Grilling with Tea


As the weather warms and you fire up your grills, it is second nature to reach for an iced tea or tea sangria. However, tea isn’t just great accompanying grilled food, it can play a role in the making of that food as well.

Steeped tea used in your favorite brines helps keep your meat and poultry moist while adding depth of flavor and brightness. Ground tea is a natural in your dry spice rubs or steeped into your wet marinades. Even desserts can combine your favorite teas and then grill to perfection. Consider freshly grilled fruit with champagne and tea sabayon, or the gourmet version of the classic s’more on the next page.

And there is the ancient technique of smoking with tea leaves that can easily be accomplished on a covered grill. Smoking with tea can be as simple as tossing dampened tea leaves onto your ashed-over coals, then cover cooking your meal, or you can prepare a foil packet with a blend of uncooked rice, tea and your choice of spices.

If you are smoking on the grill and have some extra space, consider adding a shallow pan of coarse sea salt or pecans at the edge of the grill to make further use of that wonderful tea-smoke.

Turn your covered grill into a tea smoker with easy to prepare foil packets.

First make your smoking blend:

  • 1/2 cup dry uncooked rice (to buffer and even out the heat)
  • 1/2 cup of aromatic tea leaves
  • Zest of 1/4 orange, removed in large strips
  • 1 tablespoon of star anise or 1 teaspoon anise seed
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken up
  • 1 teaspoon of whole peppercorns

Blend all ingredients in a bowl.

Spread an 18-inch square of heavy-duty foil, or a double layer of standard aluminum foil on a table. Place 1/3 of the mixture in the center of the foil. Fold over all four sides and make a foil packet roughly 6 inches on a side with all edges well sealed. Turn the packet over and carefully puncture the foil in several places down to the tea and rice mixture but not through the other side. Set aside and repeat twice more with the remaining mixture.

When your coals are ashed over and ready to use, flatten the pile and place a prepared foil packet on top of the hot coals. Put the rack in place and place your items to be grilled/smoked on the rack. When the packet begins to smoke well, close the cover. For small items, one packet will be sufficient; if you are grilling larger items, when the smoke diminishes, carefully remove the packet with a tongs and replace with a fresh packet as needed. In most cases you will want indirect heat when smoking, so make sure your pile of charcoal with its foil packet crown is off to the side leaving you space on the other side for your slowly grilling/smoking items.

Tea-smoke is a wonderful addition when grilling your favorite recipes for that added layer of flavor.


About Author

Cynthia Gold, Tea Sommelier, has discovered her true passion for tea after taking exciting journeys into the tea fields of China and Sri Lanka, where she uncovered the pure beauty of tea culture. Cynthia strives to bring "a culinary approach to tea" to the United States.

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