Tue Apr 7, 2015
I've prepared potatoes in more ways than I can count, but no matter how deep down the recipe hole I go, it seems like there's always something new to explore. Lucky for me, I can't think of many main courses that wouldn't be made just a bit happier with a pile of spuds sitting alongside.
On the grill alone, I've done potatoes as wedges, salads, hasselbacks, twice-baked, skins, slices, and more. This time, I'm trying out a technique I spotted in Bon Appetit's The Grilling Book. They go by many names—hobo packets, campfire potatoes, foiled potatoes—but the method is all the same: wrap the potatoes in foil, and place them on the grill until steamed and tender. Simple as that.
Of course, nothing is ever quite as simple as that, so I decided to test out a few of my options, starting with the potatoes.
Potatoes can vary in their starch content and base flavor, which makes specific varieties better suited for certain jobs. I wanted to see which fared best in this packet treatment, so I picked up the most common spuds from the market to test out: russets, reds, yukon golds, and a mix of red and gold new potatoes.
Having done some packet cooking with other ingredients in the past, I was familiar with how the extras added into the foil pouch can have a big influence on the overall flavor. Not wanting to overpower the potatoes, I kept the additional contents light with just a little olive oil, lemon juice, shallots, and thyme. It's one of my favorite combos for potatoes—bright enough that it adds some intensity, but not so wild that it overpowers their natural flavor.
I cut all the potatoes into even-sized chunks, then placed them in the center of 18-inch sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil. I added the flavorings, then sealed the packets by first crimping the tops together, then rolling the edges in to create a solid seal.
I worried that over a direct fire the potatoes closest to the flames would burn, and since I wasn't able to check the packet contents while cooking, I decided to give myself a little insurance by building a two-zone fire, where only half of the grill was heated while the rest remained cool. I placed the packets near the edge of the fire, but not directly over it so that they'd cook mostly through indirect heat. I then covered the grill and let them cook.
Now normally, a roasted potato can take a good 45 to 60 minutes to cook through on the grill over indirect heat, but these foiled potatoes cooked much faster; The enclosed space traps moisture coming off the potatoes. This effectively steams them, resulting in a cook time of just around 25 minutes—I'm liking this technique already.
Still, the potatoes end up a little bit pale when cooked 100% over indirect heat, so I tried moving the packets directly over the coals for the last five minutes of cooking to get a bit of browning.
As I opened each packet to a face full of steam, I realized just how many potatoes I had on my hand—more than I could ever eat in one sitting. Luckily my wife was around and help me work through one packet after the next.
The russets we were able to pass on pretty quickly. They had a mealy texture and lackluster flavor compared to the rest. I thought the red potatoes suffered a similar banality, but my wife noted that the skins offered a bit of a boost that the russets were missing and really liked them for that. The yukon golds, on the other hand, were on the money. They had a soft and creamy texture that tasted rich and really soaked in a lot of the lemon flavor. Still, my wife preferred the flavor of the skin from the red potatoes.
That left the mixed new potatoes, which were the way to go. Even though these youngsters hadn't developed as thick a skin as their adult counterparts, their smaller size means a higher skin-to-flesh ratio. More skin per bite = more flavor, all combined with a great creamy, buttery new potato texture.
These might never supplant crispy roast potatoes as my all-time favorite, but they were a fantastic a great complement to a couple of rotisserie birds I was testing out at the same time.
They're quicker and easier than any other grilled potato recipe I can think of. Best of all, by mixing up the additions to the packet, you've got nearly endless flavor possibilities, making them the perfect side dish for whatever you want to throw on the grill.
Foil-Wrapped Potatoes With Shallots, Lemon, and Thyme
- Prep Time:
- 10 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 25 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 35 Minutes
- 4 servings
- 1 1/2 pounds small yukon gold potatoes (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter), halved
- 1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter), halved
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed juice from 2 to 3 lemons, plus more to taste
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped shallots (about 2 medium)
- 4 teaspoons finely minced fresh thyme leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Tear off four 18-inch square pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, oil, lemon juice, shallots, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Divide into four even batches, placing each batch in the center of one square of foil.
- Crimp foil closed, rolling sides to fully seal each packet.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over half of coal grate. Alternatively, set half the burners of a gas grill to high heat. Set cooking grate in place, cover gill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place packets on grill, aligning them close to, but not directly over the coals. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Rotate packets front to back (so cooler side is now closer to coals), cover, and continue cooking for 10 minutes longer. Move packets directly over coals, cover, and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from grill and let cool for 5 minutes. Carefully open packets, season with additional salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste, and serve immediately.