Sep 10, 2023

Alternatives to Using Aluminum Foil on the Grill

It's convenient, but it can be toxic and wasteful. Here are some alternatives.

The other weekend, I was at a friend's house helping to prep dinner on the grill when someone asked a question: How could we steam our sliced-up zucchini on the grill without using aluminum foil?

There is scientific evidence that cooking foods in aluminum foil leaches the metal into food at higher amounts than is safe for our bodies to absorb, based on the World Health Organization's acceptable limits. Foods that are high in acid or have added spices seem to absorb aluminum in even greater amounts. Meats or vegetables that have been marinated with vinegar and spices often end up on the grill in foil packets.

This method is also wasteful. Aluminum foil is a single-use product and, because it's usually coated with grease and food bits by the end, non-recyclable.

Fortunately, I discovered that there are some good alternatives to grilling with aluminum foil that reduce health concerns and waste. Here's what I found—and it won't compromise your grilling techniques, nor the delicious taste of your finished meal.

If you're going to end up squeezing lemon on the fish that you're grilling, cut lemon slices and put them directly on the grill. Then put the fish on top of the lemon slices to keep them from sticking to the grill. The fish will get infused with the lemon flavor, and as an added benefit, the fish won't stick to the grill.

You can buy grill baskets anywhere, even the local grocery store. Many of them are made from coated aluminum. If you want to stay away from aluminum in all forms, look for one that's made from stainless steel. You can find baskets in various shapes that are made for grilling vegetables, fish, burgers and even ones specifically made to hold corn on the cob.

You can put a baking sheet right on the grill, and as long as it has been clad with a nonreactive material such as stainless steel or a nonstick coating, you don't have to worry about aluminum leaching. Parboiled vegetables will grill beautifully on the sheet and none will fall through the grates.

Known as "plank grilling," this is a method that cooks meat, often salmon, on a piece of cedar that's set over indirect heat. Other kinds of wood work, such as hickory, apple, cherry, pecan, and alder; but regardless of type, the plank should be soaked for a long time in water (ideally, 3-4 hours). You may be able to reuse a plank if it's not too charred.

If you have a cast iron frying pan, it's a handy grilling tool. Put it right on the grate and let it heat up before adding any meat or vegetables you wish to sear. It's also a good option for frying, i.e. fish for tacos, as it removes the mess from your kitchen stove.

A stainless steel frying pan with an oven-safe handle can also be put on the grill and used to cook ingredients, the same way as a cast iron pan. This is a better option if your food is acidic and might ruin the seasoning on cast iron. If you have a lid, use it for cooking or steaming any foods that you'd normally steam in foil.

To reduce the likelihood of vegetables falling through the grates, lay a heatproof rack perpendicular to the barbecue grates to create a tighter grid. Put your ingredients on top of that and they'll stay put.

If you want to steam your vegetables—or any other food on the grill—you need something to put on top of them to create steam. Cuisinart has a stainless steel grill dome that's advertised as a way to quickly melt cheese on your burgers, but it can also work as a steamer if it fits all the way over your grill basket. The dome comes in various diameters.

There are other products such as grilling paper or grilling mats made from materials like copper. I'm not familiar with the safety of those products so I haven't included them here.