Grilling vegetables is a great way to bring out sweet, toasty, caramelized flavors that other cooking techniques won't. And there's very little prep involved. All you really need to do is toss the raw veggies in olive oil, sprinkle them with Kosher salt and get them on the grill.
(Scroll down to see some guidelines for grilling specific veggies.)
Still, you can't grill veggies the same way you grill a steak.
A steak needs a very hot grill, whereas vegetables are more delicate and need a more moderate temperature. Moreover, not all vegetables are suitable for grilling, either because of their size and shape or because they're just too delicate. In just a bit we'll talk about what kinds of vegetables are good for grilling and how to do it.
But for starters, you're going to want to have a very clean grill, since any cooked-on food particles can give your grilled veggies an unpleasant flavor. And because a buildup of smoke can also make your veggies taste bad, you should grill vegetables uncovered.
Grill Veggies at the Proper Temperature
How hot should the grill be? A medium-high grill is best for most types of veggies. If you have a gas grill, this is about 400°F to 425°F. But if you're using a charcoal grill, the way to measure is to hold your hand four to five inches above the grill and count the seconds until you can't hold it there any longer.
For grilling veggies, you should be able to hold your hand there for 4-5 seconds. If it's too hot, just wait a while for the coals to cool down.
Some vegetables are better over a medium grill. On a gas grill, that's about 350°F. If you're using the hand method, you should be able to hold your hand four to five inches above the grill for 6-7 seconds.
To Skewer or Not To Skewer?
Let's talk about skewers for a second. Skewers can be helpful when grilling smaller vegetables that might fall through the grate of your grill. Skewers also make it easier to turn your veggies. Imagine a bunch of mushrooms on the grill. Would you rather turn them one at a time, or just pick up and flip a single skewer with six mushrooms on it?
Stainless steel kabob skewers are best for grilling because they won't roll and they're easy to flip.
Bamboo skewers will work too, but just be sure to soak them in water for 30 minutes before putting them on the grill, or they will turn black and possibly catch on fire.
Here are some guidelines for grilling individual vegetables:
- Corn: Some people like to grill corn with the husks still on, but that's just steaming the corn, really. By removing the husks and the silk and cooking the corn directly on the grill, the kernels get lightly blackened and caramelized, bringing out tons of sweet corn flavor. You should grill corn over a medium grill for 4-5 minutes, turning frequently.
- Eggplant: Cut the eggplant into ½-inch slices. Brush them with a simple balsamic vinaigrette, toss with Kosher salt and grill over a medium-high grill for about 5 minutes, then flip and grill for 5 minutes longer.
- Asparagus: The ends of asparagus spears can be tough, so trim them off, then toss the spears in olive oil and Kosher salt and grill for 4-5 minutes over a medium-high grill, then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes.
- Onions: Sweet onions like Vidalias, Mauis or Walla Wallas are great for grilling, as are red onions. Just peel them, cut them into ½-inch slices, toss them in olive oil and Kosher salt and cook over a medium-high grill for 2-3 minutes, then turn and grill 2-3 minutes longer. A skewer can be handy to hold the onions together on the grill.
- Bell peppers: Remove the core and seeds, then slice the each pepper into about four separate sections. Toss with olive oil and Kosher salt and grill over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill 4-5 minutes longer.
- Cabbage: Cut the cabbage in half and then slice each half into thick 1-inch slices. Toss with olive oil and Kosher salt. You can skewer each big slice to keep it from falling apart. Grill over a medium-high grill for about 10 minutes, then turn and grill for another ten minutes.
- Zucchini and yellow squash: Cut into ½-inch pieces lengthwise, toss in olive oil and Kosher salt and cook over medium-high grill for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes longer.
- Tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes can be skewered and grilled whole, for 3-4 minutes over a medium-high grill. Be sure to turn them frequently so that they cook evenly. You can also grill plum tomatoes. Cut them in half the long way, remove the seeds and grill for four minutes, then turn and grill for four minutes longer.
- Mushrooms: Toss white or brown button mushrooms with olive oil and Kosher salt. Then skewer and cook over a medium-high grill for 7-8 minutes, turning frequently. You can also grill a whole Portobello mushroom cap directly on the grill. Grill them smooth-side-down for 8-9 minutes.
- Cauliflower: Cut the cauliflower into big florets, toss in olive oil and Kosher salt and then skewer. Grill over medium-high heat, turning often, for about 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and lightly charred. Heavenly.