Jet Tila Reveals 11 Of His Favorite Foods To Cook Outdoors And Why

Jet Tila smiling
Jet Tila smiling - Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

Jet Tila is a celebrated chef and Food Network star who has taught us all a great deal about cooking. Now that he's a brand ambassador for RTA Outdoor Living and Coyote Outdoor Living, Tila is ready to help Americans improve one of their favorite culinary pastimes: cooking outside. We had the good fortune to interview Tila about cooking outside. In doing so, it quickly became apparent that for him, knowing what foods are suited to cooking outdoors is of the utmost importance. Here, we share 11 foods Tila recommends you should cook outside.

Americans love to cook outdoors, and luckily, doing this is increasingly accepted as a year-round pastime. According to a Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association survey, 63% of grill owners use their apparatus year-round. Cooking outside throughout the year gives people the opportunity to prepare seasonal produce, from fall squash to spring mushrooms. But cooking such a range of foods outside also poses several challenges, as the approach to preparing each differs. Fortunately, Tila happily shared how he gets the most out of all these foods.

Read more: 11 Tips For Keeping Your Grill Shiny And Clean


Oysters on charcoal grill
Oysters on charcoal grill - Kuppa_rock/Getty Images

Much like cooking outside, eating oysters is a practice that's no longer limited to a few months of the year. Thanks to improvements in farming practices, refrigeration, and general cleanliness in the supply chain, oysters can be enjoyed year-round, even in July. This is a relief for outdoor cooking enthusiasts such as Jet Tila, who see oysters as the ultimate food when it comes to simple, outdoor cooking: "Think about throwing some oysters on the grill until they open up," Tila said. "Pull one of the shells off, release the oyster from the half shell, and hit it with hot sauce." Tila also recommends smoking the shellfish, which will add great flavor.

Some connoisseurs may balk at the idea of grilling or smoking oysters. They are, after all, traditionally consumed raw. However, the salty, umami-rich nature of oysters makes them perfectly suited to Tila's suggested cooking methods. These processes also completely transform the eating experience. After cooking, oysters become surprisingly meaty and carry a distinct, multilayered flavor that'll keep diners coming back for more.

In terms of cooking times, grilled oysters only require a few minutes. Keep an eye on the shells: When they open, the oysters are done. If you're using the smoking method, oysters are best shucked first. This reduces smoking time and exposes the entirety of the mollusk to the flavorful smoke. General smoke times are about one hour, but this will depend on both the oyster's size and your personal preference.


Firm tofu chunks on grill
Firm tofu chunks on grill - Shebeko/Shutterstock

In the U.S., demand for tofu is growing. A report by Mordor Intelligence predicts that the North American tofu market will grow from $509.93 million in 2024 to $899.25 million in 2029. This growth will undoubtedly mean that tofu becomes a more present sight at cookouts and barbecues across America. Luckily, Jet Tila has a few tips for cooking tofu outdoors. "If you want to stay old school, slice some tofu into patties, marinade with some teriyaki sauce, and grill away," he told us. "With plant-based proteins, stay with direct flame and high heat to get a nice char flavor and quick cook. Stay away from long smokes, slow and low is not the way to go."

Choosing the right type of tofu is important. When grilling, firm tofu is preferred, as it's less likely to break during cooking. What's more, its lower water content means it attains a nice char much quicker than other types of tofu. This is not to say that the likes of silken firm tofu cannot be cooked outside, just that these softer types of tofu are best cooked in a skillet or on a hot plate, as opposed to directly on the grill.

Plant-Based Burgers

two vegan burgers on grill
two vegan burgers on grill - UladzimirZuyeu/Shutterstock

Jet Tila is not a vegetarian. This does not mean, however, that he's above serving up some plant-based burgers when cooking outside, especially now that the quality of plant-based meats has improved drastically. Tila explained: "There are so many great plant-based burgers, and some can even give you that medium rare juicy look and feel that carnivores love. Don't forget to top them with plant-based cheeses that actually melt. You're not giving anything up these days with the plant-based meats out there."

