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Behind the Recipes

Why and How to Grill Stone Fruit

The right technique coaxes smoky sweetness from ripe peaches, plums, or nectarines.

Published June 1, 2020.

Goals and Discoveries

Prevent sticking and promote browning

Melted butter, which congeals on stone fruit in a substantial layer, prevents sticking and promotes handsome grill marks. It also gives the fruit a pleasant buttery taste.

Custardy-soft, moist fruit

To keep the fruit juicy while it softens, we transfer it to a baking pan, cover it to retain heat and moisture, and move it to the cooler side of the grill.

would never argue that there’s a better way to enjoy a juicy, fragrant peach, plum, or nectarine than to devour it raw. But one of the great things about the abundance of fruit at this time of year is that you don’t need to limit yourself to just one way of eating it. So consider grilling: It might just be the next best use for peak-season stone fruit. Heating fruit draws out juices, takes aromas to new heights, and intensifies sweetness through caramelization—all of which pair perfectly with the hint of smoke the grill leaves behind. Grilling fruit is also a nice way to take advantage of the heat of your grill before or after you cook the main course.

Before I continue with the mechanics of the recipe, an aside about ripeness: There is no point in grilling rock-hard fruit since it will likely scorch before it softens. A ripe stone fruit will be fragrant and yield when pressed gently with your fingertip. But the best way to know if fruit is ready is to eat a piece, which is why you always ought to buy a few more than you need for a recipe.

Grilled peaches—half of them brushed with melted butter, the other half brushed with vegetable oil—are transferred to a rimmed baking sheet for evaluation.

Back to the grilling process. It’s not as simple as throwing a few halved, pitted peaches, plums, or nectarines onto a hot grill. There are two main issues to address. One, their juicy cut faces need a coating of some kind to prevent sticking and promote browning. Two, the fruit tends to char or dry out on the outside before the flesh fully softens.

Most recipes I found used either sugar or fat to encourage browning on the cut side. In my tests, granulated or brown sugar or maple syrup did little to improve browning and nothing to prevent sticking. Nor did they add much flavor or sweetness: Only so much sugar would adhere, and what did stick tended to melt off fairly quickly on the hot grill. Besides, ripe fruit already has all the sugar it needs, whether for flavor or browning, and any additional ingredients are better applied postgrilling so that they stay in place. Fat was a better choice: It kept the fruit from sticking and helped increase browning where the fruit touched the cooking grate. The next decision was whether to use oil or butter. Very little oil clung to the wet flesh, but melted butter congealed and adhered nicely, allowing a thick layer to be applied. As a bonus, the small amount of protein in the butter encouraged flavorful Maillard browning.

Achieving Perfectly Grilled Stone Fruit

1. Brush cut side of halved, pitted fruit with melted butter.

2. Grill cut side down over direct heat until grill marks form.

3. Transfer cut side up to pan, cover, and cook over indirect heat until tender.

Over high heat—whether on charcoal or gas—grill marks formed in about 5 minutes. But that was only half the battle, because at that point the fruit remained a little too firm within. I wanted the flesh to be soft enough that a paring knife would easily pierce it, an indication that it had achieved a custardy softness. Some recipes call for flipping the halves to continue cooking, but that only burned the bit of skin that touched the grate before the fruit fully softened. Sliding the halves to the cooler side of the grill worked better, especially when I kept the lid down. But it took a long time—up to 20 minutes—for the flesh to turn truly tender, and by then the fruit was often a bit dry and shriveled on the outside.

That’s when it occurred to me that I might try moving the fruit to an enclosed vessel to retain both heat and moisture—in other words, grill first and steam second. So after about 5 minutes on the grill, I transferred the halves cut side up to a metal baking pan, covered the pan with foil, and placed it on the cooler side of the grill to continue cooking. After 15 minutes or so, the halves were tender, juicy, and still plump. Once they’d cooled slightly, their skins were easy to slip off if desired.

While the fruit tasted great on its own, I also had plenty of ideas for how to use it in simple recipes. I started with the peaches, which I cut into cubes and used as the centerpiece of a salad with juicy ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, creamy burrata, and lots of peppery extra-virgin olive oil. I used the nectarines for a dessert, creating a sort of deconstructed crisp with a quick and crunchy almond-flecked stovetop topping and scoops of vanilla ice cream. Finally, for the plums, I put together a quick and tangy plum‑ginger chutney that was lovely paired with grilled pork or lamb.

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