Recipe, Tips

smoke-roasted stuffed bell peppers

Whoops! I hadn’t meant to abandon you like that, we just didn’t have internet connectivity on our last two days of the trip. It was like 1999 or something. I got the shakes. So, where did we leave off?

After Day One at the wineries and Days Two and Three at the grill, we spent our last day on a barely too brief to mention swing into San Francisco where we wandered the Ferry Market Building and lunched at the Slanted Door with friends before heading up to Berkeley. We had dinner with a gorgeous group of food bloggers that evening at Oliveto in Oakland, and on recommendation from the lovely Shuna, breakfast at Mama’s Royal the next morning. In between these gullet-gutting excursions, we found some time on Monday to wander about the Berkeley campus where we wallowed in nostalgia for our unscheduled college days and once wrinkle-free foreheads (fine, that was just me) before jetting back to the land of late dinners, humidity and the daily grind.

dinerdinerthe gnomes r comingdiner

But really–let’s cut to the chase already, shall we? After raking through my extensive notes from the weekend’s grilling class, it’s even clearer than before what a Grilling 101 it was, chock full of building blocks. The recipes, though, were anything but introductory and I’ve included one of my favorites at the end.

So, with little further ado, five totally nerdy bits of grilling information I learned this weekend:

1. Do you know why gas grills don’t sear as well as charcoal grills? To get a good sear, you need a raging hot fire and a dry surface. Charcoal burns drier than gas. Gas is about 30 percent moisture, releasing 1/2 to 1 cup water every 10 minutes that the grill is on. This water adds steam to the cooking process.

2. There are five ways only to cook with fire: Right in the fire, right near fire (like toasting a marshmallow), directly over fire, indirectly, with no heat directly underneath, and an oven set-up, where the walls are heated. [See Figure 1, brought to you by a one-hour delayed flight.] Indirect was totally new to me, because I’m obviously not from the South or Southeast, two regions where they would never call throwing burgers and hot dogs on directly over a blazing grill “barbecue.”

five ways to cook with fire

3. But there are six grilling techniques: direct, which is what we are the most used to, and is a lot like broiling; indirect, which is great for denser, bigger foods that take a long time to cook; rotisserie, which is great for even-browning and add smoke, which is a great technique for gass grills, which impart no aroma; barbecuing, usually with a pit smoker and an off-set firebox, whereby food cooks for a long time over a very low, highly-flavored heat; and cooking in the coals, in which you ditch the grill grate and do just what it sounds like.

4. When considering grill fuels, it’s good to know the pros and cons of each. Propane grills are the most popular in the U.S., but they have the aforementioned water content issues. Gas grills are also common, connected directly to the gas line of the house. (My parents, EMTs and my father the volunteer fireman would probably like to add that directly connected gas lines can be serious fire hazards.) Charcoal comes in two forms, briquettes and lump charcoal. Of the former, some are made with cheap scrap wood and all sorts of other fillers, not to mention borax as a binder. Lump charcoal is their preference, it has no additives and it burns much hotter. Wood produces some of the most incredible flavors, tastes that vary from wood to wood, however fresh wood is 50% water, is harder to light and doesn’t burn easily. Seasoned wood actually burns hotter than lump charcoal.

5. Get this: Higher heat doesn’t make something cook faster. Why? Because conduction, one of the three types of heat transfers that occurs in grilling, isn’t very effective, and little can be done to speed up the process, as food is isn’t much of a conductor. Raising the temperature just traps more heat, and makes the edges browner. However, convection, or circulated heat that works even better with a lid, creating an oven-like state, is more effective, as is radiation, which is heat that comes off the fire but never directly touches the food, such as the warmth that emanates from the sun. This is the part of class that sounded the most like science lab because they started talking about the electromagnetic spectrum, thus I did what I always did then–zoned out and doodled. Look! I drew our teachers as grills! [See Figure 2.]

our teachers, as grills

Finally, and no, I am not just telling you this because my weekend was like, a sponsored promotion of this book, if you have any interest at all in cooking outside, you have got to buy Mastering the Grill. It is absolutely loaded (like, 400 pages stuffed) with mind-blowing amounts of building blocks and helpful tidbits, like those above, but ten thousand more.

