Who remembers the big scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where the Greek family is roasting a whole lamb, on a pit in a barbecue pit, in the front yard of their home? All we know is that we were drooling looking at that wonderful feast!
Grecian food is known to be a) healthy – it’s part of the Mediterranean diet after all; b) full of amazing flavors; c) often grilled over wood. They have lots of amazing meats – lamb, pork and chicken are their faves along with seafood. And the care they give to cultivating flavor is amazing.
Today we’re sharing some of our favorite Greek recipes, optimized to be cooked on a pellet grill fired by those tasty Griller’s Gold natural hardwood barbecue pellets! For all of these recipes, it’s “chef’s choice” on pellet type although either Competition Blend or Smokeshack Blend would be our selection.
Let’s get to our yummy Greek treats!
Greek Grilled Starter & Sauce
Wood-grilled Saganaki in Cast Iron
While an American dish that Greek restaurants in the US serve, you don’t find it often in Greece. Nonetheless, saganaki is a fave of the Greek dining experience.
Who doesn’t love that big “Opaa!” moment when the waiter brings out the sizzling platter of delicious melty cheese, dumps a quick shot of brandy on it, and fires it up, shooting flames nearly to the ceiling, then squeezing a fresh lemon over the top.
OMG so good! Here’s how you can do it at home. Please note, we DO NOT recommend flaming it off in the house. But you can gather the family and friends outside to the grill for the big moment.
To make this, we recommend using a heavy cast iron skillet, although any oven-proof heavy skillet or baking dish will work. When we serve this as an appetizer, as soon as the meats come off the grill and are resting, we fire the pellet grill up to 400F and put our cast iron skillet on to preheat. Since the grill is already heated up from making our meats, it will come to that temp within 10 minutes along with the cast iron skillet.
- Kefalotyri, Graviera, or, Kefalograviera cheese – if you can’t find that, Kasseri or haloumi are good substitutes and are more generally available. It does melt more easily though. If you really can’t find Greek cheese in your area, pecorino romano, fontinella or even a strong aged provolone will work for this recipe. Figure on one ½” thick slab about 4” square for every 2 people.
- Extra virgin olive oil (“EVOO”, thanks Rachel Ray!) for frying
- Flour (for coating it to make a nice crust)
- Black pepper – since the cheese is already salty tasting, just some pepper works for seasoning
- Brandy or cognac to flame it. If you don’t have either of these and don’t want to buy, you could also use vodka for flaming fuel.
- ½ of a fresh lemon, cut and ready to go
- Crusty bread
Cut the cheese into ½” thick slabs or squares. Run them under warm (but not hot) water for a few seconds then pat dry with paper towels. Dredge them in flour (a half cup of flour on a plate will serve the purpose), then season them gently on both sides with black pepper. Out to the grill!
At the grill, pour ¼ cup of the EVOO into the hot skillet and swirl it to spread it out – give it a few seconds to heat up (it will shimmer as it does) then carefully lay the cheese in the oil and close the grill. Fry it for about 3 minutes on the first side (peeking under it to check for browning – when it is golden, it’s time to turn it) then carefully turn it and fry the other side for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden and becoming melted. The family should be gathered to the grill by the time it hits the second side because it’s about to be OPAA Time!
When it’s browned on both sides, have a stick lighter handy as well as the lemon and take 1 ounce of the liquor and carefully pour it over the cheese then immediately light it with the stick lighter, making sure your face is well away from the grill.
The flames will shoot several feet in the air – yell OPAA!!! And then take the lemon and begin squeezing it over the cheese to put out the flames. Head to the table afterwards and serve it with big hunks of crusty bread and a good glass of dry Greek white or rose wine.
When preparing Greek style meats and poultry, there are a few dominant ingredients and flavors – oregano and garlic figure heavily in the mix. Greece is a major place for lemon production as well as olives, so lemon juice and olive oil will be there too. We have a “master recipe” for a great grilling “slather” or marinade that we use on most of our Greek themed meats – here’s the recipe for it:
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup freshly squeeze lemon juice
- 1 T dijon mustard
- 4 cloves fresh garlic, or 1 1/2T minced “jarred” garlic
- 1 t oregano
Whisk this up and you can then slather it over meat and poultry to give it that authentic Greek flavor. The addition of the Dijon is what creates a fairly thick sauce that tastes oh so good. We season the meat first with salt and pepper and also like to shake some paprika over the meat right before it goes on the grill both for color and flavor.
