Grilled chicken with paste being brushed on

Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen

Table Talk

Pastes are the Secret to Quick and Easy Grilling

A simple paste is the secret to BIG flavor when grilling at a moment’s notice. No long marinades here—brush your food with a tasty paste right on the grill.

This time of year, I like to grill as often as possible. But I also want to lazily mosey around in the summer heat, so quick-and-easy grilling recipes that don’t require advanced preparation are ideal. Enter simple pastes—highly flavorful mixtures of oil, spices, and fresh aromatics—for slathering on meat (and even vegetables), right on the grill with no need to marinate it in advance.

Don’t get me wrong—brines, marinades, and dry rubs are great for adding flavor. But the meat needs to marinate for the flavors to come through and that takes time, sometimes a while. With a paste you can grill at a moment’s notice. We’ll show you how! Then, head outside and fire up the most talked-about cookout of the summer—it’s just a matter of paste.

The Building Blocks for a Tasty Paste

A paste should be thick and spreadable—enough to generously douse the meat right on the grill—so it needs to be sticky, not loose and runny. It should also be bold, almost aggressive even, since it’s the only chance you’ll get to add any flavor to the meat. 

Pastes are effortless to make. All you need is a little oil and loads of flavor via dried spices, seasonings, condiments, or fresh aromatics. Pick and choose within each of these categories, adding as many or as little as you’d like. Simply stir the ingredients together in a small bowl or, if you’re using whole garlic, chili peppers, or shallots, blitz the paste in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Here are the building blocks to creating a magic-bullet paste:

  • Oil: Add just enough oil to saturate the rest of the ingredients. Any kind of oil, like olive oil, sesame oil, canola oil, and even coconut oil, would work. The oil helps the paste adhere to the meat, not drip off. It also prevents the paste from burning. You can also use another wet, sticky ingredient, like mustard, maple syrup, or tahini instead of oil.
  • Dried spices and seasonings: Raid your pantry for whole or ground dried spices like chili peppers, cumin, coriander, fennel, and mustard. You don’t even need to toast them in advance—the oil will coat and toast them on the grill. There is also no end to the types of seasonings you can use: paprika, garlic or onion powder, black pepper, curry powder, ground turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon (to name a few).
  • Condiments: A paste is a great vehicle to showcase assertive condiments, like gochujang, adobo sauce, harissa, curry paste, and tamarind paste
  • Fresh aromatics: Fresh garlic, ginger, shallots, lemongrass, chili peppers, scallions, and herbs, like cilantro, basil, or mint, can add layers of flavor to the mix. You’ll have to use a blender or food processor—or top-notch knife skills—to blend these fresh ingredients into the paste

When and How to Slather on the Paste

Ideally you want to slather the paste on the meat twice: right before the meat goes on the grill and again towards the end of cooking. The second time around, the paste has something to cling onto—the initial layer of paste that charred and caramelized. 

You could use a basting brush to brush the paste on the meat, but a large spoon can do the job just the same. Drop a dollop of paste on the meat and spread it out with the back of the spoon.

3 Reasons a Paste Reigns Supreme

It’s faster. A paste makes it quicker to get the meat on the grill without compromising on flavor and requiring a long marinade. You can create a paste in the time it takes to fire up the grill. 

It’s easier. A paste delivers big flavor with very little effort and no advanced planning. Although the recipes provide exact measurements with specific ingredients, they are not critical. Dig into your pantry and use what you have. Plus, most pastes will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to one week. That means even less pre-fire prep for you.

It’s more delicious. A paste has a more concentrated flavor that sticks to the meat—nothing gets left behind—compared to marinades, which are diluted in a large amount of liquid. Also, it delivers remarkable texture in one delicious punch. The hot grill transforms the paste into a dark and flavorful crust. It’s a noticeable contrast to the mild and tender meat underneath.

Party On, Grill Master!