Usually when we read about grilling, it’s about barbecuing, or the culture around Southern and Southeastern grilling. But this is about the technique, science and approaches to cooking with fire, which means that it is endless useful, whether you put peaches, foccacia, brisket or corn on the grill. The book isn’t about regional sauces or techniques, but how to wield fire to your cooking advantage.

Also? In case the “Terrance and Phillip” doodles don’t give it away, the authors are pretty cute.

scooped-out pepper halvespepper stuffingfilling the pepperssmoke-roasting the stuffed peppers

One year ago: Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake

Smoke-Roasted Bell Peppers Stuffed With Garden Vegetables
Mastering the Grill by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim

Yes, I know: Where’s the beef? Well, after a weekend of burgers, chicken, sausage and ribs I’m still in the land of Meatover and even the thought of it makes me groan a little. This, however, is something I can’t wait to make again, a lighter, crunchier and healthier variety of stuffed pepper and pretty as a picture.

Makes 8 small servings

2 medium red bell peppers
3 medium mixed bell peppers (orange, yellow, green)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (from 3 to 4 ears of corn; for extra flavor, once you’ve cut the kernels off, use the dull side of your knife blade to scrape the remaining corn and juices, or “milk” from the cob)
1 medium tomato, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (such as parley, oregano, basil or a mix)
1/4 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
Oil for coating grill grate
2 tablespoons grates Parmesan cheese (optional)

If using a gas grill: Use indirect heat on medium (325° to 350°F), a 2- to 4-burner grill-middle burner(s) off, or a 2-burner grill with 1 side off and a clean, oiled grate.

If using a charcoal grill: Indirect heat, medium ash, split charcoal bed (about 2 dozen coals per side) with a clean, oiled grate on medium setting

1. Heat the grill as directed. Soak 2 cups of apple or oak wood chips or chunks in water for one hour.

2. Seed, core and cut one of the red bell peppers into 1/4-inch dice. Cut the remaining bell peppers in half lengthwise right through the stem, leaving a bit of stem attached to each half. Cut out the cores, seeds, and ribs from the interiors of the peppers, leaving the stem intact. Sprinkle the insides of the peppers with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper.

3. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until almost tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, chopped bell pepper, zucchini and yellow squash. Saute the vegetables until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the corn and tomato and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in herbs, breadcrumbs, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook and stir until the breadcrumbs soak up most of the liquid in the pan. Remove from the heat and spoon the filling equally into the pepper cavities.

4. When the grill is hot, put the soaked wood chips or chunks over the coal on both sides of the grill. If using gas, put the wood chips in a smoker box or in a perforated foil packet directly over one of the heated burners.

5. Brush the grill grate and coat it with oil. Put the stuffed peppers over the unheated part of the grill, cover, and cook until just tender 20 to 30 minutes. If your grill has a temperature gauge, it should stay around 350ºF.

6. Remove the peppers to a large serving platter. Sprinkle with the Parmesan (if using) and serve.

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51 comments on smoke-roasted stuffed bell peppers

  1. Deb – You’re the kind of person whose study group I would have weaseled my way into in college. You know, the kind of person who takes AWESOME notes. The main thing I remember taking away from our discussion of gas grilling was to preheat the grill longer than I was doing. ;-)

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing what you learned, and I’m glad you enjoyed the trip! I’m trying to convince my husband that charcoal is the way to go, so maybe this will help. I was also in the Bay Area this weekend and went to the downstairs cafe at Oliveto. I had the best woodfired pizza there for a late lunch – with pancetta and “italian frying peppers.” They were like pepperoncinis that hadn’t been pickled. Soooo good.

