How to Use Grill Baskets
Grilled veggies can diversify any cookout, but they have a bad reputation for slipping away through the grates and taunting you on the way down (we do our best to fit them into our diet, and this is how they treat us?). Then there are thin slabs of fish, which have also made a habit of falling apart and bolting for the nearest gap in the grates. Rescuing the stragglers might bring you some comfort, at least until you realize you didn’t promise your guests grilled fish nuggets.
But with a grill basket, you’ll never have to worry about small or delicate food items sneaking between the grates, or practicing deep breathing while attempting to flip thin cuts of meat. These metal cooking vessels are designed with small perforations throughout, perfect for containing food while still permitting direct flames and vaporized aromatics to work their magic. The perforations are usually nothing more than holes punched into the grilling basket’s surface, be it non-stick or stainless steel, and the basket itself is almost always made from expanded metal, laser-cut metal, or wire mesh.
Though some grill baskets work better than others and many are made for specific food groups, they’re all used in almost the exact same manner:
Start by preheating your grill.
Load your seasoned food into the grill basket of your choice, then place it directly on the grates.
Stir, flip, or toss veggies every now and then so all sides can caramelize, and flip fish and other food as your recipe recommends.
Should your grill lid be open or closed? That all depends on what type of food you’re cooking.
So, using a grill basket is much like using your grill, except with the added comfort of knowing your fragile fish and vivacious vegetables will stay in line. (Scallions? More like scallywags!) Just try your best to cut the items in your grilling basket to about the same thickness so they cook evenly. Pro tip: If you lightly oil the basket before putting in your food, it’ll make cleanup easier and aid in caramelization. Not-so-pro tip: Wear high-heat gloves when handling any grill basket. These things get hot!
By now, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that there are many, many different types of vegetable grilling baskets. Rather than running through each and every one in painstaking detail, we’ll take a look at the 4 primary barbecue basket types.
Grill Wok Toppers
This category is defined by high side walls, which keep shrimp and smaller veggies like Brussels sprouts inside the basket while grilling or broiling them. You can fit other types of food in these grilling baskets, of course, so there’s no harm in adding one to your grill kit and experimenting. The basket bodies tend to be laser-cut or perforated to allow some direct exposure to flames, with stainless or non-stick steel construction. In addition to their versatility, grill topper baskets are relatively inexpensive, easy to clean, and long-lasting when properly used.
Flexible Wire Grill Baskets
If we were to choose only one type of grill basket to have forever, this would be it. In fact, Chef Tony keeps a few flexible grill baskets on hand wherever he goes. They’re among the versatile grilling accessories out there — while traditional wire-type baskets don’t have much give and don’t move with your food as it grills, flexible grilling baskets conform to whatever shape your food takes on. Why is this important? Food loses moisture and shrinks as it grills, meaning it’s more prone to flop around and miss out on precious sear marks inside a standard wire barbecue basket. Instead, the wire side walls of these baskets flex in and out continuously to keep your food secure without squeezing it to the point of crumbling (because then you’d be right back to square one).
This is the fish grilling basket you want for uneven items like fish steaks, where one side is generally about twice as thick as the other. You can turn your fish as many times as you’d like, and the wire walls will continue to apply pressure to keep your catch cooking just right. These models come with or without handles (some are removable) and can be made from stainless or non-stick steel. Somehow, flex grill baskets land on the less expensive side, even while being quite easy to maintain.
Adjustable Metal Wire Grill Baskets
Adjustable grilling baskets work almost as well as their flexible counterparts. The basic concept is as follows: A perforated lid is hinged to one side of the basket’s body, allowing the other side of the lid to be set to several adjustable heights for food of varying thicknesses. This type of BBQ basket comes in handy for bread items, desserts, and low-moisture fruits and vegetables in need of a short stay on the grill. Available in a few different materials, adjustable grilling baskets can be purchased with a handle, without a handle, or with a removable handle.
Mesh or Perforated Shaker Baskets & Skillets
These vegetable grill baskets are notable for their ability to broil or flash-grill, which is similar to flash-frying, only with dry heat and oil coating the food itself. In particular, Chef Tony recommends shaker grilling baskets with high side walls (about 4–6 inches) and a latching top (you’re going to shake these things, after all). Shrimp, mussels, and mixed or sliced veggies are perfect for baskets of this type, which are also extremely practical when you need to grill and transfer large batches of stuffed peppers or eggplant. As with other kinds of BBQ basket accessories, you’ve got your choice from a handful of materials and can select models with or without handles to fit your grilling style.
Specialized Grilling Baskets
Most BBQ baskets fit nicely into one of the above categories, but a few… Well, let’s just say they’re made for one thing and one thing only. Items like a locking quesadilla basket are designed specifically for those half-moon pouches of goodness, while a meatball grill basket isn’t exactly the best veggie vessel. Though they’re excellent at helping with a specific food, you won’t enjoy the versatility other types of grilling baskets provide. And maybe you’re OK with that — as long as you can keep your food on the grates instead of sliding between them, everyone will be happy.