When most people think of grilling, they usually think of steaks, hamburgers, or chicken. But the grill happens to be a wonderful way to cook vegetables and it's about as simple and straightforward as cooking can be.
Mostly, it's a matter of slicing them (and even this is sometimes optional), brushing them with oil, and cooking over a medium-high grill with one or two turns along the way. You can season before or after cooking. We'll discuss specific vegetables and tips for grilling each one, but first, here are some general guidelines.
Guidelines for Grilling Vegetables
Set the grill to medium-high: This means 400 to 425 F. If you're using a gas grill, set it to 400 to 425 F and you're all set. With a charcoal grill, you have to set the temperature the old-fashioned way: use about 75 charcoal briquets, or a chimney starter that's 3/4 full.
To check the temperature, hold your hand four or five inches away from the grill. You should be able to keep your hand there for four to five seconds. Less than that and it's too hot; longer and it's not hot enough. Note that certain veggies prefer a medium grill, which corresponds with 350 F or six to seven seconds of holding your hand over the grill.
Start with a clean grill: Baked-on food particles or other debris will impart an unpleasant flavor to your food. This is not the type of "smoked flavor" you want to infuse into your cooking. This is true for all foods, but especially vegetables, since their flavors are easily overpowered. Therefore, it's critical to make sure you clean your grill before cooking.
Grill with the cover off: Even the good kind of smoke can overpower the flavor of grilled vegetables. That means that it's almost always best to cook them uncovered. This goes against the conventional grilling doctrine, but vegetables are a special case. Of course, if you're grilling meats and vegetables at the same time, all bets are off. But building a two-zone fire is a good place to start.
Use flat metal skewers: Not every vegetable needs to be skewered, of course. But some items, like mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower florets, Brussels sprouts and so on, definitely do. Not only to keep them from falling and rolling around, but also to aid in turning them. That's why we recommend using flat skewers rather than needle-shaped ones, on which vegetables tend to spin around when you try to turn them. But if ordinary straight skewers (i.e. bamboo ones) are all you have, you can use two at a time to prevent spinning.
Give them grill marks: The grill is going to make marks on your food, but you can make sure that they are appealing and attractive rather than just a mishmash of lines. For items with big flat sides like a wedge of cabbage or a slice of eggplant, you can give them cross-hatched grill marks by rotating the item 45 degrees halfway through cooking that side. In other words, let the grill make its marks, then rotate the item 45 degrees and let the grill make new marks that produce a criss-cross diamond pattern. Then when you flip the item, do the same. You can even accomplish this with long items like leeks or carrots. Yes, it's another thing to think about, but it makes your veggies look like they were grilled by a pro!
How to Season Grilled Vegetables
When we talk about seasoning grilled vegetables, it's as uncomplicated as cooking them was. For the most part, toss them with some Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice is indispensable as are fresh chopped herbs like thyme, oregano, or rosemary.
A drizzle of balsamic vinegar or even a simple pesto sauce would also be a welcome finisher.
The charred, smoky flavor added on the grill highlights the grassy essence of asparagus. Look for fat spears to put on the grill—their meatiness works well with this style of cooking and they're easier to manage on the grate (and less likely to fall through!). Brush or toss with oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill until tender with grill marks, eight to 10 minutes total.
Cabbage is one of those items you might not think of grilling, but once you try it, you'll quickly realize it might be the best preparation. It gets a bit sweet with crispy blackened edges and a slightly softened, but still crunchy texture. All you have to do is cut each head into wedges, secure the outer leaves with a skewer, and grill over high heat for 10 to 15 minutes.
Fresh sweet corn takes on a smoky scent when popped on the grill. There are two ways to go: fully shuck it, coat it with melted butter, and grill until tender (five to 10 minutes depending on grill heat); or pull back the leaves, removed the silk, brush on some melted butter, pull the leaves back, and cook in the husk for a result that's much more like steamed or boiled corn.
Eggplant can be great on the grill, whether as part of a grilled veggie platter or even as a substitute for a burger patty. But grilled incorrectly, it can also be overcooked and lifeless or undercooked with a spongy texture. The trick is to soak the slices in saltwater before grilling, which guarantees great grilled eggplant that end up crispy brown on the outside, creamy sweet on the inside, and full of flavor-every time.
Watch Now: How to Make a Perfectly Grilled Eggplant
Grilling mitigates the infamous "slime" factor in okra and keeps the grassy flavor and lovely crispy texture of these green (or purple!) pods intact. The crispy edges okra develops on the grill are best highlighted by a generous sprinkle of coarse sea salt. As with the other vegetables, just toss with a bit of oil to coat the pods, sprinkle with salt, and grill until tender and marked, four to five minutes per side.
The charring from grilling makes the tough skins on peppers slip right off (just like roasting them does), leaving sweet, tender peppers to enjoy. You can oil them if you like, but it's not necessary—the goal is to char the skin so that you can peel it off to eat the sweet tender pepper inside.
Enjoy the crusty exterior and creamy, yet fluffy interior that results from grilling potatoes. Yukon Golds or Yellow Finns, both of which have built-in flavor and sweetness, are excellent. There are several ways to cook potatoes on the grill, but one of the simplest is to cut them into wedges, toss them in a basic Italian vinaigrette and grill them on medium heat for 20 minutes, basting with additional dressing while they cook.
Grilled radicchio is particularly delicious with a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar. A crumble or two of blue cheese on top can be tasty, too. Cut heads into quarters, leaving the core intact to hold the leaves together. Brush the quarters with oil, set on a medium-hot grill, and cook until grill-marked, repeat with other sides until the leaves are tender all the way through, about 15 minutes total.
Spring onions are delicious on the grill. They turn sweet and a bit creamy, adding lots of flavor alongside roast meats or as part of a grilled vegetable platter. Trim, oil, set on a medium-hot grill and cook until tender, about 10 minutes total. You can also grill leeks the same way, but they turn out best if you slice them lengthwise and grill them cut side-down.
Tomatoes on the grill are a great way to enjoy summer's favorite vegetables. Or are they fruit? Either way, for grilling, you want to use tomatoes that are firm when ripe. Oil them up, set them cut-side-down on a medium-hot grill, and cook until grill-marked, about seven minutes. Don't bother turning them (it can get messy if you do).
Zucchini and summer squash are tasty, easy additions to any summer grill. This recipe is as much a technique as a recipe. Feel free to increase or decrease amounts, vary the type of oil, and add other seasonings. You can grill them halved or sliced.
How to Grill Other Vegetables
- Mushrooms: skewer
- Carrots: peel and lay them right across the grill
- Onions: quarter and secure with a skewer
- Artichokes: slice lengthwise
- Beets: slice
- Parsnips: peel and lay them right across the grill
- Lettuce (especially Romaine): halve the head, oil and grill cut side-down like cabbage
- Green beans: be careful not to let them fall between the grates
- Cauliflower: cut into florets and skewered or sliced into "steaks"
- Brussels sprouts: skewer
- Fennel: slice