  3. Great notes! Now I feel like we were all in Napa with you. I have two grills, one propane (for speed and convenience), the other charcoal (because sometimes nothing else will do). It’s a luxury to have outdoor space and room for two grills.

  4. Love the drawings, and it sounds like you really learned a lot. I have both gas and charcoal grills, but I confess I mostly use gas. It’s just so easy to wander out to the porch and turn on the gas grill. If I’m cooking a really good steak though, it has to be charcoal.

  5. deb

    Arugula — Still jet-lagged! Grumble.

    Lisa — I was so waiting for someone to bring that up. We bought two that I loved from Sinskey; we also tried at least three that I did not like one bit. At the second winery, I liked 0 of 5–all too heavy and sweet. At Ad Hoc, I tried three California versions of whites we drink all the time at home, all of which were significantly sweeter than their non-Californian varietals. So, no, not really. I mean, there are some really, really excellent wines out there but I stand by my opinion that I have a harder time finding them. And now I will duck while the Napa Wine Brigade starts pelting wee merlot grapes at me.

    Elisa — Ha! I forgot to mention the part you told me to write down, when he said that fattier meat didn’t make steak juicier, it made you juicier because fat causes us to salivate. Andy was so funny, I wanted to take him home with me.

    Alice — That sounds amazing. Alex would have been ALL over that.

    Lydia — Two grills! I think you should share. ;) I really did fear I was going to get booted from the class for having not even one grill (“but access to many!” I’d melodramatically plead as they dragged me out), but alas, people were surprisingly kind.

    Luisa — If you ask nicely, I can draw you as a grill as well. Hee.

    Kalyn — One thing I really liked about the class, and the book, is that there is no judgment. They of course preferred wood and lump charcoal and all sorts of rustic approaches, but they also taught a lot about getting your gas grill to do everything almost equally well. In fact, we worked most of the time on our enormous Viking gas grills, and with smoker chips, our flavor lacked for nothing. But, they also made the charcoal grilling process less intimidating, so someone who had been sure they couldn’t do it could see how easy it was.

  6. Welcome back!! (to the dreary, cold and rainy east coast, d’oh). I like the sound of this recipe – usually veg stuffed peppers are kind of bland and dry, but this looks like a great mix of yummy ingredients…

  7. I am so glad you guys found time in your schedule to have dinner with all of us at Oliveto! It was great to meet you in person (yes, gang, she’s just as sweet, funny, and adorable in person). Please let us know when you’re coming back to explore more of The City. You have to see the Ferry Building on a Saturday morning when the market is in full swing; you won’t believe it.

  8. If gas doesn’t make good char marks, then I wonder what that is all over my stuff on the grill?? Gas makes char…I can vouch. It just takes a little longer, and works better with the lid propped open, or without the lid down to circulate a bit more air.

    Gas is convenient, for sure, and I know it’s not everyone’s fave. That’s why you build a fire pit that has a removable grate (for those steaks that knock you socks off) and it’s also why you build a pizza oven into your barely used chimnea fireplace, complete with unglazed quarry tile. Who needs charcoal?? Let the flames begin!

  9. So glad you had a good time; I wish “we” could send you on some more trips! I’m getting a new grill soon (and a new place) and am excited to try these peppers. I agree with you on the California wine, but you probably would have guessed that I would.

  10. Wow — thanks for sharing your newfound grill expertise! It was a delight to meet you over a scrumptious dinner at Oliveto. Hard to believe we had never been there, but then again we are provincial San Franciscans who rarely cross the bay.

    Glad you enjoyed your trip. Perhaps next time we can take you over to the Sonoma side, and see if you like the wines over there any better. It really is a whole different ballgame just one county over.

  11. deb

    Kate — You can absolutely get good char marks from gas. The authors/instructor were just saying that its even better from a drier heat. They were great, however, at offering adapted techniques to make gas work as well as anything else.

