For when a pan of brownies just won't do.
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grilled dessert board
Credit: Teresa Sabga

Grazing tables were born first. Then Instagram parted the way for snack boards, cheese boards, and, to everyone's surprise, pancake boards. But now that grilling season is finally upon us, we're declaring the next best food trend: grilled dessert boards.

Whether you love or loathe this DIY food display fad, you can't deny how aesthetically-pleasing these loaded platters are. It's basically a blank canvas for your creativity to run wild — and guests love 'em because there's something for everyone.

With extended coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing in effect, large barbecues may not be permitted or advisable, but you can still build a killer grilled dessert board for a small crew at any seaside, backyard, or poolside gathering. The whole crowd will quickly gravitate to sharing, eating, and connecting over this build-it-yourself grilled dessert station.

Like milk and cookies, peanut butter and jelly, and mac and cheese, summer and barbeques are the oldest and hottest couple around. Craft a summer grilled dessert bar, complete with all your favorite mix-ins and fixin's. Here's our basic guide to preparing an impressive board that your friends and family will never forget.

How to Make a Grilled Dessert Board

Start by relaxing. The beauty of assembling a snack board filled with grilled desserts is that it doesn't require much effort — it's just a matter of knowing what you have and what you might need. Best part is you likely already have most of the ingredients that would go on your board stocked up in your pantry, fridge, or freezer. No need to run to the store.

Step 1: Choosing the Right Board

The options are endless here. You can opt for marble, stone, slate, or wood. Maybe it's round, oval, square, rectangular or abstract. You'll just want a surface that's an appropriate size based on the amount of guests you're feeding; that might be larger than your average chopping board. If that's all you have and you've run out of space, push multiple boards together to stretch the spread. You can also keep it simple by using a cookie sheet.

We eat with our eyes first, so color and texture are important. When serving food that's dark, a lighter surface will allow the colors to pop. On the flip side, a dark surface will complement lighter-colored foods.

Step 2: Selecting Vessels & Utensils

Ramekins keep sauces from spilling all over the setup. Raid your cupboards for a variety of small glass, wooden, or metal bowls in all different shapes and sizes. Also, grab a wide selection of knives, spreaders, and spoons for serving. We're living in unusual times, so wooden toothpicks are best for preventing the spread of germs.

As for wiping sticky fingers, patterned paper napkins suit the occasion perfectly. But if you're feeling extra fancy, you can place linens alongside the board — stains are guaranteed.

grilled dessert board
Credit: Teresa Sabga

Step 3: Top It Off

Now, we're ready for action. Begin building your frame from the borders, with the smallest items on the edges and the largest toward the center. This means we're working backwards; toppings come first.

Generally speaking, boards are supposed to be quick to prepare and slow to enjoy. So, you want to choose foods that sit well at room temperature.

  • Crunchies: Every dessert needs a little crunch — that's where popcorn, pretzels, chocolate chips, coconut flakes and potato chips come in handy.
  • Other Munchies: Marshmallows and sprinkles are a given.
  • Nuts: Before placing peanuts, walnuts, or pecans on the board, consider if anyone has allergies.
  • Spreads & Syrups: Peanut butter, custard, and Nutella add a new dimension to each dessert, slowly melting as it absorbs heat from the grilled desserts. Try not to drink the caramel, chocolate syrup, or balsamic vinegar before drizzling over everything.
  • Ice Cream: This one's tricky. Obviously, it'll melt before you bat an eyelid. If you absolutely must add it to the menu, make sure it's the last thing you place on the board. Only serve a scoop and refill when it disappears.
  • Delicate Fruits: Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, figs, and cherries are difficult to grill unless you use wooden skewers, a perforated grill pan or a grill basket (more explained below). But the main reason for creating a board is minimal effort and minimal cleanup, so we'll skip riding the struggle bus and save these for toppings.
  • Herbs: Rosemary, mint, basil, and thyme aren't only for savory dishes.

If you're confused about serving size, think of what you'd dish out for yourself and multiply that by the number of people you're entertaining. Just remember everyone's preferences vary, and children's sizes are much smaller than adults. Still, it's always better to have extra than not enough.

Step 4: Build the Base

The grilled fruit, cakes, and other foods will be hot off the grill. Since they're to be served warm, plan to put them on the board last. Some may seem obvious, while others not so much.

Carbs Everyone Loves

Repurpose your favorite dessert classics by applying a little added heat.

