By Tamar Teitelbaum of Candidly Delicious
Summer and grilling are practically synonymous. When I think of summertime, my mind immediately drifts toward fresh produce marked with those signature black lines. Grilling vegetables brings out their juiciness . The sweetness of the vegetables is enhanced from the grilling, and paired with that bitter char taste, the flavor bomb is amazing.
Because the grilling itself creates so much flavor, you really don’t have to get fancy with the preparation. As a general rule, drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and then sprinkle some salt and pepper. Toss to coat. That’s all they really need. Adding herbs is a bad idea for grilling because herbs will burn and not add an herbal flavor. To get more creative, go with spices like paprika, chili powder, garlic or onion powder or even a BBQ spice blend. These kinds of spices will roast along with the vegetables, bringing out their flavor.
The grilling process itself can have variations. You might be cooking on a propane grill, or over charcoal. Or like I often do, you might be grilling on a grill pan inside the house. All of these options are excellent ways to impart grilled flavor. The basic preparation of the vegetables is the same no matter which type of grill you’re cooking on, but the different types of grills require some variation in the preparation.
So, starting with a propane grill. Vegetables should be placed over a medium-heat burner. The grill should also be preheated. The grill needs to be hot enough to create grill marks but cook slowly enough to let the vegetables’ tender juices start to render. It depends on the individual grill, but a medium to medium-high temperature should do the trick.
A charcoal grill is a whole different animal. It’s less controlled and less predictable. I kind of like the wildness of a charcoal grill. Vegetables should be placed around the outer edges of the grill. This is assuming that the coals were built with the highest heat in the center. Otherwise, move the vegetables to wherever there is a lower-heat zone. Save the hot spots for searing meats. If possible, put a lid over the grill as well to help cook the inside of the vegetables by the time the outside is ready.
Lastly, the indoor grill pan is a convenience I could never live without. It’s ideal to look for a cast-iron grill pan, but if that isn’t available just get the sturdiest material; the thinner metals don’t grill nicely. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Lay the vegetables anywhere on the pan. The nice thing about the indoor pan is that you have a lot of control over the temperature and it tends to be more even.
No matter what grill you use, be sure to leave the vegetables alone until those grill marks are nice and dark. If moved around, they won’t char nicely. Instead of turning the vegetables early, increase the heat if it seems the insides are cooking through before the outside can char. Once the grill marks are set, then rotate the vegetables. Char on all sides. Serve hot or refrigerate them to add to salads or soups for an extra layer of flavor.
Top 10 Best Vegetables to Grill
(according to me)
10. Sweet Potatoes
Cook time: 15 to 25 minutes.
These tubers aren’t only delicious as french fries or mashed potatoes. They grill nicely as well. Cut into wedges (think steak fries) and grill on a medium-heat area to get the signature char on the outside with fluffy softness inside. Be patient with these, as they cook a bit slow.
Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes.
Yellow onions, white onions, red onions, Spanish onions…it doesn’t matter. All onions are amazing on the grill. Cut onions into thick slices for grilling; about half an inch is great. Be sure to lightly oil them, then just place them on the grill. Turn when well charred and partially softened. Grilling removes the acrid onion taste and brings out all of the sweetness and caramelization.
Cook time: Steaks 10 to 20 minutes, Whole 20 to 35 minutes.
I love grilled cauliflower. Cut the cauliflower into steaks, one inch thick. Season with olive oil and your favorite spices, then place on a medium-heat area of the grill. These grill up to be tender-crisp and beautifully charred. It’s also really nice to grill a full head of cauliflower. Put it in a lower heat zone of the grill and be sure to close the lid. The whole cauliflower will smoke and steam itself in the heat. Slice it up for tender, soft cauliflower on the inside with crispy edges around the outside. Yum!
Cook time: 10 to 15 minutes.
Eggplant turns into creamy deliciousness on the grill. Leave the skin on and slice into half-inch-thick slices. Grill them on a lower heat area of the grill and turn when well charred. They will hold the grill marks but the inside will be all warm and creamy.
Cook time: 20 to 30 minutes.
Any type of cabbage works for this. Cabbage can be grilled in wedges or thick slices like cauliflower steaks. Drizzle well with oil, season as desired, and grill on a low heat. When char marks appear, the cabbage should be mostly steamed through. Flip and finish off the second side. It’s best to close the lid of the grill for this one. The cabbage steams in its own juices, making it tender and sweet while retaining bite. Eat these with a knife and fork.
Cook Time: 7 to 10 minutes.
Thick asparagus is best for this. The pencil-size asparagus will roll around and fall through the grill grates. Get thick green or white asparagus, drizzle with olive oil and season lightly. Set them on the grill on a lower heat area and at a diagonal. Be careful with placement because they do tend to roll a bit. Asparagus is at its best when it reaches tendercrsip. Tendercrisp means that there is still a little snap to it, but the inside of the vegetable is soft and creamy.
Cook Time: 10 to 15 minutes.
Bell peppers, Jalapeno peppers, Poblano peppers, any pepper. Peppers are made for the grill. Grilling breaks down their cell walls, letting all of the juices run free. That’s why roasted peppers are so flavorful, but also so wet. Throw peppers on the grill whole. You do not need to grease or season them. Keep them in a low- to medium-heat area and turn once charred on one side. Turn a few more times to char all sides of the pepper. For serving, chop up, seeds and all, to keep the natural heat from the pepper, or dice and de-seed if desired.
Cook Time: 15 to 20 minutes.
Corn is number one on many lists, but hear me out. Corn is amazing on the grill. Grilling on low heat will bring out the natural sugars inside the corn. That’s what gives it such delicious sweetness. It’s almost candy-sweet. The char from the grill marks add a bitter flavor to balance the sweet. So be sure to turn the corn and get those signature lines on every side. Corn certainly deserves its place in the grilling top three, but corn is not quite as amazing as the final two vegetables.
2. Portobello Mushrooms
Cook Time: 10 to 15 minutes.
What can possibly outrank corn on the grill? Thick and meaty portobello mushrooms fit the bill. Grill only the caps. Wash them very well; mushrooms tend to hold on to dirt. Season only lightly. A little oil, salt, and pepper is enough. Grill on a medium-heat area of the grill. This is often close to the center, but not quite in the center. Grilling brings out not only the moisture and texture within the mushroom but also adds to the umami effect. Add to a burger for a stacked umami bomb, or serve in place of beef to make a meaty vegetarian cheeseburger.
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes.
And in the number one place….zucchini. It may seem controversial to put zucchini at the top of the ranks. Zucchini is good when it’s cooked into soups or chilis. It’s tasty when spiralized as pasta or even roasted in the oven. But zucchini is amazing when it is grilled. Some type of food science magic happens that transforms zucchini from a nice little vegetable into one of the most flavorful vegetables there is. Grilling does not just bring out a sweetness like other vegetables, it fully enhances and rounds out the flavor. Grilled zucchini is sweeter and juicier but also umami and rich at the same time. I am obsessed. Zucchini can be cut into lengthwise thick slices, or just slice the whole zucchini in half lengthwise. My favorite, however, is to cut it into zucchini fries. Grill those tasty triangles on all three sides and serve in place of potatoes for a healthier and more flavorful side to steaks, sausages, or burgers.
Whether you are grilling inside your house, in the yard, or at the beach, consider this list your handy vegetable guide. Try some new veggies out and see what you like. What vegetables would you rank top 10? And if you’ve never tried it, grill up a wedge of watermelon as well.