How to grill vegetables right, no matter the shape

Look on the bright side: What with global warming sending our poor, precious planet into a hellbound death spiral, and summer’s newly blistering temperatures turning your kitchen into Satan’s sauna, this is the perfect opportunity for you to spend a little more time outside at the grill. So grab your tongs, Prep Schoodents, and let’s grill us some vegetables.

Why you need to learn this

Unless you’re a werewolf, you can’t just be grilling meat all the time. And even if you are a werewolf, you must have at least a couple human friends who you might want to have for dinner. (Or rather, have over for dinner.) Or, lycanthropy aside, perhaps you eschew the bloody victuals altogether, opting instead for what our vegan friends at Mercy For Animals (Look them up!) refer to as a plant-based diet. If any of these holds close enough to true, I suggest hieing down to your local farmers market, picking up an armload of beautiful, fresh vegetables, and then firing up the grill.

The steps you take

Remember that the grilling of vegetables is not an impenetrable mystery like the true identity of Jack the Ripper or the whereabouts of D.B. Cooper. All we’re doing is applying heat, just like in the kitchen. The principles are the same. Once you come to terms with that, the main thing to think about — and you’ve got to think about this with meat, too — is whether your vegetables will work better with direct heat or indirect heat.

Grills, particularly charcoal grills, tend to be very, very hot. That’s why they’re perfect for relatively thin items like steaks, because the interior cooks quickly, before the surface gets overly charred. If an item is very thick, on the other hand, when the outside is perfect, the inside will still be raw. Likewise, by the time the inside is properly cooked, the outside will look like the side of Mrs. O’Leary’s barn.

For those larger pieces of meat or vegetables, indirect heat in a covered grill works just like your oven.

A couple more general things: First, grill marks. If your vegetables are cut into long, thin, oblong planks (as opposed to rounds), lay them on the grill at a 45-degree angle to the grate. After grill marks develop (gently lift an edge to peek), rotate 90 degrees to create a great-looking cross-hatched pattern. After you flip the vegetables, no need to rotate because that’s the side that will be down.

Second, make sure to oil your grate or your vegetables to keep them from sticking. If you use an oil-based marinade, that’ll probably be enough.

Now, let’s take a look at a few vegetables:

Eggplant. One of my faves for grilling. Peel them or not, then cut into circular cross sections or lengthwise planks. Then, you could just brush the slices with oil or drop them into a tasty marinade for just a bit. Eggplant is pretty much a vegetative sponge and will soak up whatever marinade you’re using. If it soaks up too much, it’ll get soggy and nasty, two of my least favorite qualities in grilled vegetables. Just go for a couple of minutes, and it’ll be lovely.

Summer squash. Zucchini, yellow squash, golden zucchini. Cut half-inch slices on the bias or lengthwise, marinate for up to 20 minutes, then grill two to three minutes per side. You could also toss them with a little marinade or spice rub before or after you grill to make them even yummier.

Long, skinny green things. Asparagus. Green beans. Scallions. All of these work well on the grill. Marinate them if you want, or, if you’re in a hurry, just throw them directly onto the grill, directly over the heat. And, just to pre-empt any of you crazies who write in to say that you burned all your veggies because they fell onto the coals: Make sure those long skinny green things are at a 90-degree angle to the grate so they don’t slip through.


Cauliflower. Cut half-inch “steaks” lengthwise through the core — you can get two or three per head — then marinate and grill over medium heat 10 to 12 minutes per side. Or, break the head into florets (or use the extra florets from cutting out the steaks), toss with a marinade and wrap in aluminum foil. Grill until done, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Or, and this is my favorite, trim the core but leave the head intact, paint with melted butter and Parmesan or your favorite marinade, and wrap in aluminum foil. Grill, covered, using indirect heat, for 45 minutes to an hour. When you unwrap it, and it’s sitting there, slightly charred and steaming, you can tell your kids that it’s a barbecued human brain.

Corn on the cob. Pull husk most of the way down the ear and remove the silk. Return the husk and soak in cold water for 15 to 20 minutes. Place ears directly on the grate. Grill, covered, for about 15 minutes, turning every 3 to 5 minutes as the husk starts to blacken. Let it cool a bit before removing the husk to avoid getting burned by the steam.

Onions, tomatoes and bell peppers. Cut in half and lay directly over the flame. Flip after a couple of minutes to get some char on the other side. Marinate or not, as you see fit.

Smallish vegetables. Mushrooms, cherry tomatoes or cut pieces of any of the above. Thread them onto soaked wooden skewers (to prevent burning), season or marinate, then grill until you get a little color, turning often.

Sauces for your grilled veggies

The first three can be used as marinades, too.

Nuoc cham. This ubiquitous Vietnamese condiment is easy to make and delicious. Combine equal amounts of fish sauce, water and fresh lime juice. Sweeten lightly with sugar and give it a kick with sliced jalapenos or crushed red pepper.

Chimichurri. Pulse fresh herbs in a blender with red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes and a touch of olive oil.

Korean-style dipping sauce. Combine a quarter cup each of water and soy sauce with an ounce of sugar, a couple tablespoons each of minced garlic and ginger and a tablespoon of sesame oil.

Aioli. Stir some crushed garlic into some mayo. How much garlic? How bad is the vampire problem in your neighborhood? You can also make it Asian style by mixing in wasabi or miso for a Japanese flavor, or gochujang, ssamjang or doenjang for a Korean accent or sesame oil for Chinese flavors. Or whisk in some pesto. Or harissa for a North African flavor.