Although several plant-based burgers look and taste like the real thing, it's important to remember that they aren't real meat, so they must be treated differently. The most striking difference is that, while meat burgers will happily grill in their juices, plant-based burgers are best grilled when coated with a light film of oil. This ensures the burger doesn't get stuck to the grill. Since grill temperatures can easily get as high as 450 degrees Fahrenheit, we suggest coating plant-based burgers with high smoke point oils, such as peanut oil.


zucchini on the grill
zucchini on the grill - Zi3000/Getty Images

While Jet Tila enjoys popping plant-based burgers on the grill, he's also an advocate for cooking vegetables -- especially durable ones. "Almost any vegetable can be perfected on the grill if you understand cook times and moisture content," Tila said. "Durable vegetables -- like asparagus, squash, carrots, and cauliflower -- should be cut into planks or smaller pieces. A generous amount of olive oil and a good amount of salt and pepper is all you need. If you want to get fancy, don't forget grilling herbs, like rosemary and thyme, to add flavor."

In the U.S., a huge variety of squash is harvested. For this reason, there's squash well-suited to all types of outdoor cooking across all seasons. In summer, zucchini can be grilled and added to salads while in autumn, pumpkins can be grilled to make a delightfully smoky take on pumpkin pie. Various types of squash can even be combined to create simple, delicious dishes like grilled zucchini and squash foil packets.

Smaller Steaks

Steak cooking on a grill
Steak cooking on a grill - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Nothing screams outdoor cooking more than chucking a juicy steak on the grill. Unfortunately, these wonderful pieces of meat often don't reach their full potential due to poor grilling practices. While there are many ways to ensure steaks are cooked well, Jet Tila advises keeping quick-cooking proteins -- such as sirloin, porterhouse, and ribeye steaks -- small (between 4 and 20 ounces). This allows the meat's interior to cook well before the exterior becomes overcooked or burnt.

Tila also believes that failing to season or flavor the meat is a huge mistake. He told us: "Rubs, marinades, and brines are the three tools for outdoor grilling and smoking. If you want dry ribs -- or simply seasoned steaks or chops -- stick with a great dry rub that includes salt and pepper. Marinades are always good for flavoring your proteins. And sauces are for finishing or glazing."

Dry rubs are often deemed the best of these flavorings because they do not introduce any additional moisture to the meat, which may inhibit the searing process. That being said, seasonings don't need to be complicated to be effective.


pineapple pieces on grill
pineapple pieces on grill - Shebeko/Shutterstock

Few Americans think to utilize fruits when they're cooking outside. Jet Tila believes that's a mistake, as fruits like pineapple taste excellent when cooked on the grill. Tila said: "In my opinion, the king of grilled fruit is pineapple, because it is durable, tastes amazing with some char, and can be cut or skewered. Grilled pineapple pairs well with any meat, because the pineapple turns into a companion that adds sweetness." A great example of this pairing is tacos al pastor, a Mexican dish that consists of grilled pineapple and spit-grilled pork.

Pineapple is often added to dishes raw. However, it's a much better accompaniment when cooked. This is because the fruit's sour flavor becomes somewhat muted when heated. As a result, it does not dominate the other foods it's served alongside. After cooking, pineapple also tastes and smells sweeter. As Tila noted, this allows cooked pineapple to pair well with various foods, including meat.


Pineapple upside down cake
Pineapple upside down cake - nelea33/Shutterstock

Although many cooks wouldn't think so, it's possible to bake a cake on the grill. Jet Tila explained how he manages it, saying: "I set one side of my Coyote grill burners off and the other to medium-high to make a convection oven. You can bake cakes, pies, and breads on the non-heat side. If you have a pizza oven outdoors, then your world is open to anything you would bake indoors."

As Tila indicates, the key to baking outdoors is creating a makeshift oven that cooks foods via indirect heat. Most people do this by heating the grill and closing the hood. If the grill does not have a hood, baking should be done inside cookware that boasts a lid, such as Dutch ovens. Cooks are also advised to be patient and not check on food too frequently; every time the grill is opened a great deal of heat is lost.

When cooking cakes outside, you have many options, although robust cakes and sponges are best. Ali Tila, wife of Jet and a cookbook author in her own right, prefers to make pineapple upside-down cake when baking outside, as highlighted in this YouTube video. Other popular cake styles to cook outside include cupcakes, chocolate cake, and peach cake, all of which benefit from the slightly smoky flavor imbued by the grill.