Grilling The Meats
Just like some other cultures (like the Brazilians!) the Greeks love their proteins. Because they are hard against the Mediterranean Sea, they do enjoy a lot of fish, as well as lamb, chicken, pork and beef. Here’s four quick recipes that are quick and easy to do on your pellet grill and the wood smoke flavor will really give it that delicious outdoor essence!
The Greeks love their fish! This recipe works on just about any fish you’d like but especially on ocean white fish like grouper, flounder or cod, as well as meaty fish like swordfish. Also, if you want to splurge it’s really great on Chilean Sea Bass.
Preheat your grill to 400F (hey, you’re right at the Saganaki temp!). If you like to use a searing grate like GrillGrates, put them into the grill – they will perform beautifully for this recipe.
Remove the fish from the package, drizzle olive oil and rub to cover it fully on both sides. Then season both sides of the filets with a gentle hit of salt and pepper plus a bit of garlic powder and a gentle shake of oregano. No heavy hands with the seasoning here please!
Your cook time will generally be about 8 minutes for an inch of thickness of filet – so if your filet is about ¾” thick at the thickest, your cook time will be about 6 minutes in total, and if it’s an inch and a quarter, you’re at about 12 minutes. Note this is total cook time, not per side. Now that said, we like to use a thermometer. Fish is generally done when the internal temp at the thickest part of the filet is 145F.
Oil your grates with a rolled towel dipped in olive oil then gently lay the fish on the grate so the grates are at an angle across the fish – this gives it more interesting grill marks. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over it and close the grill.
At halfway through your cook time, carefully flip the fish over and again squeeze some fresh lemon over it, close the grill and cook. Remove and serve! This is great with greek-style roasted potatoes and fresh green beans sauteed in olive oil with lemon juice.
Greek Baby Back Ribs
Now if you’ve read enough of our blogs here, you’ll know that a) we love our ribs at Griller’s Gold and b) low and slow on a Pellet Grill makes fantastic ribs. Combine that with some great Greek flavors and you’ll think you’ve gone to heaven when you have these!
Baby Back Ribs – try to buy the ones that haven’t been brined or injected (the label clue is “with a X% solution for tenderness) – minimally processed is the way to fly here. Costco sells them as well as Sam’s Club.
Start by making up a batch of that Master Marinade above. Get your ribs out of the package, give them a rinse in the sink, pat them dry and remove the membrane on the back side. Refer to our post “Never Fail Baby Back Ribs” for that technique. After the membrane is off, flip them over and give them a generous seasoning of salt and pepper on the meaty side. Slather them generously with Greek Marinade and set them aside for about an hour.
Preheat your grill to 275F and let it run for 15 minutes – you want it well preheated. After the grill is hot and the ribs have marinated for an hour, put the ribs meaty/marinade side up on the grill and close it up. Go away for 2 hours!
At the 2 hour mark, come back to your grill and give those slabs a flip to marinade side down. Give them a full hour with that side down, then come back and flip them meaty side up. At this point, give them a quick doneness check using the Bend Test (again refer to the Never Fail Baby Backs post). If they aren’t quite done, give them another 30 mins and check again. They are done when the bend test has them cracking easily, and the meat pulls cleanly off the bone (but doesn’t fall off).
These are also great with a big Greek Salad, a loaf of crusty bread and an ice cold Greek lager beer (or your favorite beer!).
This really doesn’t get easier. We like to use skin-on/bone-in chicken. The instructions are easy:
- Preheat the grill to 400F.
- Unpackage your skin-on/bone-in chicken and put in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, tossing to coat.
- Mix up a batch of Greek Marinade – make more if you have a lot. That recipe will coat about 12 pieces of chicken.
- Dump over the chicken and toss to coat
- Grill on the hot grill, turning every 10 minutes, until at least 165F at the bone for breast pieces. 185F at the bone for legs, thighs and wings.
