Summer is the season of spontaneity — when a passing neighbor can become a last-minute dinner guest, and the plump tomatoes and zucchini you picked up at the market turn into the centerpiece of brunch. And when it comes to go-with-the-flow entertaining, there’s nothing better than a grill: It’s fast, cleanup is a snap, and practically everything tastes better with the smoky, crispy char you can get only from a fire. The following supermarket staples make it easy to improvise at the grill, no matter if you’re cooking T-bones, plums or potatoes. Stock up and you’ll be prepared, whatever the mood brings.
Bottled Vinaigrette: Consider this your shortcut marinade. A 10-minute soak keeps chicken juicy and flavorful and gives steak a subtle tang. Oh, and it’s good on salads, too.
Mayonnaise: The secret ingredient to more grilled dishes than you know. Brush it on shrimp, sea bass or pork chops before they hit the grate and be awed by how it transforms into a tasty sauce.
Vegetable Oil: Reserve the pricey extra-virgin stuff for salads and brush this neutral-flavored workhorse on your grill grates to create a nonstick cooking surface. You’ll get great grill marks on steak and seafood. Also nice for tossing with veggies before they go onto kebabs and for coating superabsorbent eggplant planks.
Potato Chips and Pickles: Whether you’re serving up hot dogs, chicken or chops, a couple of spears and a handful of crisps will fill out your plate so you can call it a meal.
Heavy-Duty Foil: What can’t this multitasker do? Use it to make pouches for cut-up veggies, potatoes or shrimp. (Poke a few steam holes before setting the bag on the grate, or nestle it in the embers for a campfire touch.) Place a sheet of foil flat on the grate and use it as a cooking surface for delicate fish. Or try it as a liner for the bottom of the grill when you’re cooking super-drippy items like country ribs or barbecue chicken. When you’re done grilling, ball up a fresh sheet, grab it with your tongs and use the crumpled edges to scrape up grease and cooked-on food from the grate.
Wooden Skewers: Think beyond dinner kebabs. These wooden sticks are equally nice for spearing bread and sausages for appetizers or fruit and cake for dessert. (They’re also ideal for cleaning out the seams of a waffle iron, but that’s beside the point.)
Disposable Aluminum Pans (multiple sizes): Slip a medium pan under a roast during indirect grilling to catch drips and prevent flare-ups. Or pop one over your burgers to act as a cover and help melt the cheese. Into slow cooking? Stack two of the large pans together and rest your charcoal chimney starter inside when you prepare a second set of coals for long-cooked meats.
Multipurpose Lighter: Thanks to its super-long neck, there’s no easier way to ignite a chimney starter.
Check out our full gallery of Supermarket Grilling Essentials.