Shrimp cooking on grill
Shrimp cooking on grill - Webphotographeer/Getty Images

America is not a place that's enamored with seafood. The National Fisheries Institute estimated that, in 2021, the per capita consumption of seafood in the country was 20½ pounds. During the same year, Iceland, which usually has the world's highest seafood consumption, boasted a per capita consumption of 193 pounds. Comparisons aside, there is one seafood Americans consume in great amounts: shrimp.

Shrimp is popular in the U.S. because it's a healthy, versatile food found in abundance off the nation's shores. The crustacean's enduring popularity in the country has seen many chefs experiment with it. However, Jet Tila is a fan of keeping things simple, especially when cooking outside: "Don't forget, simple, grilled shrimp in the shell tossed in some garlic, butter, and herbs make the perfect peel-and-eat meal," he said.

Grilling shrimp with the shell on doesn't just save time on prep, it makes the final meal more delicious. The shells contain flavor compounds that, when cooked, add flavor to the meat. Cooking shrimp with the shells on also prevents the meat from losing moisture and protects it from overcooking. Both result in succulent and incredibly tasty shrimp.


Row of grilling chicken satay
Row of grilling chicken satay - FEBRIATIYASARI NFA/Shutterstock

As a culinary ambassador for Thailand, Jet Tila knows all about Asian barbecue. During the interview, he said: "There's a whole world of Asian barbecue or Asian grilling that should be explored. Asian versions of satays, kabobs, sausages ... barbecue, ribs. I would start with a simple, satay and peanut sauce. Marinade your meat in coconut milk, salt, pepper, and a little curry paste. Place onto skewers and grill over direct heat until cooked through."

Satay is made from a variety of meats including both chicken and pork. While the cut and type of meat influence the final dish, it's widely accepted that the marinade is of greater importance. Tila's version is a classic marinade. However, there are many other types of satay marinade, some including chilies, lime juice, and shrimp paste. As always, cooks are encouraged to experiment and find their preferred marinade.

Satay is traditionally served with peanut sauce. Tila highlighted his preferred recipe for this: "Take the remainder of that curry paste with equal parts coconut milk and cook until fragrant. Then add a knob of peanut butter, sugar, and fish sauce and you've made the perfect Asian grilling dipping sauce."


mushrooms on grill
mushrooms on grill - Vm/Getty Images

While hardy vegetables are the easiest kind to cook outside, there is no reason why delicate vegetables shouldn't be cooked outside, too. This is the message Jet Tila had to share: "[With] more delicate vegetables like mushrooms, you can utilize a grilling basket and cook [them] on lower heat for longer periods of time. The most important thing is to make sure to season your vegetables very well. A little bit of balsamic vinegar and mustard together goes a long way for a finishing vegetable vinaigrette."

The grilling basket Tila refers to is a contraption designed to hold food that might otherwise fall through the gaps in a grill. Using this is necessary when grilling smaller mushroom varieties, such as button mushrooms. However, large mushrooms, including the delightfully meaty king trumpet, can be laid directly onto the grate. When it comes to cooking temperature, the best option depends on the type and size of the mushroom being cooked. Generally, larger flat caps cook better at the low temperatures Tila mentioned, while smaller varieties like button mushrooms react well to high heat.

Aside from adding flavor, the vinaigrette Tila mentioned also helps prevent the cooked mushrooms from drying out. Another way to avoid this is by basting the mushrooms as they cook.

Whole Chickens

whole chicken on grill
whole chicken on grill - Ahphotoswpg/Getty Images

Jet Tila also cooks whole chickens on the grill. He instructed: "Leave half of your burners off and create a convection oven inside your grill. Indirect cooking is also great for larger format proteins, like whole chickens." Although all types of poultry can be cooked in this manner, whole chickens are thought to be a better option than other birds (such as turkey) because they are a more manageable size and have slightly more forgiving meat.

To ensure that their whole chickens cook evenly and quickly in the makeshift oven on your grill, many cooks opt to spatchcock the bird. This involves removing the backbone and breaking the breastbone of the chicken, thus ensuring it lies flat during cooking. Aside from speeding up the cooking process, spatchcocking a chicken ensures that it can be finished on the grill itself, allowing cooks to develop an unrivaled char on the surface.

Read the original article on Daily Meal