It’s impossible to deny the appeal of a paloma. The popular cocktail only requires a few ingredients and is incredibly refreshing. And while you can make an excellent paloma the usual way with tequila, lime, and grapefruit soda, you can also play with the formula a bit.
That’s what I did with this grilled grapefruit paloma. In honor of grilling season, in which I will take any excuse to go outside and fire up the grill, I’ve made a cocktail that is truly extra while remaining approachable and fun to make. No need for time-consuming infusions, specialty simple syrups, or hard-to-find ingredients. You just need a couple of grapefruits, a hot grill, and a few cocktail cart staples to make a grilled grapefruit paloma.
This recipe takes the classic paloma into fresher, smokier, slightly more complex territory. The combination of charred grapefruit and reposado tequila is undeniable. Since the grapefruits only take a few minutes to char, it’s the perfect drink to mix up as your guests arrive, or after you’ve already cooked your meal but the grill is still hot.
How to Grill Grapefruit
The key to successfully grilling grapefruit is a hot grill and clean grates. I like to oil my grill grates as an extra precaution, and if you use a neutral oil, it doesn’t affect the taste of the fruit. Since we’re adding sugar to the halved grapefruit before grilling them cut-side down, they only take a few minutes to char. Remove them as soon as you have grill marks, before the sugar burns.
Grilling grapefruit adds a caramelized flavor that pairs nicely with the acidity of the fruit. It also coaxes out the juice. While grilled grapefruit is great for cocktails, it’s also fun for brunch. Serve as a side dish for eggs and potatoes along with grilled peaches.
For the Best Grilled Paloma
For the best possible flavor, use a charcoal grill. It adds more grilled, smoky flavor than a gas grill.
For even more smokiness, turn your kettle grill in to a smoker. Use a simplified version of Hank Shaw’s techniques, soaking wood chips for a couple of hours before setting up the grill. This method involves low heat and time rather than high heat and just a few minutes on the grates. If you have the time, you’ll be rewarded with amazing flavor.
Start checking the grapefruit halves after half an hour—you just want them to take on lots of smoky flavor, not cook through. You can easily smoke the grapefruit while cooking something else like, say, a rack of ribs.
Make It Extra Smoky
I call for an optional smoked salt rim. A salt rim isn’t required on a paloma, but I love the combination of salt and lime and I find this adds just the right hint of smokiness.
If you’d like to up the smoke factor, you have a couple of options (in addition to turning your grill into a makeshift smoker). The simplest is to swap the tequila for your favorite smoky mezcal. If you can plan ahead and want to go above and beyond for a memorable cocktail experience, follow Mike Lang’s instructions for making smoked ice (no smoker required!).
The Best Tequila for This Paloma
You can make a paloma with any kind of tequila, but blanco is the most traditional. I like to use a light reposado instead since it plays nicely with the smoky, caramelized flavors from the grill. Espolòn is a good, affordable option.
If you’d prefer a milder flavor, use your favorite blanco tequila instead.
Make It Ahead
Most of the recipe can be prepped up to a day ahead of time. Grill the grapefruits, let them cool, and then juice them. Combine all of the ingredients except for the club soda, ice, and salt garnish. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.
You can also prep the glasses before you start grilling—just don’t add the ice until you’re ready to serve.
Tequila Cocktails for All Occasions
- Classic Margarita
- Tequila Sunrise
- Spicy Bloody Maria
- Ranch Water
- Mango Margarita
Prepare the grill:
Prepare the coals and preheat your charcoal grill to medium-high heat (about 400°F), ensuring the grates are clean. Once hot, moisten a clean, folded paper towel with oil and use tongs to grasp it. Lightly oil the grates with the paper towel.
Grill the grapefruit:
Once the grill is almost done preheating, sprinkle each cut side of the grapefruit with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.
Add the grapefruit to the grill, cut side down, and grill until the fruit is juicy and the sugar has caramelized, about 4 minutes. Remove from the grill to a plate and set in the fridge to cool.
Begin mixing the drinks:
Slice the limes in half and squeeze them until you get 1/4 cup (2 ounces) of juice. Reserve the lime half with the most juice left.
Add the squeezed lime juice to a small pitcher, followed by the tequila and agave. Stir until the agave dissolves.
Prepare the glasses:
Add the smoked salt to a small plate or shallow bowl. Use the reserved squeezed lime half to moisten one edge of 4 high-ball or similar glasses.
Dip each moistened rim in the smoked salt. Fill each glass 2/3 full with ice.
Juice the grapefruit:
Juice 3 halves of grapefruit (reserving 1 half) until you get 1 cup of juice. Add to the pitcher and stir. Slice the remaining grilled grapefruit half into slices or wedges for garnish.
Taste the mixture and adjust as needed, remembering that you’ll be adding club soda and ice, which will mellow the citrus and tequila quite a bit.
Assemble the drinks:
Divide the mixture evenly between the glasses and top each with 1/4 cup (2 ounces) of club soda, or to taste. Garnish with a piece of grapefruit and serve immediately.
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