How to Grill the Best Vegetables of Your Life
Vegetables on the grill always seem like a good idea. That is, until you’re presented with platter of still-hard carrots, melted cherry tomatoes, and onions that are charred on the outside and raw in the middle. Then it seems that grilling vegetables is actually not doing anyone any favors.
But the impulse to have plant-life meet fire is one you should embrace, and with some simple guidelines, you can grill any vegetable like a champ.
Prep them right
Preparing vegetables for the grill means making them a size and shape that will not fall through the grate or be hard to manage. In some cases, like carrots, scallions, corn, tomatoes or mushrooms it means leaving them whole. In some cases, as with zucchini, eggplant, and large potatoes, it means planking, cutting long, wide slices that will get good grill marks. In some cases, as with onions, lettuces, or fennel, you need the parts of the vegetable to stay together, and therefore should cut them in a way that keeps part of the root or core intact to hold them steady.
Par-cook where necessary. Hard-to-cook vegetables like potatoes, onions, and root vegetables like carrots can be helped along with a quick zap in the microwave to get them started before they hit the grill. This way you don’t risk the burnt outside/crunchy middle. Depending on the size of your vegetable, try microwaving in one minute bursts until they feel a little less raw, maximum four minutes.
Once your vegetables are clean and properly prepped, you want to give them a light coating of oil, which you can do by drizzling or using a spray. Be sure to keep each type of vegetable separate.
Prep the grill right
When grilling vegetables it is super important to have a zoned fire, with a cool side and a hot side. Vegetables often need a gentler heat on the grill, especially ones with a lot of natural sugar in them, so you want to keep your coals or gas fire all on one side, and you are going to want to do most of your grilling on the cool side for indirect heat, and then only over the live coals or fire at the end for grill marks or char. Be sure your grill is super clean and well-oiled once it is hot to prevent sticking.
Cook them in order of cooking times—Yes, even for kebabs
Every vegetable is different, and some want longer cooking times than others. Those par-cooked vegetables will still take longer than delicate ones, and you want everything done to its best version. Think about how you will pull chicken off the grill as it gets finished, wings first, then legs, then thighs, then breasts: The same is true for vegetables. Put your tougher ones like onions, root vegetables, potatoes, and corn on first and let them get a good start. Then add things like peppers, fennel slices, or cabbage. Last come the more delicate items like zucchini, mushrooms or tomatoes, which just need a few turns in the heat to soften but not go mushy.
If you like a skewer or kebab, don’t be tempted by the visual punch of alternating vegetables—None of them will get done to their singular perfection and all will suffer. Instead make full skewers of each one, cook as directed above, and let guests slide them off on the platter to choose the ones they like best. I happen to think a platter with those monochromatic skewers looks pretty elegant, myself. (Same theory goes with meats, FYI)
Season and marinate after cooking
It can be very tempting to dump marinade or seasoning on your vegetables before you cook them, but ultimately, all you are going to do is make them more likely to get coated with acrid burnt oil and spices. Instead, make your marinade and pour it into a shallow pan, and drop the cooked vegetables in it straight out of the grill so that the warm vegetables soak up a bit of the flavor and get a nice fresh coating. If you just want simple seasoned vegetables, add salt and pepper to taste when they come off the grill.