When most people think of summer grilling, they typically imagine steaks, hamburgers, and chicken, among other meaty mains. But the grill happens to be an excellent and easy way to cook vegetables.
You may be surprised to discover how much of summer's fresh bounty tastes best cooked on the grill. The dry, intense heat of the grill does something magical to most vegetables. It caramelizes their natural sugars, highlighting and deepening the taste of even the most delicately-flavored produce.
We've put together this ultimate guide of vegetable grilling hacks you need to know, so you can be a successful griller every time. Read on to learn how to select, prep, season, grill, and serve vegetables. You'll also find handy links below to grilling recipes for specific vegetables of all kinds.
Preparing the Vegetables
Much like grilling any protein, vegetables can require some preparation before laying on the grill. From cleaning and cutting to marinating and seasoning, grilled vegetables can be as easy or complex as you desire.
Slicing and Dicing
While some vegetables (we're looking at you, asparagus) can be grilled whole, most will need to be chopped up first. As with other cooking methods, but maybe more so, it is important to cut vegetables into equally-sized chunks. This will help to ensure they cook at the same rate, so you won't end up with half a grill's worth of veggies that is ready to eat, while the other half is still limp and under-cooked. Smaller pieces will always cook faster than larger ones, of course, but watch that you don't chop pieces so small they can fall through the grate.
Marinating Isn't Just for Meat
Most vegetables can be oiled (and maybe salted) and grilled, with no other preparation. But some produce benefits from a quick marinade before grilling time. For instance, cabbage and butternut squash will develop an extra depth of flavor on the barbecue when first soaked for 15 minutes in a simple solution of olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh herbs. Of course, you can get as creative as you wish with marinade ingredients, from soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar, to Japanese mayonnaise, chimichurri sauce, or peanut butter-spiked preparations. Just be sure to avoid marinades with any type of sweetener as an ingredient, as the vegetable will burn on the outside before it is cooked on the inside.
Brining and Par-Cooking
Certain veggies do better on the barbecue when you give them a little extra TLC first. Eggplant, for one, loses its bitterness when treated to a simple saltwater brine before cooking over high heat. Soak slices for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour, before patting dry, oiling, and placing on the grill. Tough root vegetables, such as parsnips, artichokes, beets, and carrots, can be par-cooked before grilling for a more tender end result. Simply blanch them in a pot of simmering water until semi-tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Never Skip Oiling Your Vegetables
Oil is essential to grilling vegetables. Before you introduce your produce to the BBQ, give them a light but thorough coating of olive oil or vegetable oil. Not only will this help to prevent vegetables sticking to the grill surface, it also helps any seasoning to stick to veggies, and can make all the difference to their final cooked state. While you're at it, feel free to sprinkle some Kosher salt on your vegetables, for added flavor and crunch. Or season them after grilling, with our tips below.
Preparing To Grill
If your grill doesn't already stay ready, while you finish the vegetable prep, take a break to prepare your grill by cleaning and preheating it. Never wait on a grill. The grill should always be waiting for you.
Clean Your Grill
Before you throw your vegetables on the grill, you'll want to make sure it is clean. Nobody likes the unpleasant flavor of baked-on food particles from barbecues past, which can migrate and lend an unpleasant flavor to mild-tasting veggies. Crank up the heat on the grill, and use a stiff wire brush to scour the grate, and remove any leftover charred morsels. (If you lack a grill brush, you can spear half an onion on a fork, and use the cut side to rub down the grill). There is no need to oil the grate once it's clean, as you will be oiling your vegetables (per below).
Grill Without the Lid
Grilling vegetables should be done with the cover off. Even the good kind of barbecue smoke can overpower the flavor of grilled vegetables. That means it's almost always best to cook them uncovered or without the lid.
Of course, if you are grilling meats and vegetables at the same time, all bets are off. But building a two-zone fire is a good place to start.
Turn Up the Heat
For most vegetables, you'll want to set the grill to medium-high heat. This means 400 to 425 F. If you're using a gas grill, simply turn it up to 400 to 425 F and you're all set. With a charcoal grill, you will need to set the temperature the old-fashioned way, using around 75 charcoal briquets, or a chimney starter that is 3/4 full.
