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Quesadillas

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One of my favorites whenever I go to a Mexican restaurant, I thought they’d be a great on the grill. Living in the Northeast Quesadillas are a fairly new addition to the menu. I was a little hesitant to try them because this was a totally new style of cooking for me. But the key to a successful cook starts with a good recipe and everything is new to you at one point or another. With that in mind, I started my quest to do grilled Quesadillas.

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I’ve got some chopping & grating to do here

Before I found any recipes I started thinking about what I would like in a Quesadilla. My favorite meat in a quesadilla is steak. I like peppers and onions so they seemed like a good filling. For cheese I was thinking Monterey jack, and cheddar. Many quesadillas seem to use sour cream probably as a binder to help hold the ingredients until the melting cheese takes over. I am not a big fan of sour cream so I thought perhaps BBQ sauce. I like the taste and it certainly is plenty sticky when I get it on me. Cumin and chili powder seemed like logical dry spices and lime and fresh cilantro rounded out the mix. But I figured this was just me, when I looked up “real” recipes for quesadillas most of these would be subject to change.

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The marinade is a simple 3 ingredients: EVOO, soy sauce and Montreal Steak seasoning.

Turns out just about anything goes for ingredients for quesadillas. Sure there are “traditional” recipes, but I also saw people using everything from left over BBQ items like pulled pork or brisket or Thanksgiving turkey to seafood, to all veggies. Many of the ingredients I had under consideration were among the popular choices. So I decided to do my recipe with all the ingredients mentioned above. Additionally several recipes mentioned oregano so I added that into the mix as well. The other trick was figuring out how much to make . Originally I was going to make a small batch as an experiment for Saturday lunch. Then suddenly it blossomed into Saturday lunch and a total of fifteen 8” (20 cm) quesadillas for Sunday dinner for my wives family. After looking at over 30 recipes I decided a quarter cup of cheese and a half cup of the other toppings per quesadilla. As for the steak it had to be Rib-eye and I figured on 8 oz (227 g) of steak per 5 quesadillas. I wasn’t sure what the yield was for the peppers and onions, so I bought 3 peppers and 2 onions. For the record I get 3/4 cup of diced pepper per green, red or yellow pepper.

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The finished marinade

My last concern was handling the tortillas. I originally purchased eight 12” (30 cm) flour tortillas, but I was worried about trying to flip a 12” (30 cm) tortilla loaded with fillings. After reviewing a number of recipes I saw suggestions such as pulling the quesadillas onto a sheet pan or plate and then capping it with another sheet pan or plate. Trapping quesadillas allows you to flip them easily. The solution I finally went for was to use 8” (20 cm) tortillas. These could be scooped up with my wide fish spatula. If needed I could use a second spatula to hold down the top tortilla while flipping. So I grabbed another three ten-packs of 8” (20 cm) flour tortillas and will save the 12” (30 cm) versions until I have a couple rounds of quesadillas under my belt.

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The steak marinades for a minimum of one half hour

I started chopping the ingredients. About an hour before I wanted to start grilling the steak, I whipped up the marinade. There was a lot of chopping to make the topping. 2 red, green and yellow peppers, 2 jalapeno peppers, a medium onion and two shallots, plus the cilantro. At 2 hours total the chopping took twice as long as I suspected. So be sure to leave enough time for your prep work. As I fired up the stove to saute the peppers and onions, I also lit the gas grill and set the heat to medium. After the saute pan heated up I sauteed the peppers, onions and shallots for about 5 minutes until they were softened. I drained the toppings and put them in a large stainless steel mixing bowl. I let them cool a couple minutes before adding the cilantro and dry spices.

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Lots of tasty ingredients in the topping blend

Next I took the steaks out to the grill where I grilled them 5 minutes a side. I found myself teasing myself about turning the steaks at the midpoint to lay on cross hatch grill marks. No one but me would see these since the meat was to be thin sliced. I purposely cooked the meat to medium rare where it was going to have another 5 minutes on the grill as part of the quesadillas. While the steak was resting for 5 minutes I grated the cheddar and Monterey jack cheese and blended them. When the steak had cooled I thin sliced it across the grain and then I cross cut the slices until I ended up with 1/2” x 1/2 x 1/16” (1.25cm x 1.25cm x 1.5 mm) slices.

