The best vegetables for grilling include some time-tested favorites and a few new suggestions. By following these special guidelines you can grill almost any vegetable quickly, easily and expertly!
Grilling adds an extra dimension to the flavor, texture and taste of any food and vegetables are no exception. Whether you’re grilling indoors or outdoors, adding grilled vegetables makes a good meal great and a great meal exceptional.
Besides the pizazz an array of perfectly grilled vegetables add to any meal, they also add a rich spectrum of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients boosting overall health. Proper grilling is one of the best ways to retain their nutrients.
Not all vegetables are “grill friendly.” But with a little planning and the proper cooking tools any vegetable can go from the grill to the dinner plate adding bright, intense flavors and colors.
Choosing your vegetables.
Some vegetables grill well, others are a challenge. The key is the water content and fiber. The more water vegetables contain the more carefully you have to grill them. Fibrous vegetables are the most forgiving ones.
Vegetables that cook well without precooking are the best for grilling. They include asparagus, bell peppers, button mushrooms, carrots, corn on the cob, eggplant, endive, fennel, onions, potatoes, radishes, radicchio, tomatoes and zucchini.
Grill a wide variety of vegetables at the same time; serving a mixed vegetable dish is more tasty, colorful and healthy.
Tools of the trade
Master craftsmen live by the saying, “The right tools for the right job” and grilling vegetables is no different.
Your essential tools should include thin metal skewers, stainless steel tongs (preferably about fourteen to sixteen inches long), a flat metal pan with a ridge (like a cookie baking pan) to hold all your utensils while cooking, a soft basting brush, cooking mitts to protect your hands from burns, a spray mister filled with water (if cooking on an outdoor BBQ) to manage flare-ups and the ubiquitous paper towels.
Wash vegetables thoroughly. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes allowing to air dry before placing on the grill.
Generally, vegetables should be cut just before grilling. Cutting them permits the greatest surface area to be exposed to the heat helping the vegetables to cook quickly, cleanly and thoroughly. Vegetables should stay on the grill for as short a time as possible to avoid over-cooking, burning or damaging their internal structure.
Skewers should be used to hold vegetables like mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, or wedge cut vegetables like peppers and potatoes. Use metal skewers since bamboo can tear the more delicate vegetables and also char, spoiling the flavor.
Brushing vegetables with olive oil, garlic, herbs and other seasonings just before placing them on the grill adds more flavor, facilitates uniform cooking and keeps them from sticking and charring. For something different try adding grated citrus zest to the basting oil. [See two short recipes for basting oils at the end of the article.]
Test the grill’s temperature; you want it medium-hot. Hold your hand five inches above the cooking surface. The temperature is right if you can hold your hand there comfortably for only three to four seconds.
When grilling a variety of vegetables at once be prepared to take each off the grill at a different time. There’s no need to attempt a “timing balancing act.” Nothing is lost serving mixed vegetables warm or at room temperature.
Place the vegetables directly on the grid using skewers, or aluminum foil with corners crimped, or a steel vegetable basket. Potatoes and peppers take the longest to cook. Those with high water content—such as tomatoes—cook much more rapidly.
If you’re grilling outside with charcoal try adding flavored twigs like basil or liquorish to the briquettes. That will add a special twist to the flavor.
Cook 7 to 9 minutes. Turn once. Grilling them quickly softens them and enhances their sweetness.
Quick tip: be careful! Don’t overcook peppers. Doing so will make them bitter and separate the skins. Avoid that by slicing them in half first and removing the insides: seeds, ribs and core. Then cut each half into thirds.
Cook 8 to 12 minutes and turn about every 3 minutes. It’s important to skewer small mushrooms to keep them from falling through the grate during grilling.
Quick tip: Once the mushrooms have been cleaned and dried, trim the ends from the stems. Slide the caps and stems onto the skewer so they won’t rotate when turned. Cremini, portobello or other firm-fleshed mushrooms may be substituted.
Corn on the cob
Cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning every 1 and 1⁄2 to 2 minutes. Although grilling “husk-on” corn delivers great corn flavor the smokiness of the grill is missing because the corn’s actually being steamed inside the husk. Keep only the innermost layer and discard the heavier outside layers. Doing do will allow you to infuse the ears with the authentic smoky taste.
Quick tip: use scissors to snip off the long silk ends at the tip of the ear. For more tender corn soak the ears in a pot of water first for about thirty minutes, dry and then grill.
Cook 10 to 12 minutes and turn once. Onions are notorious for separating and falling through the grate. Avoid that by skewering them crosswise through each slice. This will anchor each bulb securely.
Quick tip: cut thick slices from large onions, then skewer them all the way through with a thin metal skewer. The skewered onion slices remain intact as they grill, and, best of all, they can be flipped easily with tongs. Note that larger, heavier onions may require two parallel skewers.
Cook 8 to 10 minutes and turn once. The dry heat evaporates excess moisture thereby concentrating zucchini’s delicate flavors. Make sure the zucchini has been cut lengthwise into flat, half-inch thick slices. To cook the interior thoroughly without burning the exterior make sure you keep the slices away from the hottest part of the grill. Use tongs to position and turn the flat slabs to keep the slices from slipping through the grate.
Quick tip: trim the ends off the zucchini or summer squash and then trim the thick peel from the outer slices. The flesh of the zucchini cooks better when directly exposed to the heat and also leaves attractive grill marks.
Cook 5 to 7 minutes and turn once. Slicing each endive head in half lets it cook evenly while allowing the core to hold the leaves together.
Quick tip: with a knife, shave off the discolored end of the endive and cut in half lengthwise through the core end.
Cook 7 to 9 minutes. Turn once. Fennel caramelizes beautifully on the grill. The most challenging step is cutting fennel correctly so it won’t fall through the grate. Simply slicing it into cross sections about 1⁄4-inch thick—with a piece of the core still attached—will keep the all layers in place.
Cook 4 and 1⁄2 minutes turning every 1 and 1⁄2 minutes. Radicchio leaves tend to separate as they cook. Cutting the head into thick wedges will keep the leaves together. Brush the pieces with a fair amount of olive oil before grilling.
Quick tip: remove any browning outer leaves. Cut the radicchio in half through the core. Cut each half again through the core to make four thick wedges.
General grilling tip: as you cook the vegetables, brush on marinade as needed. Remove them from the grate when they can be easily pierced with a fork.
Quick basting oil recipes
Garlic Basting Oil
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium garlic clove minced to a paste or pressed through garlic press
Combine ingredients in a small bowl; let stand to infuse flavors, about 10 minutes. Use while fresh and discard any unused oil.
Lemon-Rosemary Basting Oil
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh
2 teaspoons grated zest plus
2 tablespoons juice from
Combine ingredients in a small bowl; let stand to infuse flavors, about 10 minutes.