There are only so many things you can do with burgers or chicken breasts, but the options for summer’s bounty of produce are endless. “People often go to meat when they think about grilling, but I think vegetables are actually the most transformed by the grill,” says Julia Taylor-Brown, head of culinary at Spark Grills. “Vegetables are high in water content, so by using a dry heat method like grilling, you intensify and concentrate the flavors of the vegetables by drawing out the water and caramelizing the outsides.”
As your farmers market finds shift through the season, you’ll be treated to an entirely new slew of vegetables (and fruits!) to throw on the grill, thus bringing out new flavors and textures. To make the most out of your grilled vegetables, read on.
The Best Vegetables to Grill
“All vegetables can be amazing,” says Taylor-Brown. “For me, the most transformed by the grill, either because the smoke pairs with the natural flavors so well or the sugars caramelize beautifully on the grill, are eggplant, asparagus, portobello mushrooms, carrots, broccolini, and thin-sliced potatoes—aka grilled French fries.” Charcoal helps vegetables get smoky and build even more flavor.
How to Grill Vegetables
First, pat wash and pat vegetables dry. Moisture creates steam, meaning any water on the exterior of your vegetable will make it more mushy than crispy.
Then, decide if you’re grilling your veggie whole, halved, or sliced—a whole eggplant or squash can get crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, while a sliced vegetable can be crisper and get more of that grill flavor. Larger vegetables, like cauliflower, should be sliced into steaks or florets, unless you plan to grill them for an extended period of time.
“Success with grilled vegetables starts with how you cut them for the grill,” says Taylor-Brown. “You want to think about exposing as much surface area as possible to get the benefits of the smoky flavor and heat.”
Season with salt, pepper and any seasonings of your choice. Let the vegetables rest at least 10 minutes and up to an hour, for some salt to sweat out. Pat dry again, if necessary. Now’s the time to toss your veg in oil or marinade, if you’d like, but know that most flavors will burn off. Dressing preferably comes after the cooking process when it comes to grilled veggies.
Heat a grill to medium or medium high heat and brush grates with oil. Place vegetables on the grates and let them cook. Check for doneness every few minutes, flipping when grill grates have made a dark mark. With vegetables, you’re not looking for a specific temperature like with meat (there’s no such thing as medium-rare corn on the cob), so keep an eye on the veg to prevent them from becoming too mushy. Taylor-Brown notes that cooking at too high a temp can be a pitfall, so aim for the 500-600 degree range, though heartier vegetables (like carrots or beets) can go up to 650 degrees or even higher. Most vegetables should be cooked for less than 15 minutes, and flipped halfway through.
Beware of vegetables falling through the grates! If you’re cooking with small mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, or other adorable but potentially burnable produce, consider using skewers so your vegetables can get the direct grill flavor without falling into the fiery pit.
Pretty much any vegetable can be grilled, but super watery vegetables can quickly get messy. Skip the grilled cucumber, but consider tossing halved romaine over a hot grill for a fun summer salad, or char halved tomatoes for a nice smoky flavor.
Grilled Vegetable Recipe Ideas
Ready to grill? Here are the best things to do with grilled vegetables!