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From the 12:00 position clockwise: Onion, yellow pepper, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, shallots and green pepper

I used several full sized stainless steel sheet pans to lay out the tortillas. I had placed the steak, toppings, and cheese blend in 3 different bowls. First I coated all of the tortillas with BBQ sauce taking care to keep the BBQ sauce in about 1/2” to 3/4” (1.25 to 2 cm) from the outer edge. The fastest way was to squirt some out in the middle of the tortilla and use a nylon mop brush. I also held the cheese and toppings back this same distance to keep the melting cheese from oozing out. To put on the cheese I used a 1/4 cup (60 ml) metal measuring cup. I would scoop out a heaping 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the cheese, which I would dump into the palm of my hand. I found it best to distribute the toppings by hand, as opposed to trying to sift it out of the measuring cup. For later quesadillas I started using a 1/3 cup (79 ml) of cheese. Next came the steak. This I did by eye, shooting for a reasonable amount of steak on each tortilla. Then I added the mix of pepper and onion toppings. I used a 1/2 cup measuring cup for this topping, once again transferring to the palm of my hand for hand distribution. The finished quesadillas were then topped with another tortilla, BBQ sauce side down. The sheet pans I was using held six 8” (20 cm) tortillas. So I laid out two trays of 6 plus one more with the last three. For the last two quesadillas, I was out of the pepper and onion topping and made these steak and cheese quesadillas. I used a strong 1/2 (120 ml)cup of cheese on these to compensate for the lack of toppings.

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The pepper and onions are ready to go into a mixing bowl and get blended with the dry spices, cilantro and lime juice

It was out to the grill next. This is when I found the tortillas were VERY VERY sensitive to minor variations in time or temperature. I first used a paper towel sprayed with PAM for Grilling to oil the grill grates. I wasn’t sure how many tortillas would fit on the grill at a time. I guessed four but was hoping for more. I found I could do a maximum of six 8” (20 cm)tortillas at a time on the grill. I had to stagger them as they were too big to fit back to back. The grill was still set to medium from doing the steaks, and I found the tortillas started browning a bit too fast. I kept the lid down while they cooked to help heat the fillings faster. I flipped them after about 2 minutes 30 seconds and I also reduced the heat to medium-low. There are 3 marks on my temperature knobs between Low and Medium. I used the mark one below medium. I was a bit surprised how easily I was able to pick up the tortillas due to the PAM. For 4 out of the 6 quesadillas I was able to simple use the wide fish spatula and flip them just like a burger. One of the problems with the tortillas cooking too fast was the cheese hadn’t completely melted in some of the quesadillas. The first two I went to flip were like this. You could tell the tops were still loose when you started to slide the spatula underneath. For these I used a second spatula to pin the top and bottoms together while I flipped them. I also found you need to work fast during the flipping process, because the difference between too crisp and burned and just right is measured in mere seconds. A few quesadillas from this first round were like this, but fortunately there were people who liked them this way.

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While the grilled steak was resting for 5 minutes, I grated my own cheese with my MicroPlane grater. For the small hard to hold pieces I added the feed chute

Reducing the heat made the second side much easier to control. I kept these on the grill for 3 minutes and they were evenly browned with medium dark grill marks. The temperature for the second side was around 325 degrees (160 C). I pulled the first batch of six and set them on a full sheet pan to cool for 5 minutes. It was time to add the second round to the grill. I could tell by the look and feel of first new tortilla sliding (or more accurately not sliding) onto the grill grate that I’d better add some more PAM. I was able to pull off the first tortilla, which had started to stick to the grill. Once I applied more PAM the tortillas slid around easily. So remember to refresh the oil on your grill grate for each round of quesadillas you grill. It was off to the Kitchen after the last one was done. The quesadillas had been allowed to rest for 5 minutes and it was time to cut them.


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Cook the steak to a lesser degree of doneness than usual. It will spend another 5 minutes on the grill in the quesadilla

Cutting the quesadillas was actually the hardest part and could be a tad frustrating because they took time and patience and I was starving. I tried a meat carving knife but it didn’t deal well with the tortillas which were somewhat crispy. Soft but crispy, not unlike a pie crust. I tried a bread knife and it cut through the tortillas with no problem if I used a sliding motion. It didn’t deal well with the innards. Once I broke through the top tortilla, I finished with a chopping thrust to get through the steak and fillings. Then I reverted to the sliding motion to cut the bottom tortilla. To do it right took a long time.

