When choosing a grill, one question shoppers often ask is, "What would we do with the side burner?" The answer is, simply, almost anything! An easy way to get those imaginative, culinary juices flowing is to remember that anything you can cook on your kitchen stove burners can be cooked outdoors, on your grill's side burner. Side burners mean side dishes, and the uses vary from cooking corn on the cob, to sautéing onions and peppers while grilling Italian sausages, to heating sauerkraut while grilling hot dogs, to warming baked beans while grilling hamburgers.
Here are some other creative ways to use your side burner:
- Make sauces. One of my favorites is to sauté chopped onions, minced garlic, a little salt and pepper, and a few teaspoonsof crushed red pepper flakes. Add about a half cup of white wine, a cup of chicken stock, and let reduce while you are grilling your chicken. Brush on the chicken while grilling, and then use as a sauce when serving. (BBQ is another sauce to make on the side burner, as is ginger sauce for tuna.)
- Pan fry on your grill's side burner to keep the smell and the smoke out of your house. Along the same lines, use a heated cast iron skillet to cook blackened fish. Coat the fish with melted butter, your favorite blackening seasonings, and place in the skillet for a few minutes on each side (depending on the thickness of your fish). This creates a dark, caramelized crust, but also quite a bit of smoke, making this a great idea for the OUTSIDE side burner.
- Make surf-and turf! Cook lobster tails (or shrimp or scallops) on the side burner while preparing the steaks on the grill.
- Char peppers or other veggies, as you can put them directly into the flame this way.
- Use the side burner to make a glaze for fruit kabobs! Choose your favorite fruits for the kabobs, and while those are grilling, combine 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and 2 teaspoons vanilla paste in a small saucepan on the side burner. Cook until translucent, and use this sauce to brush on the fruit while grilling and then before serving!
- Oysters! Use the side burner to steam some of your oysters, while you grill the rest. For the steamed ones, pour about a cup of water into a pot, and add a half glass of wine or beer for flavor and aroma. Place a metal steamer tray or colander into the pot and arrange the oysters. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot and allow the oysters to steam for five to ten minutes (five minutes for a medium-cooked oyster, ten minutes for a well-done one). For the grilled oysters, place oysters on the half shell directly onto the grill, sprinkle with your favorite cajun seasoning, a bit of garlic powder, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, grill five to ten minutes...delicious!
- If you're the only morning person in the house, you can enjoy your grilling and your morning coffee at the same time. Fry bacon and sausage on the side burner, and cook biscuits on the grill. Surprise those sleepy-heads with breakfast al fresco!
- Saute onions and peppers in a skillet, while grilling chicken or steak for fajitas. You can even char your tortillas on the grill, allowing the whole meal to be prepared outdoors! To char tortillas, use tongs and hold the edges of the tortilla over the flame of a gas burner and rotate as each edge begins to brown.
These are some simple suggestions to enhance your grilling experience, but there are so many more! Remember, your side burner is there for convenience and logistics, for whatever you happen to be grilling alongside, and you can use it just like you would use the burners on your indoor stove. This summer, don't let your side burner sit there unused. Get those ideas cooking!