Lemon livens up just about any dish, and it’s a standard staple in many salad dressings and marinades. But summer offers the opportunity for a new twist on their traditional tartness: Making charred lemon—and other grilled citrus fruits, like limes, oranges and grapefruits—is a great way to embrace the season and bring some zing to any meal.
Citrus fruits are naturally abundant in both sugars and acids, making them simultaneously sweet and tart. But grilling them balances their flavors by caramelizing the sugars and tempering the acids. In other words, grilling a lemon enhances its sweetness while taming its oomph—which makes it even easier to incorporate this multi-tasking fruit into all kinds of dishes. Added bonus: Grilled citrus fruits, with their vibrant colors and dramatic grill lines, really punch up your plate. Read on for a step-by-step guide to making grilled lemon and some tips for how to incorporate it (and other grilled citrus) into your summer meals.
How to Prepare the Grill
Before heating up your grill, clean the surface with a damp cloth. Using a silicone brush, sweep a little bit of olive oil over the grill’s surface or rack to prevent sticking. Then, fire it up and wait until it’s reached its peak temperature—typically between 500 and 700F. (The time it takes to reach that point varies depending on the type of grill; check out our grilling guide for help getting started.)
How to Char Lemons on the Grill
- After washing the fruit, use a sturdy cutting board and a sharp knife to cut it in half widthwise. Trim the ends as well, so the halves sit flat when facing upward. Pluck out any visible seeds.
- Squeeze a splash of simple syrup (equal parts warm water and granulated sugar, mixed until the sugar dissolves) or sprinkle a dusting of sugar onto the cut sides, which will encourage more caramelization while the lemon cooks.
- Place the fruit halves face down on the grill for about five minutes or until the surface is charred.
- Use tongs or a spatula to turn the lemons over, so the peels char slightly and the heat (and accompanying smoky flavor!) works its way into the fruit from the bottom as well. This also helps loosen up the juice, which is handy if you’re planning to squeeze it onto your food.
- Remove the lemons from heat and place them in a glass dish until you’re ready to use or serve them.
Psst: No grill? No problem! You can also make charred lemon or other charred citrus on your stovetop. Follow the same steps as above, but place your citrus face down on a hot grill pan until the surface is caramelized.
How to Enjoy Grilled Lemon and Citrus Fruits
You can serve grilled citrus with pretty much anything—but here are some of our favorite options:
- Squeeze grilled lemons over barbequed or roasted chicken, or grilled or poached fish, for a tangy-but-mellow zing. The charred fruit is also great drizzled over grilled or roasted vegetables, like zucchini and asparagus.
- Love limes? After grilling, slice them into wedges to serve alongside grilled steak tacos.
- Prefer oranges? Thread chicken chunks marinated in lemon, honey and soy sauce onto skewers with pieces of orange and yellow pepper. Grill until the chicken is cooked through and the fruit is charred.
- Use a citrus juicer to add extra flavor to your homemade salad dressings, sauces or marinades.
- Add slices of grilled grapefruit or orange to summery salads made from crisp chopped lettuce or a leafy green, like arugula. Grilled grapefruit also pairs perfectly with sliced avocado.
- Serve grilled grapefruit halves with honey and a dollop of low-fat yogurt for a fresh and healthy breakfast.
Feeling thirsty? Charred lemons and other citrus fruits can also jazz up refreshing summer drinks. Add an infusion of smoky flavor to everything from sparkling lemonade, to cocktails like Italian limoncello, citrusy Palomas and tangy mojitos.
Now that you know how to zest up any dish with grilled oranges, limes and lemons, why not try out some other fresh takes on barbecue classics?