch every chance I get. While they’re a great option for topping off tacos and burrito bowls, I’ve found the green a bit boring in salads. Solution? Throw a few wedges on the grill, get them nice and charred, and top with the best caesar dressing I’ve ever tasted.
Grilled Caesar Salad from The Recipe Critic
Why We Love It: Caesar-style salads are some of the most substantial plates of greens in the game. The dressing is creamy and garlicky, giving heft and body to your salad. But by grilling your romaine hearts, you create a whole new dimension of smoky flavor and a creamy-crisp texture play. Pure, summer-dining bliss.
Hero Ingredient: Using anchovy paste in your caesar salad is a classic move, and if you eat meat, it’s a step that shouldn’t be skipped.
Get the recipe for Grilled Caesar Salad.
If you haven’t yet embarked on your sweet potato love affair, there’s no better time than the immediate present. It’s true that little beats a crispy golden fry, but I wouldn’t even throw sweet potatoes in the same category. When held up against their Russet potato counterparts, the true sweetness of sweet potatoes shines through. They’re savory and offer up the taste of a virtuous treat (there’s a reason sweet potato casserole exists), and the tubers define melt-in-your-mouth satisfaction. Throw them on the grill and I can guarantee that you’ll fall hard for their magic.
Smashed Grilled Sweet Potatoes With Chimichurri
Why We Love It: Giving your sweet potatoes a little smashing lets you indulge in the once off-limits rule of not playing with your food. A good time yes, but there’s method to the culinary madness. As you would with smaller red or new potatoes when baking, smashing your potatoes thins them out, increasing their surface area and in turn, upping their chances of forming a crisp exterior.
Hero Ingredient: While I’ve just spent two lengthy paragraphs reflecting on the beauty that is sweet potatoes, in this recipe, the chimichurri wins out. Drizzling your sauce over top the potatoes lends a little herby kick that livens things up with ease.
Get the recipe for Smashed Grilled Sweet Potatoes With Chimichurri.
Of all the recipes in this round-up of unique grilling ideas, I’d say peaches are likely the most familiar. As a kid, I remember first being introduced to the concept through Ina Garten’s recipe for grilled peaches with cream and crushed amaretti cookies. And while this truth doesn’t need confirming, I’ll say it nonetheless: The Barefoot Contessa knew what she was doing.
When you get your hands on the perfect peaches that are still firm but juicy, you’re in for grilling gold. Charring them encourages the fruit to release its juices, allowing the oh-so-satisfying peachy taste to shine through. While they serve as a light, delicious dessert, grilled peaches are an ideal accompaniment in savory dishes. Case in point, this standout recipe below.
Grilled Peach and Asparagus Salad With Spicy Pepitas, Cashew Mozzarella, and Goji Chipotle Dressing
Why We Love It: This salad is a study in layered texture. The peaches supply a fruity note that pairs well with the creamy plant-based mozzarella. And of course, lightly-spiced pepitas give your fruit and veggie-driven dish a glowed-up crunch. Because salad is a fixture on my table all throughout the year, I’m adamant about changing up my basic template and keeping a few seasonal takes in my culinary arsenal. Meet my summer go-to.
Hero Ingredient: While I love repeating “goji chipotle” ten times fast in my head, I’m truly obsessed with pouring this dressing on any and every dish. When I prepare this salad, I make sure to double the dressing and store it in a Mason jar for liberal drizzling all throughout the week.
Growing up in New England, meals that involved fresh artichokes were (unfortunately) few and far between. I remember my sisters and I begging for steamed artichokes for our birthdays—yes, we were those kids—because the luxury of a bittersweet artichoke was just that tempting. Having spent my early adult life where artichokes are grown and distributed more widely, I’ve made the executive decision to enjoy them whenever the opportunity arises.
And while steamed is good, grilled artichokes are all the better. As with many of the unique grilling ideas on this list, they benefit from a cooking method that tends to both their inner and exterior goodness. The outer leaves get a little char while the hearts stay wonderfully creamy. I’m always up for a little food-fueled alchemy.
Grilled Artichokes With Lemon Garlic Aioli
Why We Love It: This recipe was inspired by the words of Alice Waters: “When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is.” For these artichokes, minimal effort is required to create the most flavor-forward meal. Give them a quick boil in a salted, lemon-infused bath and toss them in a little olive oil, garlic, and parsley before throwing them on the grill. There’s nothing more easy or elegant than this.
Hero Ingredient: I’ve always thought of aioli as an elevated mayonnaise that boasts a greater depth of flavor. This recipe takes my dream condiment a step further by incorporating a fresh, lemon-and-garlic bite that, for a second, convinced me I was enjoying these artichokes somewhere off in the Italian countryside. One can (wistfully, deliciously) dream.
Get the recipe for Grilled Artichoke With Lemon Garlic Aioli.
You might be thinking, But flatbread is just pizza minus the cheese and dough! Trust me: When thrown on the grill, you get something altogether different. While I love letting the grill work its magic for countless reasons, not having to rely on my oven (or turn it on in the sweltering summer heat) is up there close to #1. Grilling flatbread lets you indulge in everyone’s favorite project-based food: bread—and you don’t have to heat up the house in the process. As Audra, the creator of this flatbread recipe writes, “This bread is the answer to all my problems.”
Easy Grilled Flatbread from The Baker Chick
Why We Love It: This recipe couldn’t be easier. Simply mix together and knead a basic bread dough and set aside to rise for 30 minutes to an hour while you heat up the grill. From there, it’s a matter of layering in a little flavor with olive oil, parsley, and salt (the flakier, the better), flipping it on the grill until your char marks are perfected, and serving up to hungry, excited guests. Low-effort, oh-my-gosh-you-made-that? reward.
Hero Ingredient: You might think that this flatbread relies on something other than yeast as a leavening agent, given how quickly the rise time goes by. However, instant yeast not only gives you a pillowy-soft dough (and, in turn, a nice chew in the finished product), but it also creates a slightly fermented flavor, almost like sourdough. Otherwise known as delicious.
Get the recipe for Easy Grilled Flatbread.
Oysters are perhaps one of the most polarizing foods in the game. While I love them and plenty of folks shoot them liberally as purported aphrodisiacs, there are just as many others who can’t deal with their slippery texture. If you fall in the latter camp, I cannot emphasize this enough: please give them another chance—grilled. While raw oysters are my preferred medium of consumption (this gives you oysters at their arguably juiciest, plumpest best), grilling offers the molluscs a smoky flavor that completely transforms the oyster-eating experience.
Grilled Oysters from Rasa Malaysia
Why We Love It: This recipe takes all that is good about grilled oysters and hones the process in. Pairing your oysters with the combo of parsley, garlic, and paprika gives them a little added flavor while managing to also retain their briny signature bite. Be sure to keep an eye out for larger oysters—the bigger size gives your oysters the greatest chance of retaining their juices.
Hero Ingredient: Two tablespoons of salted butter divided among your oysters confirm it: this is decadence.
Get the recipe for Grilled Oysters.