Cocktail Garnish Idea: Grill Lemons For Old-Fashioned Cocktails

Griddle your lemons for the ultimate cocktail garnish

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May is Grilling Month at Tasting Table.

Yes, you can use the grill for your next cocktail, too. Jill Dobias, co-owner and bartender at Joe & MissesDoe in New York's East Village, makes "griddled lemons" to top drinks—just one minute on the grill adds extra tart, juicy flavor and smoky aromatics to your glass.

"It started because I wanted to put my own spin on the old-fashioned," Jill says. Co-owner and chef (and Jill's husband) Joe Dobias (you may remember him from Chopped) adds hot and cold garnishes to dishes; Jill extends the signature to the bar.

"I realized a hot garnish serves two functions," she explains. "It melts the ice for a splash-of-water element that you need for an old-fashioned, and it gives a depth to the drink." In cooler weather, that lemon garnish adds a citrusy brightness to an old-fashioned made with a splash of local apple cider; a favorite warm-weather variation is made with wildflower honey, "which is floral and not super sweet," Jill says.

But it took several iterations before Jill found the best way to make the garnish. "I started by charring peels with a lighter," she recalls. "It wasn't giving the richness and aroma that I wanted." Next, she started tossing lemon slices onto the grill in the kitchen—which worked, except during crazy-busy dinner rush hours. So she tried grilling the lemons ahead of time: "It had a smoky element, but it wasn't the same—it has to be done to order."

The solution: Jill uses a George Foreman Grill behind the bar. "It makes such a difference," she insists. "I bring it to events, and I use it to make garnishes for old-fashioneds when I'm catering." Until, that is, the grill blew a fuse. So for now, Jill is back to grilling lemons in the restaurant kitchen. "During busy times, Joe puts up with it," she says with a wry smile.

To make "griddled lemons" at home, cut lemons into half-inch wheels. "Don't cut too thin or they'll get crispy," she warns. Fire up the grill to high heat (alternatively, use a grill pan/frying pan on top of the stove or a panini press).

While the grill is heating, you may want to start mixing your drink, adding everything but the ice, so you can add the lemon garnish while it's still hot.

Lay the lemon wheels flat on the grill and set a grill press on top of the lemons or use a heavy frying pan to weigh them down. Allow the fruit to grill for a full minute to develop a charred crust on one side, then remove with tongs.

To make the griddled lemon old-fashioned, Jill starts with a quarter teaspoon of raw sugar at the bottom of a mixing glass, to which she adds three dashes of Angostura bitters and two and a half ounces of Town Branch bourbon (a light-bodied Kentucky bourbon) and a half ounce of wildflower honey syrup (made with a two-to-one ratio of hot water to honey). She then adds ice, stirs it to chill and strains it into an empty old-fashioned glass. After that, she scoops in enough ice to fill the glass right to the top.

The griddled lemon is the finishing touch: At Joe & Misses Doe, it's passed from the kitchen on a small "sizzle plate," and Jill slides it off with a spoon—"it's hot!"—on top of the mountain of ice.