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Barbecue Secrets

Recipe of the week: Spanish-style Paella on the Grill

Jun 14, 2013

My friend Richard Campbell is one of the world’s leading podcasters, and he’s also a great outdoor cook. He taught me this great technique for cooking traditional Spanish style paella on the grill. I’ve tried it a few times now and it’s delicious and spectacular. The traditional way to cook paella is outdoors, over an open fire, in a specialized paella pan, which you can get at kitchenware shops or online at places like,,, and

I have a Weber Summit grill that has a central burner called a “searing station” that helps concentrate heat on the paella pan but any regular-size gas grill would work here.

This is sized for an 18" paella pan.


Two tablespoons of Spanish paprika (spicy or sweet, depending on taste)

One tablespoon of oregano

two pounds of boneless chicken thighs (skin on if you can get it)

a pound of fresh chorizo sausage (dried in a pinch, but fresh is better for this application)

A Spanish or other sweet onion

15-ounce can of whole tomatoes (San Marzano if you can get them)

Big bunch of flat leaf parsley

Four cloves of garlic

4 cups of short grained Spanish rice (Italian Arborio works well)

4 cups of chicken stock (low sodium of course)

1 cup of water

1 cup of dry white wine

1/4 cup of olive oil

Pinch of saffron

12-16 mussels

12-16 jumbo shrimp

Half a lobster tail per person (optional)

1/2 cup of frozen sweet peas

Lemon wedges

Good quality salt (Kosher or sea salt) and freshly ground black pepper


Mix up the paprika and oregano on a plate for dredging. Dredge the chicken thighs in the mixture, place in a zip lock bag to get tasty for a couple of hours before cooking.

Dice the onion, de-stem and chop the parsley (save a handful of leaves for garnish), coarse mince the garlic.

Drain and hand-crush the tomatoes, break 'em into fairly small pieces.

Put the saffron in a small bowl and soak in hot water to get that dye moving. (Be careful not to get anything on your clothes or wooden or marble countertops – it stains!)

Thick slice the chorizo.

Get your seafood ready by adding a bunch of ice and cold water to a big bowl, along with a handful of sea salt or Kosher salt.  Scrub and inspect all the mussels and drop them in the bowl. Peel and devein the shrimp and into the bowl. Drop the lobster tails in the bowl too (Richard normally gets frozen, which defrost nicely in the bowl.)

Cooking gear:

18-inch paella pan (or a similar large and shallow frying pan)


Holding dishes for meat after cooking


Preheat your grill on medium-high. Place the paella pan directly on the cooking grates in the centre of the grill. Add the olive oil and when it starts to shimmer, put in your chorizo. Turn the chorizo frequently – as you’re browning the sausage you’re flavoring the oil. When the chorizo is browned, transfer it to a holding dish and immediately add the chicken thighs.  Sear both sides, don't worry about cooking through, it'll get done when it goes back in. Remove chicken to holding pan. Salt and pepper the chicken as it comes out.

Lower the heat under the pan to medium. Make a sofrito by adding onion, garlic and parsley. Cook until the onions start to soften, then add the tomatoes. Wait till everything breaks down a bit and the excess liquid from the tomatoes is about gone and just starting to caramelize.

Add rice and stir it thoroughly into the sofrito to coat the rice. This is about the last time you'll get to stir the dish, so take your time and get everything even in the pan. You want to coat and lightly toast the rice.

Add the chicken stock, water, wine and saffron. Make sure the pan is more or less even - this is when you find out how level your grill is. Try not to stir the rice, rather turn and shake the pan a bit. If you stir, you'll make risotto.

After ten minutes, add the chicken and chorizo back in by pushing them into the rice. When it's all in, add in the mussels and shrimp, making sure they end up under the rice also (asbestos fingers help). You will struggle to get everything in the pan.

Let cook for at least 15 minutes, with the grill open (yes, you don’t need to close the grill – the Spanish have been cooking this in the open air for centuries). Make sure the pan is evenly heated, you might need to rotate it. You're not looking for a hard boil, but rather a steady bubble all around the pan.

While this is going on, split the lobster tails in half. They should be defrosted and plumped up from sitting in the sea water you made.

In the last five minutes of cooking, which is typically around the point that Richard says he’s panicking that the rice will overflow the pan, arrange the lobster tails on top in a nice pattern. The steam coming off the rice is enough to cook them, just wait until the shells change color.

Ultimately you're trying to cook down all of the moisture in the pan, so times are going to vary with heat. Richard says to just watch the pan. As soon as you smell a nutty smell of the rice starting to toast, you're done. If the lobster gets cooked first, turn up the heat a bit to hurry the process along.

Once you smell toasted rice, get the pan off the heat and let it rest at least five minutes.

While you're waiting, heat up the frozen sweet peas in the microwave and make some lemon wedges.

Garnish the paella with the peas, lemon wedges between the lobster tails and the parsley leaves you reserved.

All of the meat is optional - you can use whatever you want. Richard likes chorizo, but you can leave it out if you don't want spicy sausage. You can skip the lobster too if it’s just too dearly priced. You can also use clams instead of mussels, and go with different sizes of shrimp. Richard calls it a “refrigerator velcro kind of dish - I've offered to make vegetarian versions, but everyone wants the seafood.”

Serve the paella by presenting it on a heatproof mat or wooden cutting board, in the middle of your table, and let your guests have at it!