Tips for Grilling Perfect Vegetables every time
Fresh summer produce just can’t be beat, and when it comes to methods for cooking said vegetables, grilling is the absolute best. Grilled veggies are super versatile, flavorful, and they tend to be lower in fat and cholesterol because you don’t need to use as much oil to prepare them. While many will argue about the merits of using a charcoal or a gas grill, we won’t touch that debate with a ten-foot pair of grilling tongs: both work just fine, so you do you. That said, we do care that you know all the tips for producing the perfect grilled veggie every time.
It’s All About Surface Area:
How you cut your vegetables for direct grilling will make a big difference in how they cook. More surface area equals more room for grill marks, which translates to more flavor. It also makes it easier to move them around the grill without losing them through the grates. Typically, this means:
- Bell peppers — just seed and quarter them.
- Onions — either cut into rounds or quarter them through the root (to help hold it together.)
- Zucchini, eggplant, or squashes — slice them into rounds that are about ¼” thick or into long, thin planks, or cut them into thick, meaty steak-fries-shaped wedges.
- Tomatoes — it’s going to depend on what kind you want to use, but for bigger varieties such as heirloom, beefsteak or plum, just halve them and blister the skin side. For smaller tomatoes, skewers or grill baskets will work best.
- Asparagus — simply cut off the woody ends
- Mushrooms — simply de-stem
While you can cut any vegetable any way you want — we’re not grilling dictators — be aware that the cut will dictate how long it takes to cook and whether you should do it over high flames or indirect heat. A good rule of thumb is this: small and thin = quick grill, big and dense = more time over lower heat. And don’t forget to flip your veggies to get the delicious, caramelized grill marks on both sides!
Give ’Em Oil:
Veggies tend to dry out quickly on the grill, so it’s a good idea to marinade or lightly oil them before grilling. Olive oil is great because of its neutral flavor, but you can use whatever oil or marinade you prefer. Common favorites include teriyaki sauce, chimichurri (a blend of fresh herbs, onions, garlic, and oil), and just about any salad dressing that you can imagine One word of caution: when you transfer your vegetables to the hot grill excess marinade will drip into the flames and cause flare-ups. This is fine (and will add nice charring) to a certain extent, but too much excess and you’ll risk burning your gorgeous produce.
Tools of the Trade:
Almost any vegetable is grillable (we think the exception might be cucumbers, due to their high water content) as long as you have the right tool. Tomatoes are lovely on the grill, but if you prefer grape or cherry varieties it can be difficult to keep them from falling into the pit of despair, er, the flames. Here’s where grilling tools really come in handy. Grill baskets, skewers, and aluminum foil are your grilling friends.
Metal skewers help transfer the heat through the vegetable, and are reusable. Wooden, disposable skewers are also handy, but you need to remember to give them a good soak in water before you use them to prevent the ends from just burning away.
Grill Baskets are essential for the careless or absent-minded griller. Toss all your veggies together in the basket (as long as they’re of similar size and density) and just leave them to cook like a sauté pan, stirring occasionally.
Aluminum Foil is the grilling jack of all trades. You can use it to cook veggies in packets, which converts the grill into more of a steamer. This is especially popular with corn and potatoes, as well as veggies that have a marinade likely to cause unwieldy flare-ups. The key is to make sure that you seal the veggies in tightly to contain all those juices and flavor, and to be very careful when opening to prevent any burns. You can also use foil to craft a grill basket if you don’t happen to have one. Just layer a few sheets together (to make the bottom strong enough to support whatever veggies you’re cooking), and fold the edges up about ½’-1’ all the way around to make it like a baking tray.
Some people might insist that anything more than a light coat of oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper would be gilding the lily, but we aren’t those people. Sure, veggies taste amazing that way, but why not play with the flavor a little bit? Here are some suggestions:
- A quick squirt of citrus (lemon, lime, or even orange) after removing from the heat adds the perfect amount of acidic zing to freshen up any vegetable side dish.
- You can’t go wrong with fresh herbs of any sort, honestly. Add the chopped herbs to whatever oil you use to coat the vegetables to help evenly disperse flavor and to make sure they stick.
- Teriyaki is wonderful, because the sugar content will caramelize really nicely and make a beautiful, sweet crust.
- Garlic is always good. It gets umami sweet on the grill, particularly if you’re using indirect heat.
This summer, make it a goal to experiment a bit. Grill your fresh corn in its husks. Grill romaine lettuce for your burgers. Play with flavors and methods. And be sure to add grilled vegetables to fresh salads or pair them with cheeses for some fancy charcuterie. Make a vegetarian entree by adding grilled veggies to a nutrient-packed grain like quinoa. The opportunities are endless.