Every early fall, I force my family (whether they want to or not) to brace for the crowds, sweat through their flannel, and head out to our favorite local orchard to go apple picking. My kids run wild through the rows of apple trees, tasting, and often throwing, every apple they can reach, while my husband and I try to keep up. Yes, admittedly a few apples are harmed in this process, but fun is had and memories are made (at least for me). We come home happy and exhausted, with an obscene amount of apples that we spent a LOT of money on, that I then have to figure out what the heck I am going to do with.
Once we are home, for whatever reason, no one wants to simply enjoy a fresh apple. So in an effort to whittle away at the seemingly endless pounds of apples, I’ll first take a deep breath and remember that I put myself in this situation, then I’ll churn out a range of apple desserts. A favorite go-to post-apple-picking dessert is an apple crisp that I bake on my grill. While the fall days are still warm and the nights turn pleasantly crisp, I’ve grown to love baking on my outdoor grill. It gives me more time outside to embrace the autumnal weather.
There’s something irreplaceable about the experience of taking the lid off the grill to see the freshly baked apple filling still bubbling away with its lightly charred oat-crisp topping—the intense apple-and-cinnamon aroma wafting over me along with a cool fall breeze. It’s an experience one can’t quite replicate with an indoor oven. Plus, charring the apples and grill-baking the crisp creates a unique, lightly charred, and subtly smoky flavor that balances the sweetness of the apple filling and buttery oat topping.
To better understand the key techniques for successful grill-baking, I’d point you to my article on the topic to review the basics before baking on a grill for the first time, but I’ll summarize the main points as they relate to this recipe. To start, it’s important to measure, prepare, and have all of the ingredients readily available on a prep table by your grill. I like to do this while my grill is preheating to make the best use of my time.
This apple crisp bakes well on both a charcoal and gas grill, but I prefer using a charcoal grill for the irreplaceable smoky flavor that burning charcoal briquettes infuse into the charred apples and the baked crisp topping.
Whether using charcoal or gas, it’s important to build the charcoal (or keep the primary burner lit) on one side of the grill so that you can bake over indirect heat. This avoids scorching the bottom of the apple crisp and mimics the more even heating environment of an oven.
That said, I do take advantage of the direct heat for this recipe by charring the halved apples on the hot side of the grill before slicing them for the filling. Don’t be shy about developing a good deal of char on the cut faces of each apple half, you won’t regret the flavor that some deep char adds to the filling, delivering a remarkable depth of flavor that instantly evokes campfire cooking. The charring step also serves to par-cook the apples, which ensures the filling and the crisp topping bake at the same rate on the grill.
The result is a warm, bubbly apple filling with bits of welcome char to balance the brown sugar and cinnamon, topped with a buttery pecan-and-oat crumble that crisps to perfection from grill-baking. It’s in that first bite that I’m reminded why I love the fall, and why I’ll be sure to force my family to pick even more apples next year.
For the Topping: Combine flour, pecans, oats, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in melted butter until mixture is thoroughly moistened and crumbly.
For a Charcoal Grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). Once top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into a steeply banked pile against 1 side of the grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent. Heat until grill is hot (500°F; 260°C), about 5 minutes.
For a Gas Grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot (500°F; 260°C), about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burner(s); (see notes)
For the Filling: Clean and oil cooking grate. Brush cut sides of apples with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Arrange apples, buttered side down, on hotter side of grill and cook (covered if using gas) until grill marks develop and apples begin to soften, 3 to 7 minutes; move apples as needed to ensure even cooking. Transfer to cutting board; let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
Slice apple halves into 1/2-inch-thick wedges and transfer to a bowl. Toss apple slices with sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, cinnamon, salt, and remaining 2 tablespoon melted butter until combined. Transfer apple mixture to a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle topping evenly over the filling, breaking up any large clumps with your fingers.
Transfer the skillet to the cooler side of grill, cover grill, and bake, rotating skillet halfway through baking, until apple filling is bubbly and tender and topping is golden brown, 20 to 40 minutes. (For a gas grill, adjust the primary burner as needed while baking to maintain grill temperature between 400 to 450°F; if using a 3-or-more–burner grill, adjust primary burner and second burner, leaving other burners off.) Transfer the skillet to a wire rack and let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Charcoal or gas grill, large chimney for charcoal grill, grill gloves, 10-inch cast-iron skillet
Any sweet, crisp apple will work well here, such as Honeycrisps or Braeburns.
This fruit crisp works just as well with fresh and firm pears.
The primary burner on a gas grill is the burner that is connected closest to the gas source. It is the burner that you ignite first on the grill.
If your charcoal grill looses heat and drops below 300 degrees after assembling the apple crisp (before baking), use tongs to carefully remove the cooking grate and add 1 to 2 quarts of unlit coals to the lit coals in a steeply banked pile, then return cooking grate, cover grill and preheat for 5 minutes.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to three days.