Vegetables have presented a worrisome challenge for many beginners to grilling and experienced grill chefs alike. Many cooks feel that a grill’s main dominion is the world of meat, and don’t even think to try vegetables. This is unfortunate, since grilled vegetables can serve as a delicious, healthy summer meal, and can even allow those watching their weight to still participate in the fun.
Corn may be the most familiar vegetable to those who grill frequently, and the thought of sweet corn on the cob fresh from the grill may ease the anxiety of trying other vegetable options. Potatoes wrapped in foil and grilled are another easy, familiar vegetable choice for most people. Vegetables are extremely versatile, though, and almost any veggie can be grilled. There are a few, however, that are especially easy and appetizing. Portobello mushrooms, with their large heads and meaty texture, are a perfect grilling vegetable, and make great low-calorie sandwiches to replace burgers. Eggplant is a close second, and becomes mouth-watering when left to carmelize slightly over high heat. Eggplant also achieves that wonderful charred flavor and texture almost as well as any meat. Summer squashes, such as tender yellow baby squash or smaller zucchinis, are also a treat. For the more adventurous, grilled asparagus and roasted peppers can be an unexpected and lively addition to any grilled meal. More experienced cooks can get creative here, and may enjoy grilled broccoli, cauliflower, winter squash, or carrots.
Whatever a cook chooses, the method of cutting the vegetables is important. Most vegetables do well in slices, with the thickness depending on the tenderness of the veggie. Awkwardly shaped vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, should be cut into florets that are small enough to still cook thoroughly, but big enough to hold their shape on the grill and avoid falling through the grates. Peppers can be sliced into slabs or strips, but many chefs prefer to leave them whole.
When grilling vegetables, one of the most important factors is the marinade. Like meat, without any marinade the vegetables may come off the grill dry, crusted, bland, and unappetizing. Marinades can span a vast array of flavors and levels of difficulty. A great place for beginner’s to start is with a simple Italian marinade. Mixing olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and fresh chopped garlic will create a delicious marinade to brush onto vegetables. For more of a Mediterranean flavor, cooks can replace the balsamic vinegar with lemon juice and add a pinch of oregano. Soaking the veggies for long periods of time will infuse the flavors better, but can make some vegetables soggy, so this should be done with care. Once vegetable grilling starts to come more naturally, grill cooks can become much more creative with flavors, using many of the same marinades that they might use for meat, and some that they’ve never thought of before. Many salad dressings make great marinades, as do other sauces. For an Asian flavor, vegetables can be marinated in soy sauce, tamari, teriyaki, or a miso paste glaze. For a more American taste, sweet bourbon marinades or barbecue sauce are delightful with some vegetables.
After the marinade choice, another important factor in vegetable grilling is the cooking itself. Many softer vegetables, such as mushrooms, summer squash, eggplant, and peppers, taste best when grilled at the highest heat for a short period of time. This lets the vegetables soften, char, and carmelize while maintaining some crispness and avoiding getting soggy. Other vegetables, like carrots or winter squash, may not be tender enough if cooked for a short time, and may burn before they’re done on high heat. Letting these vegetables cook gradually near the heat is best.