In the past, there was this seeming rift between vegetarians and people who loved grilled food. In recent years, the concept of living on a vegetarian or vegan diet has started to grow. Even people who aren’t necessarily willing to take that deep of a commitment are embracing the concept of “Eating Less Meat.” These principles are being championed by a wide range of celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, Alain Passard, and Chloe Coscarelli, just to name a few.
Of course, this opens up the door to putting vegetables on the grill. If you stop and think about it, there are a lot of vegetables that we already put on the grill. Corn, asparagus, peppers, onions, mushrooms and even eggplant top the list of vegetables that taste delicious when kissed by an open flame. Yet this isn’t the limit of the vegetables that can really be transformed by a few minutes on the grill.
Even if you have no interest in being a vegetarian, you might just want to be able to grill vegetables as a side dish to go along with a meaty main course. In a situation like this running back and forth to the kitchen might not be feasible, or it’s simply a hassle.
The truth is you can cook just about any vegetable on the grill with the right preparation. You just have to account for a few important details.
First off, consider the water content of the vegetable. Things like tomatoes really take on a sweet smoky flavor when you put them on the heat. However, the direct flame can sometimes boil them in their skins, until they pop! Other high-water content vegetables like slices of eggplant and zucchini also take on a vibrant flavor, but they do best when lightly salted and pressed on a paper towel before they hit the heat. This keeps them from becoming mushy on the hot grates.
On the other end of the spectrum are hard vegetables like carrots and russet potatoes. These vegetables often need a light simmer or blanching in warm water to soften and start the cooking process. Then the flames of the grill finish the job, infusing them with smoke, waking up their natural sugar compounds and giving them visually appealing grill marks.
How Do I Keep Grilled Vegetables From Falling Through The Grate?
Large chunky vegetables like quartered red potatoes and cobs of corn will sit firm and sturdy on just about any grill grate. Yet even the most perfectly laid asparagus spear or curly green bean will find a way to slide between a grill grate the minute you take your eyes off them. Let’s not even get started with julienned onions and slivered peppers.
Right off the bat a cast iron griddle or a grill frying pan will help keep loose vegetables from falling through the grate or a traditional gas or charcoal grill. In a pinch, you could even put chopped vegetables and tomatoes in a pouch made from heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Though something else to consider is an outdoor grill with a griddle top surface built-in or one that can be removed. When seasoned properly these flat top griddle grills can impart even more flavor than an open flame, while also keeping chopped or julienned vegetables from falling through.
Best Outdoor Griddles For Grilling Vegetables
Electric Grills And Griddles For Cooking Vegetables Indoors
Another option for grilling and searing vegetables is to use an electric grill. Many of which are perfectly safe to use in an apartment or condo. Some of them can be used for tableside cooking like Korean barbecue, Teppanyaki, or as part of a shabu shabu hot pot
Best Charcoal Grills For Vegetables
Of course, an open flame has its own special appeal that has been drawing human beings to cook with it for thousands, if not millions of years. Charcoal grills, in particular, have a reputation for imparting a natural smoky flavor and sear that you can’t get from the flat surface of an electric grill or a griddle. Laying long skinny vegetable perpendicular to the lines of the grill grate also imparts attractive sear marks, while reducing your chances of one slipping down into the coals.
For hard vegetables, like carrots and potatoes, you might want to start them out on a warming rack for 5 to 10 minutes before putting them on the open flame. A charcoal grill with an offset smoker box might also be able to double as a warmer or cooking surface for vegetables that need a different level of heat than the temperature of the primary fire. A light glaze of oil can help keep them from sticking while improving the sear marks.
Best Gas Grills For Preparing Vegetables
Propane and natural gas grills represent a very convenient way to cook over a consistent open flame. When you are grilling vegetables, especially hard vegetables or ones with high water content, the temptation is to use a very low flame. When grilling over a propane-based flame, you just want to make sure that all the gas is oxidizing as it burns. This typically produces a rich blue flame, rather than a yellow one, which indicates that all the hydrocarbons are burning away instead of blown onto the vegetables.
Some propane grills come with a side burner disguised inside one of the side tables. This is especially nice for times when you just want to saute some vegetables or simmer a pot of water for corn right at the grill, rather than taking your eyes off the grill to run back into the kitchen.