The Common Flame: The Italian grigliata

by Tanner Colley

Cover photo by Carne Sostenibili

Nothing brings us together like fire and food, and there’s something special that happens when we cook over an open flame. Cooking over an open flame draws us together through our love for good food and good memories. While every culture has their own style, it’s a culinary history we all have in common.

In this edition of The Common Flame, we travel to bel paese, “the beautiful country,” to see how Italy does barbecue with the grigliata.

Photo by LivItaly Tours

Grigliata simply means “grill out,” but a grigliata isn’t your average barbecue. Barbecue styles vary in the U.S. depending on the region, but they all share a passion for burgers, steaks, ribs, hot dogs, tenderloins, and sausages seasoned to the nines with sauces or dry rubs. The Italian grigliata is more like a multi-course meal fit with a boggling number of light meats, fish, veggie, and fruit dishes. This allows everyone to enjoy a wide variety of tastes and sensations, leaving room for conversation to flow as freely as the wine (it’s Italy, after all).Many think Italian cuisine solely consists of starchy pastas, hearty sauces, and layers and layers of cheese. Grigliata cuisine takes a different approach. Many grigliata dishes are seasoned with a simple mix of herbs, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. In America, many pit masters have perfected the art of using fire and smoke to bring new flavor elements to a dish. (Think Texas brisket or Carolina-style ribs.) In a grigliata, food is cooked fast over hot coals which allows party-goers to grab a quick skewer of meat and veggies while enhancing the inherent flavor of fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Here’s some dishes you’ll expect at an Italian grigliata: grilled romaine salad, stuffed mushrooms, an endless supply of beef and vegetable skewers called spiedini, burgers made with buffalo or salmon, whole swordfish drenched in lemon and garlic sauce. And it wouldn’t be an Italian meal without pizza. Although grigliata pizzas use thinner dough than their oven-fired counterparts, topped with vegetables or dried meats such as prosciutto, and a light amount of sauce and cheese.

And we haven’t even talked about the main courses. While a grigliata has a ton of lighter dishes, there is always room for colossal racks of ribs, steaks, burgers, whole chickens, and sausages.

How to throw a grigliata

Any backyard grill out can be considered a grigliata as long as dishes are cooked quickly over hot coals. Check out these recipes below to kickstart your next grigliata!

Italian Grilled Eggplant with Basil and Parsley (Melazane Grigliate al Basilico e Prezzemolo)

Photo and recipe by All Recipes

Spiedini: Traditional Italian Kebabs

Photo by Sergio Amitu; Recipe by The Spruce Eats

Grilled Caesar Salad

Photo and recipe by Fine Cooking

Buffalo Burgers with Smoky Bacon, Basil, and Gorgonzola Cheese

Photo and recipe by Italian Bella Vita

Grigliata mista di carne (Mixed Grilled Meats)

Photo by Frank Fariello; Recipe by Memorie di Angelina