When we think of fried foods, our mouths water. Whether that’s fried shrimp, french fries, onion rings, or just about any other thing you can dunk in hot oil, we love it. But when we think of actually frying things at home, we pull back a little. It’s messy, it requires all kinds of specialized equipment, and it doesn’t seem like an indoor-friendly activity. There’s a lot that can go wrong, and you need to buy some bulky, monotasking pieces of equipment, right?
Well, wrong -- that is, if you’ve got a grill. With the right bit of know-how, and just a few pieces of equipment that you likely already have, frying food on the grill is a cinch!
Your gas grill is perfect for frying. In fact, we might even say we prefer frying on a grill to using those dinky, portable-ish home fryers. On a grill you’re outside, so who cares if you make a mess? If you have issues with the doneness of your fried product, well -- just throw it on the grill! What’s more, cleanup is about a thousand times easier than it would be with a ‘proper’ fryer.
But, to get to a point where we can safely understand how to fry on a grill, we do have to look at the fundamentals of frying. Bear with us -- we’ll get to the fun part soon.
Strictly speaking, frying is convection cooking. While you generally think of convection cooking as being in an oven, the definition is simply any food surrounded by a flowing substance. That could mean air, or it could mean water, or in this case -- oil! Consider how hot air rises -- it’s the same with oil. Hot oil flows towards the top of the pot and heats the protein in question. The protein then cools off the oil just slightly, causing that oil to fall towards the bottom, and be replaced by hotter oil. The cycle continues on and on until the food is cooked, and the heat source is deactivated. As food heats, moisture escapes, and the food is dehydrated slightly. When frying, that moisture escapes in the form of bubbles rising to the surface of the oil. As well, that dehydrating process is what creates a golden brown, crunchy breading.
Still reading? Great. There’s just a little more ‘Frying 101’ we have to get through.
Generally speaking, chicken and french fries should be done at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lighter, more delicate things like fish or doughnuts can be done at around 325. It’s important to remember, though, as soon as you put something into hot oil, the temperature of that oil is going to drop dramatically. So, be sure to preheat your oil to 25-50 degrees higher than you are actually looking for. You’ll want a digital thermometer to properly measure your oil - bimetal thermometers won’t be accurate enough, and might not stand up to the scalding-hot oil.
There are a few different types of frying, but today we are going to be focused on the granddaddy of them all: deep-frying.
Deep Frying on the Grill
For a good deep fry, you’ll want a neutral oil with a high smoke point. We recommend peanut or soybean oil, as they are both fairly inexpensive and have very high smoking points. As for the pot to put the oil in, we’d recommend a nice, deep, cast-iron dutch oven. It’s going to retain heat, and contain any potential splatters. Make sure not to fill the pot over halfway full, either. Between the oil bubbling up and being displaced by food placed in it, the pot can overflow surprisingly quickly!
Charcoal lovers -- you’ll really need a gas grill for this technique unless you are a true pit master and have zeroed in on the art of charcoal heat control. Temperature control is crucial to safely frying food on the grill, because you’ll want the ability to instantly make adjustments if need be. While it can technically be attempted with a charcoal grill, it’s not particularly safe, and we would be hesitant to recommend it unless you really know what you're doing.
Alright, now that we’ve got our homework done, it’s onto the easy part -- frying!
So, you’ll want to first put the empty frying pot over one burner on your grill, and turn it to high. From there, go ahead and add your oil to about halfway up the volume of the vessel. Again -- remember the oil level will rise, as it will be displaced by whatever you put in the pot.
As the oil heats up, check the temperature often. Make sure to put your thermometer as close to the middle of the pot as possible to get the most accurate reading. Once you’ve reached 375 degrees (or your otherwise desired temperature), CAREFULLY add your food. We recommend frying in small batches -- add too much food at one time, and your oil temperature will drop too low. When your oil is too cold, your food won’t fry properly, instead coming out soggy and undercooked.
The simplest way to know when your food is done is to simply test it. Prepare a few extra pieces, and remove them when they look golden-brown. Cut into the food -- if it looks cooked, you’re good to go. We’d suggest letting it drip-dry over some unoccupied grill grates. If it’s not cooked through, you can either put it back in the fryer, or let it sit over a free, low-heat burner on your grill.
A handy (but not 100% necessary) piece of equipment for the process is a spider strainer. Popular in Chinese cuisine, this handled type of strainer is perfect for removing items from hot oil. Barring that option, long-handled tongs work great!
When you’re all through, cleanup is relatively simple. Let the oil cool, and use a strainer to remove any particles or food bits. Generally speaking, frying oil can be used 2-3 times. So, if you want to reserve the oil for use at a later date, that’s always a good plan. Alternatively, feel free to ditch it! Do NOT pour it down the drain, though! It can (and will) clog your pipes. Instead, pour the oil into sealable, non-breakable containers, and place those containers in your trash bin.
So there you have it! Get out there, and get deep-frying! Be safe, have fun, and eat up!