Certain vegetables require a grill heat that is closer to medium, or 350 F, so always check recipe instructions. Vegetables are more forgiving (and a lot less expensive) than pricey chops and steaks, so give yourself permission to experiment with different temperatures and cook times.
Use Both Direct and Indirect Heat
When vegetables are almost done, pull them off the direct heat, and move them to the outside of the grill (indirect heat). They will continue to cook slightly for a few minutes, due to internal heat (this is called "carry over cooking"). This is a great grilling hack when you need to hold vegetables or anything until other food is ready, or until your cookout guests are ready with their plates.
Other Vegetable Grilling Methods
Not every vegetable needs to be contained, or skewered. Larger vegetables such as eggplant, portabello mushrooms, and even artichoke halves can cook directly on the grill grate, once oiled.
But other items, such as cherry tomatoes, broccoli spears, and button mushrooms, are in danger of falling through the grill. A grill basket is a great tool to keep smaller vegetables from rolling around, or disappearing into the coals.
If you don't have a proper grill basket, you can DIY one by folding a long piece of heavy-duty tinfoil in half, and crimping the edges to create a lip. Or seal vegetables inside a foil packet or envelope, so they can steam atop the grill.
Skewers are a fun way to cook and serve vegetables, and are also helpful for turning them as they cook. You can invest in flat metal skewers, which can be used again and again. Or pick ordinary, disposable bamboo skewers for grilling parties. Just be sure to soak bamboo skewers in warm water for 15 to 30 minutes before placing them on the grill, to prevent burning.
Cooking Times for Different Vegetables
Vegetables generally cook quite quickly on the barbecue. While individual results may vary, and cook times will differ depending on the size (or chopped size) of your vegetables. Here are some general times for grilling vegetables:
- 4 to 6 minutes - tomatoes, spring onions, Romaine lettuce (whole head), and asparagus
- 7 to 8 minutes - summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, whole field carrots, cauliflower "steaks", and small mushrooms
- 8 to 10 minutes - whole onions, bell peppers, artichokes, and okra pods
- 10 to 14 minutes - portabello mushroom caps, corn on the cob
Finish Strong With Seasoning
Seasoning grilled vegetables is uncomplicated, and a great final step to deliver maximum flavor. Almost any grilled vegetable will taste divine sprinkled with the indispensable Kosher salt, and a little freshly ground black pepper, and drizzled with an acid (such as fresh lemon or lime juice, or balsamic vinegar). Any fresh chopped herbs (think thyme, basil, parsley, cilantro, oregano, or rosemary), or a herbaceous pesto sauce if you've got one in the fridge, would be a flavorful and welcome finisher.
Beyond these simple seasonings, there is a world of sauces to explore for finishing your grilled veggies. Adding some combination of crunch, acid, and fat brings your simple side dish to the next level. For instance, try tossing grilled eggplant in peanut sauce, and topping it with hulled sunflower seeds. Or slather crisp-tender grilled asparagus in creamy aioli, boosted with spicy harissa or Sriracha sauce. The only limit is your imagination!
You could easily make a vegetarian meal out of grilled vegetables, whether you layer them over a protein-rich grain, such as quinoa or wild rice, tuck them into a fluffy sandwich bun, or slather them with a rich and creamy sauce. But for all you dedicated carnivores out there, here are some winning protein pairings for grilled vegetables:
Steak: Grilled onions, mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus
Chicken: Corn, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, summer squash
Pork: Cabbage, bell peppers, beets, spring onions
Salmon: Broccoli, sweet potatoes, cabbage,
Lamb: Eggplant, asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, artichokes
More Vegetable Grilling Ideas and Recipes:
We love vegetables on the grill! Try our recipes for some of the most popular grilled vegetables:
- Grilled Portabello mushrooms
- Grilled okra
- Grilled carrots
- Grilled bell peppers
- Grilled cauliflower
- Grilled tomatoes
- Grilled artichokes
- Grilled treviso
- Grilled sweet potatoes
- Grilled cauliflower steaks with herb sauce
- Grilled beets
- Grilled spring onions
- Grilled zucchini and summer squash
- Grilled broccoli spears