At the peak of harvest, the biggest challenge when firing up the grill is choosing what to put on it. Do I want to roast that basket of peppers or let them sit longer to develop more color? Should I work through those giant bowls of tomatoes and tomatillos? Did I harvest eggplant, or broccoli, or corn? Is there extra room for vegetables that will keep longer, like onions, beets, and garlic, but would be tasty tonight?
When the pace of harvest slows, the question often becomes, What can’t I put on the grill? The answer is surprisingly little. From fruit to breadsticks and pizza to fish, it all tastes delicious when cooked over coals. Vegetables by far make up my largest grilling category. Hopefully this list will remind you of favorite options and inspire you to try new ones.
As I mentioned earlier this month, you don’t really need a recipe to grill vegetables: Simply clean the produce, cut or skewer it as needed, and place it on the grill until done. But if you’re new to grilling vegetables, a bit more detail may be helpful. Cleaning generally means brushing free of dirt or gently washing, as well as cutting away any spoiled or damaged areas. The choice of cutting or skewering is often determined by size: If it’s thicker than a couple of fingers, it probably wants to be cut in 2 or more pieces. If it’s so small it will fall through your grill grate, stick it on a skewer or in a grill pan. “Doneness” is a nebulous determination. Much depends on your grill, particularly its temperature and how evenly it cooks. Rely more on your eyes, nose, and handling tools than the clock: If it looks done, smells done, and feels fully cooked when you turn or remove it, than it’s done.
Almost the entire alphabet of vegetables can land on the grill. These are some of my favorites, with a bit more detail about how to prepare them:
- Asparagus. Asparagus spears are usually the first harvest I grill each spring. Be sure to lay the spears crosswise on the grill grate or in a grill pan. I like to serve them simply, with a little oil and lemon.
- Beets. Raw beets take a long time to grill. I generally seal whole beets in a piece of foil, to steam rather than char, and put them on dying coals to cook for 30 minutes or more over low, slow heat. You can also preroast and then smoke them.
- Broccoli and cauliflower. These brassicas grill and smoke best if you divide the heads into long spears or skewer small pieces. A hot grilling temp both chars and softens the stalks and florets. A cooler smoking one imparts that grilled flavor while leaving the vegetables crisp enough for dipping.
- Chilies. Large chilies can be treated like sweet peppers. Small ones should be slit or halved and cleaned before grilling or smoking; otherwise, they’ll pop like fireworks once you close the grill lid.
- Corn. Keeping the husks on corn will improve your grilling game. They’re better than foil, because they start by steaming the corn and then let it char slightly in the final minutes. I love to serve grilled corn with lime butter.
- Eggplant. Eggplant grill best when halved lengthwise; the skin slightly steams the noncut flesh, making it easier to peel away. Globe eggplant can be cut into steaks and cooked longer to loosen the peel. Besides eating it straight from the grill, the flavor is key to Baba Ghanouj.
- Garlic. I throw a head or two of garlic on the grill every time we fire it up. Simply put the whole head, in its skin, on one side of the grill and turn it occasionally while you cook everything else, until the cloves are soft.
- Leeks and spring onions. Place spring onions and scallions straight on the grill, after removing any dirt and trimming their roots and thinnest green tops. Leeks are easiest to clean when halved. Small ones can go raw on the grate, but large ones cook more evenly when blanched first in boiling water.
- Mushrooms. Mushrooms are a vegetarian’s version of grilled burgers. Thick and meaty, they’re flavor comes to the surface as they cook. Skewer small mushrooms, like creminis, whole; they tend to break if cut before skewered raw. Large mushrooms, like portobellos, are delicious and cook quickly when marinated first.
- Onions. Onions grill best if trimmed, peeled, and cut in half crosswise. Put the widest cut side down first to sear, then flip each half when it starts to soften. They’re delicious in everything from dip to relish.
- Potatoes. Raw potatoes, like beets and other root vegetables, take a long time to grill. When steamed in foil packets, they’ll cook more quickly if sliced; flip the packet often for even cooking. Fingerlings and small potatoes are best parboiled first and then speared on skewers.
- Radishes. Cooked radishes may be unexpected, but they’re as delicious skewered and grilled as they are roasted. When grilling, I drizzle them with the dressing at the end.
- Snap beans. Long, thin snap beans are easiest to grill in a foil packet. Unlike beets, you don’t need to precook them, but they may take longer than you expect to steam. I like to toss peeled garlic in the packet and then mash and mix it into the beans when serving.
- Sweet Peppers. Clean and half large peppers before grilling for easy handling. The more you char the skin, the easier it will peel off for that roasted pepper flavor. You can also cut off the top, remove the core and seeds, barely roast the whole pepper, and then stuff it.
- Tomatoes and tomatillos. Halve large toms crosswise and sear the cut side first to retain more of their delicious juice. Cherry tomatoes can be grilled in bunches on their stems or skewered; watch them closely because they soften quickly.
- Zucchini. Cut small zucchini in half lengthwise before setting it on the grate at an angle; rotate it 90 degrees after a couple of minutes for pretty hash marks before flipping and repeating on the other side. Large summer squash can be cut crosswise into steaks or cubed and skewered.
Twice as Tasty
In the Basics section of the blog, you’ll find more vegetable grilling techniques, as well as some key tools. Once you’ve got your grill on, you can save your vegetables for future sauces and salsas or turn them into a fresh dish.
You can also simply eat them as-is—no recipe required. Create a meal with a platter of grilled mixed vegetables, drizzled with a little oil and vinegar or lemon juice. Serve small portions as a side with grilled shrimp. Pile them onto cooked pasta, rice, couscous, or other grains, letting their juices soak into the bowl. Roll them into tortillas, stuff them into homemade pita bread, or slice them thin and serve them atop toasted sourdough rye bread or English Muffins. And enjoy.
Want to play with more variations? Twice as Tasty is teaching these techniques in a workshop held in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. Click here to learn more.