Grilling the Perfect Quesadilla-Tip
12/06/12 Filed in: Tips | Grilling | Prep
I’ve been making quesadillas out on the grill for at least 5 years now and I pretty much have them down to a science. I posted some pictures of one of my last quesadillas & somebody commented the grill marks looked so good I must have used a Sharpie marker to make them. Quesadillas are actually easy to do well if you follow a few simple steps I will list here.
Before I mention those steps, I will also mention why I grill them outdoors on my gas grill when I could grill them on the stove. That reason is easy: room to move. I have a six burner gas grill and I can easily do 8 quesadillas at once. On the stove you are luck if you can do 2. Quesadillas are a case where a gas grill has it all over a charcoal grill. You have better temperature control and it is such a quick cook you aren’t going to taste any difference. Recently I tried doing quesadillas on the griddle grate of my gas grill and I did a “control” quesadilla on the open grill grate. I found the ones on the griddle didn’t taste any better while the heat was harder to control. The griddle ran higher than the open grate and I couldn’t get it as low as I wanted.
With a quesadilla you have a delicate balance to achieve: You want the inside ingredients to be hot and the cheese melted and you want the outside well marked but not burned. So here are the steps grilling the perfect quesadilla:
- Heat the gas grill to a Medium Low or about 325 degrees. I measure this with my infrared thermometer. If you are using the “1-Mississippi, 2-Missisippi....ouch” test, I find that is around 7 or 8 Mississippi.
- I have learned on a 70 degree day this means setting the control knobs to one mark below Medium as a starting point. Your mileage and your grill will vary but make a mental note of the knob settings that get you in the ball park. One days that are hotter or colder, you will need to adjust the heat up or down to adjust for the air temperature and propane pressure.
If the grill or the tortilla are too well oiled the quesadilla won’t brown.
- Make sure the grill grate is cleaned and lightly oiled. You do not want to much oil or the tortillas may not mark up or brown.
- Take note of your settings and temperatures and the appearance of the finished grilled tortillas. It doesn’t take long to narrow down the right settings.
- Take any food out of the refrigerator early and let it warm up close to room temperature before cooking. This will help the inside fillings to cook quickly.
- Lightly spray or brush the outside of the tortilla with olive oil, veggie oil or canola oil. Notice I said lightly. Too much oil and the tortilla won’t brown and crisp up on the grill.
- Use a paper towel to mop up and wipe off any excess oil. I use a Misto mister to spray on the oil, which helps avoid getting too much oil on the tortilla.
- Remember to turn the tortilla so it is facing oiled side down when you start adding fillings.
Using full or half sheet pans with cooling grid inserts is a great way to prep quesadillas & bring them out to the grill. The grids don’t remove the olive oil from the back f the tortilla like a flat tray would. Another thing to notice in this picture is how the ingredients are held back about 1/2” from the edge of the tortilla to keep them from oozing out on the grill.
- I use full or half sheet pans with gridded cooling rack inserts to do the prep & bring the tortillas out to the grill. The grid help keep the olive oil on the tortillas & off the tray.
- Keep the ingredients layer fairly thin, 1/4” to 3/8” or so. There is that balance of getting the fillings heated and the cheese melted before the outside of the tortilla begins to burn.
- Keep the ingredients in about 1/2” from all sides. This keeps them from oozing out while you are cooking. The will still ooze, but hopefully won’t spill out of the tortilla.
(left) are easier to maneuver on and off the grill than full quesadillas
- There are two schools of thought on making quesadillas. The first uses a 10” or so tortilla where you put the filling on one half of the tortilla and fold it in half to grill. The other uses a 10” tortilla on the bottom and one one the top with the ingredients sandwiched in between.
- The folded tortilla version is easier to add and move around on the grill. The shape is more compact and the folded tortilla helps hold everything together.
- The full tortilla sandwich is difficult to flip and you need to make sure the cheese has started melting before you flip it. The melting cheese will help hold things together a bit.
- The folded version can be easier to eat if you leave a little of the fold when you cut the quesadilla into wedge shape serving. Leave 1/4” or so of the tortilla at the fold side and it is much easier to pick up and eat.
- Take another temperature reading and make sure the grill temperature hasn’t run high on you. This is particularly true on a hot day.
- Too low a temperature is better than too high. too high gives you burned tortillas with cold or luke warm fillings. A bit too low and you just keep the tortilla on the grill a bit longer until the tortilla browns a bit more.
- If the grill has run up high, turn down the burners, and open the lid for a minute or so to let off the excess heat. Then close the lid for about 5 minutes and let it come back to temperature. Check the temperature again before grilling. Once again too low is better than too high.
- A fish spatula is great for maneuvering tortillas on the grill. Particularly folded tortillas which fit nicely on the blade of the fish spatula.
- Know your grill. If your grill has hotspots try to keep your food away from them and if you can’t do that make sure to check those items sooner.
- At 325 i find tortillas are nicely marked between 2 and 3 minutes per side. Even though I shoot the grill temps I still lift the lid and check the first tortilla after 1 minute. Depending on it’s progress I check again at 1:30 or 2:00.
- Cook with the lid down and lift the lid as little as possible and only to check on the progress of the tortillas. The more you can keep the lid down, the faster the fillings will cook.
- I have a friend who sacrifices one tortilla to the grill gods prior to grilling the quesadillas. He uses this test tortilla to check grilling time and temperature before throwing on the quesadillas.
- When you flip the tortillas if some have cooked faster than others try moving them around so the ones from the cooler areas end up on the hotter areas for the second side.
- The quickest, easiest and best way to cut the quesadillas is with an electric knife. This is actually documented in another tip in this section.
Leaving 1/4” or so between cuts on a folded quesadilla helps hold them together & makes them easier to handle.
- Remember to leave a bit of the fold between each slice for easy handling.