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The cheese blend goes on first. Then the steak, then the pepper and onion toppings

Once I’d cut up enough for my immediate needs for Saturday’s lunch, I sat down to eat. I could cut the ones for Sunday later. The quesadillas were very tasty. For a first effort I was just about 100 percent happy. The only thing I did wrong was, I was so eager to finally eat these that I to forget to put out the pico di galo and guacamole. I was very happy with the topping blend I concocted and the steak and cheese one quesadillas were very good. When I made these for my parents, they loved them too. From my first efforts I had learned to keep the heat down to medium low and to make sure to oil the grate after each use.

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The top 3 are ready to go. The lower three have all the toppings and just need the top tortilla.

Another thing I learned from the first batch was steak and cheese quesadillas can be done fairly quickly, in about an hour. This past Friday night I made them in just over an hour (65 minutes). I came home from work and prepared the marinade first. I marinade the steak for the minimum of 30 minutes. while this was happening I grated the cheese laid out the tortillas and added the BBQ sauce and cheese blend. The cheese I used this time was Extra sharp cheddar and Pepper Jack cheese. I’d fired up the grill 15 minutes prior to cooking the steaks and set it to medium for the steaks. After a half hour in the marinade, it was off to the grill with the steaks. I seared the steaks for 5 minutes a side, rested them for 5 minutes and sliced them up just as before. I found the iPhone makes a great night time kitchen timer, with its backlit display. Once again carving these things up was the hardest part. To save time I carved these quesadillas into 4 pieces not 6. It was 8:30 and I was hungry!!

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I was able to fit six 8” (20 cm) quesadillas on my grill, but I had to stagger them

The latest round of quesadillas I made was today. I ran out of 8” (20 cm) tortillas and used one 12” (30 cm) tortilla as a substitute for two 8” (20 cm). This one was a bit trickier to flip. In fact for a minute I thought the bottom part was going to spill open after the flip. This was the front edge of the tortilla that was unsupported by the wide, but not so deep fish spatula. Fortunately I made it. So the 12” (30 cm) tortillas are doable but tricky. The second VERY important discovery I made was an electric knife cuts the quesadillas quickly and easily. My new Cuisinart electric knife has a serrated bread blade that worked like a charm. The slicing went very quickly and the slices were very evenly cut. I also now have the time/temperature thing down well. Medium-low heat for about 2:45 to 3 minutes is perfect. I check them often starting just before the 2 minute mark. This last batch today was my best. I’ve settled on 1/3 cup (79 g) of cheese and 1/2 cup (118 g) of pepper and onion topping for the deluxe quesadillas and 1/2 cup (118 g) of cheese for the steak and cheese models.

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Ready to come off the grill-the cooking time is very short. Stay on your toes. The tortillas will burn if you even blink.

Quesadillas can be as simple or as fancy as you want. While there is a lot of prep, they are quick to cook. So if need be do the chopping the night before and you can be eating in less than an hour. Just watch you temperature and time and be sure to keep the grill grates oiled. Oh yeah one last piece of advice: make extras, you will thank me. Below is a list of the important things I learned doing quesadillas.

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The tortillas should be lightly browned and slightly crisp

Ten Keys to Great Grilled Tortillas:

  • Leave plenty of time for the prep if you are making lots of toppings. Some of this can be done the night before.
  • Quesadillas can take as much or as little time as you want. Simple quesadillas can be prepped and ready to go in the time it takes to heat up your grill. Then about 5 minutes to heat, 5 to cool and eat.
  • Don’t overfill the tortillas. They have a fairly short cooking time and you want the cheese to melt, hopefully by the time it is time to flip them.
  • Keep the grill grates well oiled or the tortillas will easily stick if you don’t.
  • Keep the heat low. You can always keep the quesadillas on the grill longer if they didn’t brown up as quickly as you like.
  • Keep the grill lid down to help the fillings heat up faster.
  • Keep a close eye on the tortillas, they will begin to burn very quickly. Start checking early and often.
  • Make sure to let the quesadillas cool for 5 minutes or so before cutting them.
  • Cutting the quesadillas by hand is tricky (see description above), but an electric knife makes perfect cuts quickly and easily.
  • Make extras. You’ll probably go through them, but if you don’t they reheat well.


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Be sure to make more than you think you’ll need: You’ll thank me



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