Did you wrap potatoes in aluminum foil and throw them on the fire during a childhood camping trip? Then wait in agony as they cooked? And cooked. And cooked. Were they worth it? Who knows? By the time they were ready, you were too hungry to notice how they tasted.
If you've ever tried to reproduce that smoky campfire flavor by throwing some potatoes on your backyard grill, you've probably had a similar experience -- or, worse, ended up with lumps of coal that were somehow still raw in the middle. But perfect grilled potatoes with soft, buttery insides and crispy, smoky skins aren't just a hungry camper's fantasy. Here's how to grill potatoes the right way.
1. Parcook the Potatoes
If you just throw raw potatoes on the grill, the outsides will turn dry and chalky long before the flesh starts to soften. The solution: Cook your potatoes in advance. Cut your spuds into half-inch planks or rounds, and poach or boil them -- or even cook them sous vide. That way, they'll get nice and creamy inside before you even fire up the grill. Bonus: Cooking in advance makes it a cinch to finish those taters later. Just parboil at home, then head to the beach and crisp them up in minutes on your portable grill.
2. Add a Little Sugar
Doesn't cooking potatoes in water leach out all the flavor? Yes -- if you use water alone. That's why we suggest making a brine instead. Take some water and add 3 percent of its weight in salt, or about as much as you would use if you were boiling pasta. Then add about 1 percent of the water's weight in sugar. Yes, sugar! Don't look so sour; you're not candying those potatoes. Instead, the sugar will keep them from losing their natural sweetness to the cooking water. For extra-flavorful potatoes, finish off your brine with fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme.
3. They Will Be Great Without the Grate
Even perfectly precooked potatoes aren't immune to mishaps once you put them on the grill. Out-of-control flare-ups can scorch your spuds. A stray swipe with the tongs can send them tumbling through the grate to a fiery end. To solve both these problems, first arrange your potato pieces on a cast iron skillet, then place that on the grill. Cover the grill to let the smoke circulate, and cook the potatoes until crispy and caramelized. They'll have all the smoky flavor of potatoes grilled directly on the grate.
4. Serve With a Cool, Creamy Sauce
Nothing complements a hot, charred potato better than a rich, cold sauce. For a killer appetizer at a Mediterranean-style alfresco dinner, pair your potatoes with a bright, garlicky aioli. If you're using the spuds as a side for a crusty rib eye, drizzle a verdant herb oil over the whole plate. At your annual Memorial Day barbecue, delight the kids' table -- and the young at heart -- by doling out grilled "fries" with individual dipping bowls of homemade ranch. Whether you're throwing a party for the whole neighborhood or just serving a family dinner, your perfect grilled potatoes will leave you with a backyard full of happy campers, no campfire required.