    Mary — You have been generous enough with this one. It was great. I didn’t guess about the California wine. I really hate to even talk about it, because the last time I did, I got a lot of comments telling me I just hadn’t tried this one or that one or what did I know, on and on. The fact is, the wine is generally to heavy and sweet for my palette and when I’m in a wine store, I have better luck choosing French or Italian wine at random. Still, I can’t wait to crack open the Sinskey one this weekend.

    Radish — Yes, we did. I loved their summer rolls and had a saute of green and yellow squash with pine nuts. Still with the meatover, I was only craving light food, but it was delish. My friend told me that she’d liked the place better before it moved into the Ferry Market building but I of course did not know the difference.

    Jim — The people in the 5-day class got a Grilling Master branding iron as a gift! I was so jealous. I totally want to brand my steaks: sk! I can see it now.

    Jocelyn — We’re not around on Saturday at all, unfortch. But we will be at the going-away BBQ on Sunday. I’ll see if I have any cooking energy left by then!

  12. Very interesting about the wines…it really depends on your palate. I remembered during a French wine class at the CIA, the instructor obviously did not like Napa wines because they were too sweet and heavy. Well, try as I might I did not like the French wines because they were too light and gave me and the hubby a sour stomach afterwards. We finally learned that French wine was always meant to be had with food, Napa wines can stand on their own.

  13. Sue

    Welcome back! Glad you enjoyed the trip, Northern Cali is amazingly beautiful, but it’s a fun state, top to bottom. And the food…yum.
    Grilling: Williams Sonoma also makes a book on grilling that is fairly comprehensive, covers all the fun stuff you picked up , etc…

  14. I am ashamed to admit that our grill has been used only 3 times this summer. It’s a charcoal grill, and I just never think ahead enough to get it pre-heated. The last time I grilled, the grill somehow went out, all of a sudden, and I can’t figure out what went wrong. The coals were hot, I put the lid on and opened the vents for circulation, and then all of a sudden it went cold. Had to finish the salmon in the oven.

    On the upside, forget the meat, I think some of the best things to do on the grill are vegetables. One of our favorites is grilled hearts of palm, and also whole Japanese eggplants, grilled until black on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside.

  15. Heather

    Deb, this has nothing to do with Napa (although it sounds like it was FABULOUS) but I have a recipe request. Will you show us your favorite Oatmeal Cookies recipe? I searched your recipes and didnt see one… (here’s hoping you dont hate oatmeal cookies or anything — the travesty!)

  16. Adam

    Dear Smitten- That book changed my life. I’m so glad to see that the book’s getting the recognition it deserves. I now consult it three times a week and impress my friends with elaborate scientific treatises on heating meat. It is the cookbook I have always been looking for and I am so jealous that you got to meet them.

  17. Babelfish

    Finally I cooked something before you did! Checked that book out of the library a couple of weekends ago, and made the stuffed peppers from some friends who were coming into town after touristing in Napa. Just as tasty as they are beautiful.

    I like how you left the stems on, though. I cut mine off before grilling, and it wasn’t quite as pretty.

  18. Can you share some of the gas grill/smoker chip stuff you learned about? If it’s allowed, of course. I’ve got a gas grill and would love to do more with it.

    Also, if you’re in the market for a grill, I would suggest a Big Green Egg grill. It uses natural lump charcoal and the food is awesome. I have no affiliation with them other than eating off the one owned by a good friend. They ain’t cheap, but they are amazing.

  19. deb

    I’m totally fascinated by the Big Green Eggs, they were telling us all about them. If I remember correctly, and I might not, they’re ceramic grills modeled after a Japanese version and they act a bit like an oven, as well, because the walls heat up. Something like a tandoori as well. I totally want one. And not just because I love green.

  20. It was wonderful meeting you, Deb, and talking blogs and babies over cured meats. Glad you enjoyed your trip! I love the informative recap of your grilling class, by the way.

  21. i love this idea.
    i’m going this instant to cut the corn and riff on this bewcause i’m NOT going shopping today… but i am very close to having it all. perfect! i needed this one!