- Serve with your favorite Greek sides.
This chicken is outstanding cold! Great picnic food!
Greek Rack of Lamb
Oh my, our favorite thing. We think that if someone said to us “if you could only have one food the rest of your life, what would it be? “Greek rack of lamb, that’s what.” Both elegant and casual (best finger food ever is lamb lollipops – the little lamb chops you get when you carve up a rack of lamb), decadent and rich yet still lean at the same time. We love them and can’t get enough. So for this recipe, we’re going to be using the Reverse Sear technique. If you haven’t done it for a bit, go read our post on that, and brush up.
One of our favorite things to do is serve these at a dinner party. One nice presentation is to cut them apart between the bones and serve a big platter of “lamb lollipops”. But our favorite presentation and this works great for a “couples” dinner, is to serve each couple one rack to share. We put them on a platter with the sides and put a platter in front of each couple. Most people like between 2 and 4 bones worth, so this works perfectly.
We like to buy lamb racks at Costco or Sam’s Club. In fact, to make sure we always have some in the freezer, we make it a point to buy at least 1 or 2 every time we go!
Make up a batch of Greek marinade. Get the lamb racks out of the package, rinse them off and pat dry. Then season generously with salt and pepper and slather the marinade all over the lamb racks. Set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour.
About 45 minutes into the marination period, fire up your pellet grill to 225F with Griller’s Gold pellets. Once your lamb racks are done marinating, put them on the grill, fat/meaty side up. Close the lid and leave it for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, open the grill, check the temp with an instant read in the center of thickest part of the meat. It won’t be done but you’ll get an idea of how things are progressing. Flip them meat side down, then check again in 10 mins. If the meat is above 110F, start checking them every 5 minutes. We like our lamb bright pink medium rare so we pull them off when the temperature is about 125F.
Rest the lamb racks by covering them on a warm platter with heavy duty foil. Then put a folded bath towel over the top of them to hold the heat in. You can safely rest them at least 30 minutes without them losing too much heat. We normally rest them about 15-20 minutes. When you put them to rest, go turn up the heat on your grill to 400F.
Note that this isn’t the “screaming hot” 500F temp that you usually use when searing steaks. And that’s because lamb fat is extremely flammable. In fact we had one particularly bad experience with that a few years ago in the photo below. Yes, this is our grill. And that’s about $75 worth of rack of lamb. OUCH. On to “plan B” with that dinner.
We definitely recommend keeping your grill clean and putting a fresh lining of foil onto your grill’s heat deflector plate, prior to cooking lamb. You don’t want to cook them over a build up of grease and ash and have a grease fire ruin your lamb.
So, to sear them nicely, and to avoid the result above, keep the temp to no more than 400F. And keep a squirt bottle of water handy to knock down any flames.
Put the lamb meaty side down, close the lid and set a timer for 2 minutes. At 2 minutes flip them meat side up. Close the lid and set a timer for 3 minutes. Repeat the 2 minute meaty side down cycle, then check the temp.
Our ideal doneness (for our preferred bright pink medium rare) is about 135F. If they need a few more minutes to doneness, just keep them meaty side up. This is to avoid too much fat dripping down and potentially igniting. We have also found that if you want crispy fat on the outside of them, fire up a kitchen torch or workshop propane torch. Then play the flame over the fat after you remove them from the grill after searing. The fat will crisp up.
Last thing – dessert and a toast!
If you frequent Greek restaurants you may have experienced the end-of-meal toast. Many Greek restaurants will pour you a complimentary shot of Ouzo, the anise-flavored liqueur. And the traditional Greek dessert is Baklava.
To complete your Greek feast pick up a bottle of Ouzo at the liquor store and give it a chill in the refrigerator by putting it in there right before you sit for dinner – you just want it a bit cooler than room temp. Pour 1 to 1.5 ounce shots in either shot glasses or small stemmed glasses and pass out to your group.
Have everyone raise their glasses and shout “Ya Mas!” which is “cheers!” in Greek. It’s traditional to drink the ouzo down in one go!
So that’s your Greek feast! From our blog team to you we wish you good health and good fun!