By Steven Raichlen Travel the world’s barbecue trail and you’ll make a surprising discovery. Roughly a quarter of the grills on Planet Barbecue lack the one feature most of us North Americans consider indispensible: a grate.
On vast swaths of Planet Barbecue—from Morocco to Greece, from Israel to Azerbaijan, from Russia to India—people grill on a mangal—a rectangular metal box with blazing embers at the bottom, but without a grill grate. Instead, they place the food to be grilled in a wire basket straddling the top of the mangal to be grilled in mid-air.
But even if you have a conventional Western grill with grates, grill baskets can make your life a lot easier. Consider grilling stick-prone foods, such as whole fish (and the attendant risk of leaving half the fillet stuck to the grill grate). The beauty of a grill basket? You turn it, not the food.
Or grilling fragile or delicate foods, like quesadillas or meatballs. Here, too, you turn the basket, not the food, keeping delicate ingredients intact.
Or what about grilling small or thin foods, like shishito or padron peppers, asparagus, or shrimp? It’s a pain to have to manage 30 tiny peppers on the grill. But grill them in meshed grill basket and it’s as easy as stir-frying in a wok.
Here’s a guide to some specialized grill baskets in my Best of Barbecue line. All are designed to make grilling easier and to make you grill like a pro.
Expandable Grill Basket: With its unique flexible mesh weave, this basket can accommodate an incredible variety of foods—from buffa-que wings to whole spatchcocked chicken. Pinion food between its two hinged sides, and effortlessly grill salmon steaks, fish fillets, vegetables, and even cheese sandwiches.
Stainless Mesh Grilling Basket: Grill green beans, shishito peppers, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, mussels, shrimp, and littlenecks—even a stir-fry—using this versatile stainless grill basket. No more sacrifices to the grilling gods (what I call small pieces of food that drop through the grates).
Fish Grilling Basket: I saw an ingenious fish grilling basket similar to this when I was in Spain’s Basque Country, and knew it was the answer to an age-old problem: how to grill fish without it breaking apart or hopelessly sticking to the grill grate. The handle is detachable so you can cook larger, thicker fish (salmon, snapper, or other whole fish) using indirect grilling.
Stainless Quesadilla Basket: If you’ve ever tried to turn a loaded quesadilla, you know there’s a risk you’ll lose some filling to the fire, no matter how big your spatula. Quesadillas—surely the most popular grilled cheese sandwiches on Planet Barbecue—are super-easy to make with this specialized double-sided basket. With a twist of the wrist, you can turn the whole shebang like a pro.
Sausage Basket: I predict artisanal sausages will rock the grill at tailgating parties this year. But they can be tricky to grill, requiring nearly constant attention for even browning. This handy locking basket prevents them from rolling into the fire or on the ground. And you can turn 10 at once. Great for campfires, too.
Meatball Grilling Basket: In the U.S., we tend to associate meatballs with Italy. But meatballs can be found around the world, from Spanish albondigas to Japanese tsukune to Middle Eastern kofta. They can be baked, fried, or braised, but they really come into their own when grilled. The high, dry heat of the grill crisps the crust, adds smoky flavor, and melts out excess fat. But when placed individually on the grill grate, they’re hard to manage. This grilling basket holds a dozen meatballs; with one move, you can turn all of them.