  22. I’m not positive, but I don’t believe propane actually contains moisture, water is a product of combustion (C3H8 = 5O2 –> 3CO2 + 4H2O). So, the result is what you say, but not because it contains moisture. I’ll have to study it a bit more.

    Those Terrance and Philip renditions are hilarious.

    1. Maureen

      Dave, this is years later, but the chemistry teacher in me couldn’t help myself. You are correct. In combustion reactions, a hydrocarbon (propane is this case) is burned in the presence of oxygen. The products are always carbon dioxide and water vapor.

  23. So far I’ve had more luck with indirect heat then direct heat, but I’m still a grill queen in training, so thank you for sharing your new-found grill knowledge! Hopefully this will spare me the bbq domestics that DBF and I undoubtedly have during the preparation of grilled foods,lol. Those peppers look lip-smacking good, thank you so much for this recipe!

  24. Deb, I made this last night and it is incredible! I baked it in the oven (which I am sure did not do it justice) and it came out great! I added cilantro to it and got rave reviews here! I love your photos. Mine don’t do it justice. Thanks for the great recipe!

  25. I just cooked these 10 mins ago. They are so pretty! Thanks for the idea, I don’t think my photos do them justice either. I am so proud of my little peppers! Thanks again!

  26. These are soo good. Soo good I made them twice this week. I made a few changes (like cooking them in the oven and using rice instead of bread crumbs). More details on my blog.

  27. Sarah L.

    Just an FYI – “2 medium fresh or frozen corn kernels”

    Do you mean ears, or [unit of measurement] of kernels?
    Haha, but the thought of dividing two kernels amongst this recipe is an amusing one. It could be like Mardi Gras – who ever gets a kernel in their pepper is king for the day!

    All jokes aside, this sounds delicious, and like something my mother would really enjoy. I’ll have to remember this next time I’m making dinner for her.

  28. Margie

    Love your cookbook. The Kale Salad is delicious and so is the Granola. I tried the Mustard Milanes on page 169 but used pheasant (we’re wild game hunters). It was very good but I didn’t make the salad that goes on top. It needed a dipping sauce when served alone. Would you have a recipe for a dipping sauce that would go well with this dish? Also wondering if you have a stuffed pepper recipe that has meat for the stuffing maybe in combination with the vegetables.

    Noticed your post about stove top oatmeal. I do steel cut oatmeal in my small crock pot on low over night. I usually have left overs as my recipe calls for 1 cup steel cut oatmeal, 4 cups water and 1/2 c milk. I start it on low just before I go to bed and it’s ready in the morning. I save the left overs and microwave them for 1 1/2 minutes and they taste great.

    I got your cookbook from Amazon but noticed it in Costco on my last visit. Think about coming to Boise, Idaho on your book tour. We have a Williams Sonoma here too. Margie

  29. Kristine

    If you added meat to these which meat would you add? My family is all meat lovers although I tend to be more veggie loving so this would be nice to satisfy all.

  30. Roz

    I know the whole point of these is to smoke/grill, but a person shouldn’t be denied this vegetable wonderfulness just because there is no grill in sight! Do you have stove top grill pan/oven times and temps you might suggest? You mentioned above they could go in the oven, but I need a little more direction! You can just email me if you like.

  31. deb

    Roz — No, I haven’t worked out the cooking times and temps in the oven, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be baked at a moderate heat. There are also ways to rig your stovetop or oven with wood chips, but I’m not that entrepreneurial at home.

  32. Lynne

    Good morning – this is a beautiful vegetarian main for an upcoming BBQ…any make ahead suggestions to avoid cooking while guests arrive?

    1. deb

      Unless you want them at room temperature, I’d advise just making all the parts and assembling them, grilling them closer to when everyone is ready to eat. Hope that helps.

  33. Joanna Banana

    Any ideas on how to freeze a bunch of this and make freezer meals?? Would this even be possible? Thanks in advance!