Perfectly seared with delicate grill marks, the heat and smoke from a charcoal grill unlock flavors and transforms the texture of some of summer's most prolific veggies. If you have picky eaters in your house, grilling veggies is a great way to get them to eat, and it is a simple process that doesn't take a long time.
The Key to Cooking Most Veggies on a Charcoal Grill
Common veggies to grill include cauliflower and broccoli, zucchini, peppers, asparagus, onions, and carrots. The key to cooking each type is understanding the best method for getting great results. So we put together six of our top tips for grilling vegetables to perfection.
1. Choose the Best Vegetables for Grilling
Yellow squash and summer squash are excellent examples of "the best" for grilling. On their own, neither is particularly good tasting, but add a little fire and some seasonings, and it is like a totally different dish.
The main thing about picking the best veggies is deciding whether you are grilling on direct heat or using a two-zone method. Thicker, more coarse vegetables like onions and potatoes cook best on indirect heat, while mushrooms and zucchini are better on medium-high heat.
2. Get the Right Grilling Tools
This is one of those processes that demand you have excellent tongs. We actually just had this happen the other day. Instead of grabbing the good barbecue tongs, we picked up some cheapies and tried to flip the zucchini cut half lengthwise only to watch that slippery sucker go shooting across the patio.
Invest in good tongs. A basting brush and a small bowl are handy to have, while many veggies can also benefit from toothpicks or skewers. Grilling smaller vegetables is easier if you use a grilling pan to prevent them from falling through the grill grates.
3. Utilize Cooking Zones
Setting up your charcoal grill so you have two zones to cook lets you quickly sear delicate veggies while slow-roasting denser vegetables. Check out our blog on how to creatively use the two-zone cooking method to cook just about anything and get some inspiration for your next grilling experience.
4. Go Beyond the Basics
There is nothing wrong with grilled veggies seasoned with olive oil, black pepper, and salt, but why stop there? Unique combinations of fresh herbs and spices can take the flavors of your grilled veggies to new heights. And if you are looking for a simple way to instantly kick up the flavor, try seasoning with your favorite Bearded Butcher Blend Seasoning.
5. Pay Attention to Cook Times
Veggies cook fast, particularly fruits like squash and zucchini which are loaded with natural sugars. These will blacken and burn easily if using too high of heat or leaving them on for too long.
Most of the time, you want to cook veggies until they are just tender, then pull them from the grill. Use skewers to tell how firm the veggies are before removing them.
Times will vary depending on how the vegetables are cut, whether the grill is consistently hot, and the types of veggies you are grilling. In most cases, the goal is to get a slightly charred appearance and a tender texture with a delicate smoky flavor. Medium heat is preferable over a very hot grill.
6. Season and Marinate After Grilling
Grilled vegetables benefit from seasoning and marinating after grilling because the heat makes the flavors absorb better. One of the cooking techniques that we like a lot is to lightly rub vegetables like okra, bell peppers, and potatoes in a high-quality cooking oil before grilling. We prefer grapeseed or avocado oil, and you want as thin a layer as possible.
Before putting vegetables on the grill, use vegetable oil to season the grates to prevent sticking. Sliced vegetables can be lightly salted before grilling to unlock flavor and texture.
After removing veggies from the grill, you can drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil and your favorite seasonings. Using fresh herbs like rosemary and mint directly on grilled vegetables adds even more flavor. We love to toss fresh grilled okra in our Cajun seasoning.
Some vegetables should always be oiled first, and this includes leafy greens like Kale. One of our favorite grilled greens is romaine hearts. The trick is to oil and salt lightly before grilling and pull them when the edges just slightly char.
Tips: How to Grill Vegetables Like a Pro
Start your charcoal grills with a two-zone method and a water pan. Lightly oil and salt vegetables that need it, then oil the grill grates. Prepare vegetables by sorting them into cooking times.
Longer cooking times for dense vegetables mean they need to go on first. For example, an average potato will take 45 minutes to an hour, carrots can take half an hour, and you will grill corn for about 20 minutes.
The rule of thumb for grilling vegetables is that if you can eat it raw, you don't have to cook it for long. Delicate vegetables like mushrooms take mere minutes before becoming lightly charred.
Bamboo skewers are perfect for preventing your smaller veggies from falling through the grates. Don't forget to soak skewers in cold water for at least 30 minutes before use. Overnight is better. We recently started using stainless steel skewers and really like them.
Another great tool is a grilling basket. Our new favorite way to grill cherry tomatoes is in a grilling basket. They don't leak like with skewers and won't fall through the grill.
Instead of making those adorable mixed veggie skewers, put similar cook-time veggies together. The more vegetables you have that cook in the same amount of time, the easier it will be to get perfectly grilled veggies. It helps to have all the ingredients for seasoning the veggies ready since they will pick up the flavors best when hot.
What is the best method for grilling vegetables?
Tender vegetables are best cooked on direct heat, while denser ones grill best on indirect heat.
Should vegetables be oiled before grilling?
Some vegetables benefit from a very thin layer of oil. Squash and zucchini are prime examples that can scorch if put on raw. Eggplant is another that benefits from oil. Sliced eggplant on the grill can be delicious, but it can also be a big mess when it sticks.
How to grill a large amount of vegetables?
A grilling basket and bamboo skewers are the best tools for grilling lots of veggies all at once. These tools prevent vegetables from falling off the grill or falling through the grates. Organize your vegetable grilling process so that the ones that take the longest to grill go on first.
Should you soak vegetables before grilling?
It isn't necessary to soak vegetables before grilling. In fact, soaking them can make it take longer to cook and might cause issues with your charcoal grill as the moisture is released. Vegetables don't typically need to cook for a long time and do best over medium heat, so there should be minimal risk of them catching fire.
It's All About the Prep Work
The secret to learning how to grill vegetables like a pro is all in the preparation. Organizing your vegetables in order of cooking time lets this versatile side dish take center stage.
Experiment with seasoning before and after with different types of veggies and see which ones you like best. We recently experimented with some of the seasons first Dark Star zucchini and we liked it best lightly oiled with salt and pepper before grilling, then seasoned with olive oil and our Butter blend seasoning. A little crumble of Asiago cheese really takes it over the top.
Vegetables are a great way to practice getting good grill marks, too. Next time you've got a batch of summer veggies, practice your lattice mark skills so when it comes time for a thick steak, you can make your mark effortlessly.
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