Summer’s almost here, and the backyard is calling. Whether you use them as starters, main courses, or to complement a burger, vegetables cook quickly on a grill, they’re easy to prep, and they're delicious. Since veggies can require a little more than just flame from the grill, check out these tips on how to make sure your grilled vegetables turn out beautiful!
1. OIL IS YOUR FRIEND.
For some, the whole point of adding veggies to the grilling menu is to have a lighter option. But nothing’s worse than a dried-out batch of portobello mushrooms (or, worse, a batch that has stuck to the grill), so don’t just throw them on the barbie naked. A gentle coating of olive oil or non-stick cooking spray—or a pre-grill marinade that has a touch of oil in it—can make all the difference here.
2. KNOW YOUR VEGGIES.
Some vegetables, such as summer squash, are done on the grill in a flash, while denser ones like potatoes will take their time. However, you don’t want to slap the dense ones on high heat and risk charring the outsides but leaving the insides raw. One way to avoid this is to sear your heavier veg on high heat for a minute, then shuttle them over to a less fiery part of the grill to let them chill out while they finish cooking. You can also cheat a little and precook them, then give them a couple minutes on each side to get those lovely grill marks.
3. CHOP EQUALLY.
Although some vegetables, like asparagus, can be grilled whole, most of them need to be chopped first. The problem here is that if you have a bunch of differently sized chunks, your veggies won’t cook at the same rate and you’ll end up with half the batch piping hot and ready to eat while the other half’s still cookin’. That’s why it’s good to make them all roughly the same size, whether big or small. (Obviously, smaller pieces will cook faster than bigger ones, but you also don’t want them too petite that they’ll fall through the grates.)
4. USE SKEWERS, BASKETS, OR FOIL PACKETS.
If your veggie chunks are sliced small, you can avoid the fall-through-the-grates problem by putting them in a basket or by skewering them. If you use bamboo skewers, make sure to soak them in warm water for 15 to 30 minutes before putting them on the grill, so they don’t burn. (Who can resist food on a stick?) If you’ve got your hands full and don’t have time to shepherd the grill, you can always wrap up your veggies in a foil packet and then leave them to steam for about 15 minutes while you focus on other tasks. This method works especially well with dense root veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots. (Just be careful when you open the packet, so that you don’t get a face full of scalding steam.)
5. TRY NEW VEGGIES.
Sticking to the classics is fine, but there are some vegetables you don’t typically see barbecued that can have really spectacular results when grilled! Think outside the box by trying leeks (sliced in half lengthwise and then into 4-to-6-inch pieces), green beans (use a basket or foil packet), eggplant (sliced in rounds for maximum surface area), fennel (sliced lengthwise with the root end kept intact, so it stays held together), or broccoli (coat or marinate in oil beforehand, turn often).
6. KEEP IT SIMPLE.
As with meat, you'll want to season veggies with salt and pepper and even some additional flavor like spicy Aleppo pepper or a lighter lemon pepper. Let the flavor of the veggies plus the Maillard reaction (the caramelizing of natural sugars caused by heat) do the bulk of the work, then sprinkle with finishing salt before serving.
7. USE A PAINT SCRAPER AS A SPATULA.
Vegetables, obviously, are more delicate than steaks, and so they’re more liable to tear when you pull them off the grill. A trick of the trade is to use a metal, chisel-style paint scraper, like the kind you’d get at a hardware store, which has a sharper blade and can get up underneath the veggies more efficiently.
8. YOU GOTTA KNOW WHEN TO SOAK ‘EM.
Corn is the main culprit in this category. If you like to keep the husks on (up to you—corn grills well with or without them), first peel them all the way back, along with the corn silk exposing the kernels, and then soak the cobs in cold water for 15 minutes. When the grill is hot, pull the husks back up around the cobs, twisting the leaves at the tip as needed to help them stay in place.
9. AVOID WATERY VEGGIES—BUT NOT ALL OF THEM.
As a rule, veggies such as cucumbers, celery, and lettuce don’t do so well on the grill, thanks to their high water content. However, there are a couple of exceptions to the rule: Romaine grills beautifully, as do tomatoes.
10. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM.
Cooking the same kinds of vegetables—or even similarly textured vegetables—together in one batch helps the whole lot cook more evenly. E.g., grill soft veggies like tomatoes and mushrooms together, or zucchini with squash, or bell peppers with onions.
11. LEAVE THEM ALONE.
Most vegetables cook so quickly that, if you’re putting them directly on the grill, you really only need to flip them once. (The main exception to this are high-maintenance cobs of corn, which need to be grilled all over their cylindrical surfaces.) Five to 10 minutes per side is generally enough to get some good grill marks, and you don’t want to risk ripping them due to overhandling. Just let ’em mellow.
All images via iStock.