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I've been experimenting with "uncommon" vegetables (in the US) and have recently fallen in love with long beans, which I buy at my local Korean market. Because of their length, I'm able to grill them, and the taste is delicious.

I put them perpendicular to the grates (I have a typical three-burner propane grill), and the problem comes when I try to flip/rotate them so they char evenly on all sides. Turning them (by kind of pushing them with the tongs or spatula so they roll) isn't very effective unless I try to do them one or two at a time, and I cook in large batches. Flipping them by picking up with the tongs is also somewhat ineffective; because of their inconsistent length I often have some ends fall under the grate and burn as I try to lay them back onto the grate. I can correct this individually, but I'm looking for efficiency.

I realize I could probably pick up both ends at the same time with two sets of tongs, but I don't know that I have the dexterity needed to flip from that point. Also, this is only very effective if the beans are similar lengths, otherwise they'd fall from one end and I'd have the same problem as before.

One recipe I found suggested tying them in small bunches with cooking twine or scallions. This makes a lot of sense to me, but I have neither on hand right now. So, my questions:

  • If I were to use cooking twine, what would keep it from burning? Should I soak it? With direct flame like this I would expect the twine to catch on fire easily, is that an incorrect assumption?
  • What makes cooking twine special? Is it just because it frays less than normal twine, or is there something that makes it food-safe? Could I use, for example, braided nylon rope, or another type of string or rope that I might have in my garage? Why or why not?
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5 Answers

NO--I cannot emphasize this enough--you CANNOT use nylon rope (or any other random rope you have laying around, unless you can be guaranteed that it is 100% cotton or hemp)! It will melt all over your food. Cooking twine is generally, if memory serves, pure cotton and thus safe (though perhaps not tasty) to eat.

Tying your beans in bundles would be counterproductive; only the outer beans would cook. Unless you did some sort of weaving thing like a bamboo mat, at which point I would have to question whether the extra work actually saved you any time.

The mistake that most people make when grilling long skinny things is, as you say, to roll them. Or to flip them as though they were bigger objects. The trick is to turn them from their ends, so it's just a matter of grabbing the end--straight on, parallel to the bean--with your tongs, twist your wrist, move on to the next one.

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Thanks @daniel, I knew there was a reason cooking twine was special; melted nylon does not sound appetizing! I guess there is no way to "en masse" flip these things, I've basically (through trial and error) been doing what you said, just kind of twisting the ends once I realized rolling and flipping didn't work. I haven't tried the bundle method for the reason you said - I want them all to char, not just the outside of the bundle. I'm making them again tonight, so I'll see if maybe I just need to practice and get faster :) –  stephennmcdonald Apr 12 '11 at 18:58
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Have you tried a vegetable grilling tray or basket? These are super convenient, make it much easier to manage/turn beans (or any veggies) on the grill, and keep them from falling into the BBQ.

As for your questions regarding cooking twine...

  1. Do soak the twine in water before putting it on the grill. This will prevent the twine from burning.
  2. "The string used for kitchen twine is almost always made from linen or cotton, never plastic or other synthetic material such as polyester or nylon. Kitchen twine must be a non-toxic food grade material, since it will be in such close contact with raw foods. Synthetic yarns and twines would either melt under the heat or leech dangerous chemicals into the food." (Source: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-kitchen-twine.htm)
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Great suggestion - I do have a vegetable/fish grilling tray that has a top and bottom which you press together with the food between (so it can be flipped), but due to its poor design it's very tall - so when I flip it, the food is very, very far from the flame. If I had a properly designed (read: very thin) one this might be the best method for large batches. I may have to purchase one similar to the one you linked to so I can use daniel's turning method, but still not have to worry about any slipping into the grate. –  stephennmcdonald Apr 12 '11 at 19:01
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Why not just use a vegetable basket, or something similar? (for example: http://www.ajmadison.com/cgi-bin/ajmadison/6434.html?mv_pc=fr&utm_source=google&utm_medium=base -- there are many options that are much cheaper than this) Then you can move your veggies around to your heart's content, without fear of losing any to the flame.

Even if you find some food-safe twine, that seems like an awful lot of prep work, especially when a $10-20 item will save you all of that effort.

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Good point on the prep work/time, which is very important to me. I'm coming to realize it's just a matter of having the wrong tools for the job - my grill basket looks like this and I can't use it because of how tall it is, when I flip it the other side isn't close enough to my propane flame. The one you and EmJ linked to look much more like what I should be using and will probably solve my problem - thank you! –  stephennmcdonald Apr 12 '11 at 19:07
    
I picked up a smaller, nonstick vegetable grilling pan pretty cheaply at Lowe's, Home Depot, or Bed Bath & Beyond (can't remember which - one of the big box stores). I think it was only 10 bucks, and is about 9" in diameter. It also has a removable handle, which is handy for me, as I put it in my kettle grill, and I don't want to waste the space displaced by the handle. If I were at home I'd post a pic. –  Sean Hart Apr 12 '11 at 20:30
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You could always invest in some newfangled reusable silicone cooking twine (a set should cost you around $10). The silicone twine should hold up to temperatures well in excess of what your propane grill is capable of producing. There are even flame-proof metal versions designed specifically for grilling.

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You could bundle them using some aluminum foil. Just tear off a strip, wrap it around them.

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