Grilling expert and Southern Living contributor Paula Disbrowe shares her method for making dessert on the grill in her new cookbook Food52 Any Night Grilling.
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grilled desserts
Credit: James Ransom

Grilled desserts don't really require a recipe—they just call for a bit of resourcefulness. Like an oven, the heat of a grill can toast and deepen the flavor of day-old bread and baked goods and caramelize natural sugars in fruit. And perhaps best of all, grilled desserts are easy to assemble. So when it comes to dessert, why not make the most of the fire that cooked your dinner to lend a smoky sweetness to whatever you have on hand? Follow this formula as a general guide:

Start with a grilled base

Items like breads (sourdough, whole grain, levain, enriched white breads like brioche or pain de mie), baked items (pound cake, quick breads, buttermilk biscuits, day-old muffins or bar cookies), or fruit can serve as your bottom layer.

Grill the fruit

Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Slice the fruit as desired for presentation, being mindful of its density and how it will hold up on the grill. For instance, juicy plums, peaches, figs, and apricots will soften quickly; I halve them so they hold together and they're easier to remove from the grill. Slice firmer fruits that benefit from a sear on two sides, like pineapple or star fruit, into slices or long spears. In general, lean toward larger pieces—small, bite-size chunks tend to break down.

In a bowl, toss fruit with enough olive oil to lightly coat (or brush the fruit slices to coat if you're worried about them breaking down). Grill until charred in spots (anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes). To limit the amount of crumble between the grates or your luscious peach tasting like the steak you just grilled, use an oiled and preheated grill basket set over direct heat (or even a grill pan) to grill your dessert components.

WATCH: Grilled Peach Cobbler

Add something creamy and sweet

Ice cream, crème fraîche, whipped cream, peanut butter, lime or lemon curd, toasted marshmallows, salted caramel sauce, bittersweet chocolate sauce are good options. Or try a spoonful of something sweet and/or acidic, such as marmalade, sorghum, or a honeyed vinegar.

Finish with a crunchy topping

Sprinkle on granola, cacao nibs, toasted nuts or seeds, crumbled pralines or toffee, crushed cookies (gingersnaps, oatmeal, peanut butter sandwich cookies), or grilled bread crumbs.

Here are a few favorite combinations:

Thin slices of grilled rye + bittersweet chocolate (shaved for quick melting) + flaky salt

Grilled chocolate quick bread + crème fraîche + raspberries

Grilled pound cake (citrus or vanilla) + grilled peaches + ginger or vanilla ice cream

Grilled buttermilk biscuits + sliced strawberries + marshmallow cream + dark chocolate shavings

Grilled figs + coffee ice cream + bourbon

Grilled pineapple slices (brushed with rum and vanilla bean paste) + passion fruit sorbet

Grilled mango halves (grill cut-side down, then slice into strips or cubes) + grilled lime juice + coconut gelato

Grilled bananas + chocolate ice cream + crème de cacao + whiskey

Find more fun and fresh grilling inspiration in Food52 Any Night Grilling: 60 Ways to Fire Up Dinner (and More).