  • Cake: Grilling angel food cake or pound cake toasts the cake in an unexpected but delightfully crispy way. Think of it like French toast.
  • Donuts: Grab a dozen lightly-glazed donuts, spritz with cooking spray, and press firmly onto the grates.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies: Buy a pack of cookie dough, and place the dollops over foil on the grill for 20 minutes. This will melt down and firm up while the fruit char.
  • Brownies: Prepare your favorite brownie batter, but skip the oven. Pour it into a pre-heated cast iron skillet, and bake inside the covered grill for 25 minutes, while it preheats for the other items. You can also just reheat pre-prepared brownies, melting them to ooey gooey perfection again.

Fruits for the Win

When choosing fruits to grill, opt for those that will hold their shape over heat. Our favorite fruit options are:

  • Mango: Cut the faces off while avoiding the pit. Keep the peel intact, and grill flesh side down.
  • Melon: Watermelon, cantaloupes, and honeydews are no stranger to the grill. Meaty wheels are simple to manage, but triangular slices are far prettier and much more appropriate for finger-food purposes. You can sprinkle salt or ground red pepper for an intense burst of flavors.
  • Stone Fruit: Peaches, apricots, plums, and more. Wash and cut in half, removing the pit. This way, the surface might burn before the middle cooks all the way through. If you prefer it softer, divide into quarters. The end result will be less sweet and more tangy.
  • Pineapple: Cut off the top, the heel, and the rind. Slice into rings, and if you're feeling wild, dunk it in rum before hitting the grate. (The core lends irresistible crunch but you can remove it if you prefer.)
  • Banana: Split it in half lengthwise, leaving the skin on. The peel will protect its naturally soft texture while making it easier to handle on the grill. Dip in brown sugar for a wow effect.

How to Cut Fruit for Grilling

When it comes to grilling fruit, it's best to go big or go home. This will help to maintain its structure while cooking. Summer brings a bountiful crop of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and more, but they don't survive the grill unless they're strategically placed on skewers and warmed with indirect heat. If you demand more delicate fruits, stick to the top rack (if you have one). Place the fruit into a basket or foil pouch, or slide them onto skewers. If you use wooden skewers, though, just remember to soak them for 30 minutes to prevent them from burning over the fire.

How to Prepare the Grill

First things first: Make sure your grates are clean. Before you turn on the grill, use a thick-bristled brush to scrub away all remnants from your last barbecue session. (If you don't have a grill, you can also use your oven's broiler or a cast iron grill pan.)

How to Achieve Gorgeous Grill Marks

Picture-perfect criss-crossed stripes were made famous by TV commercials, but that doesn't mean you can't recreate it at home. There are rules, though — you can't just fling fruit on the grill and expect magic to happen. Here are four secrets to nailing it:

  1. Using a brush, apply a fresh coat of neutral oil, like grapeseed or safflower, to your grates and gently paint a bit more onto each side of the items you're cooking.
  2. Preheat the grill on high for 15 minutes with the lid closed. Containing all that heat before grilling will allow your food to sear without overcooking.
  3. Leave it alone! The fruit will release naturally when it's ready to rotate or turn. If it resists, leave it longer. (Sometimes it'll stick no matter what you do. So cross your fingers and toes and be prepared to cry a little. It's not the end of the world, though! It'll taste just as delicious, but it'll definitely lack that Instagram glow.)
  4. Rotate your items once, 45 degrees, using the center of the fruit or dessert as an axis point.

Step 5: Assemble

Here's the real beauty of the grilled dessert board: there are no rules. Let everyone make whatever they want, whether it's pile of fruit with a hefty drizzle of caramel, or one of these more thought-out treats. These are only for inspiration, but they're quite beautiful and delicious.

Banana S'mores Boat
Credit: Tersa Sabga

Banana S'mores Boat: Reminiscent of a starry night beside a campfire, this pairing will send you right back to your childhood.

grilled dessert bread
Credit: Teresa Sabga

Open-face Dessert Sandwich: Top grilled pound cake or angel food cake with fruit of choices. Don't skip the drizzle of chocolate or caramel.

Grilled Doughnut Sandwich
Credit: Teresa Sabga

Pineapple Donut Sandwich: If it fits between two slices of grilled quick bread, it's a dessert. Smear chocolate-hazelnut spread, top with grilled banana slices, and sprinkle on some hazelnuts. It's a dessert fit for a festival.

grilled fruit bowl
Credit: Teresa Sabga

Unforgettable Fruit Salad: If you're staying away from added sugars but still want to join in on the fun, eat the fruit plain as is or cut it into fine pieces and toss together for a grilled fruit salad.

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