Grilled food preparations are heating up at foodservice, with grilled preparations on US menus growing 4% from Q2 2015-Q2 2018, according to Mintel Menu Insights. This is due in part to the perceived healthfulness of grilling, especially as compared to preparations such as frying and sautéing. 

Grilled preparations can also create complex and sophisticated smoky and charred flavor profiles with fewer additional ingredients—something the majority of consumers are interested in. In fact, 56% of US diners are interested in smoky flavors in particular, according to Mintel research on flavor innovation on US menus.

The resurgence of this age-old cooking method also aligns with consumer desire for learning more about the way food is prepared, with nine in 10 diners agreeing that restaurants should be more transparent about their ingredients and preparation methods.

With grilling on the rise on menus across the country, specific types of grilled preparations are growing as well. Some foodservice operators are focusing on the details by describing the flavors or ingredients used in the grilling technique, such as herb-grilled, while other preparations include a nod to international cuisines, as is the case with a la plancha grilled.


Grilled makes a mark beyond protein

Grilling can add “meaty flavors” to ingredients and dishes, with pizza being one dish restaurants are adding to the grill. Not only does grilling add a char and grill marks to pizza crust, it can also aid in creating a crispy-yet-chewy crust. Other types of breads, such as focaccia, sourdough and cornbread, can be baked and grilled, adding a boost of flavor to what is a common accompaniment for cheese plates, as well as spreads and sauces, which are also growing on menus.

Desserts are another area of innovation benefiting from grilled preparations. While still niche, desserts can be baked on top of a grill, often in cast iron, to infuse smoky flavors and help retain moisture in cakes and other baked goods.


Dining rooms centered around an open flame

Washington, DC-based restaurant, Maydan, features a large dining room with a copper-domed grill at its center. All hot items on its menu are cooked on the open grill, including vegetables, kebabs and seafood dishes. The large grill also acts as a central focus of the dining room, which was designed to make diners feel a sense of togetherness.

Chicago’s recently opened casual dining restaurant etta (meaning “keeper of the hearth”) offers “seasonally driven dishes cooked over a wood-fired hearth.” Dishes include wood-fired baked focaccia and pizza, including the “fire pie,” which has guanciale, giardiniera, Italian pepper and chile de arbol. Also on the menu is a fire-roasted whole branzino that is simply prepared with capers, parsley and lemon.

Originally appeared in the January, 2019 issue of Prepared Foods as Bring the Heat.