After many summers of grilling for my family and friends, I’ve developed a strategy that solves a problem (grill congestion) and opens up a great opportunity to be creative at the same time. By grilling vegetables ahead of time, I free up the grill for the steaks or chicken or burgers at dinnertime. And give myself the chance to turn my grilled vegetables into terrific salads, side dishes, and sauces—or just arrange them nicely on a platter. Luckily, grilled vegetables are delicious at room temperature; they don’t need to be served hot off the grill. And they keep well, too. Grill a few hours—or a day or two—ahead.
I’ve also finally made friends with the gas grill. It’s not a perfect relationship—I still think everything tastes better cooked over a charcoal fire—but it certainly is a convenient one. So I’ve adapted my favorite recipes and my techniques for prepping and grilling (see the guide below) to the gas grill. I’ve discovered that using a gas grill on its highest setting (of course, the more Btus, the better) with the lid down, gives excellent results.
If you do decide to grill vegetables ahead of time, here are a few storage tips. They’ll be fine at room temperature for a few hours. To keep the vegetables longer, refrigerate them in layers in shallow pans. Cover each layer with plastic and store for up to two days. (Peppers and onions hold particularly well; zucchini and eggplant will still taste great but may lose some luster. The “topping” just gets better after a day or two.) Be sure to bring the vegetables to room temperature before serving, since their flavors will be subdued if they’re cold. You can assemble the “roll-ups,” “sandwiches,” and platters several hours ahead, too, and keep them covered with plastic in the refrigerator.
A pretty platter makes a great buffet dish
To assemble a grilled vegetable platter, arrange slices of each vegetable, overlapping slightly, in groups or rows. Choose any combination of vegetables you like (include plenty of peppers for color) and follow the directions in the guide below for grilling them. Start with about 3/4 lb. raw vegetables per person. Season the grilled vegetables with a little more salt and a few grinds of pepper and drizzle with a bit more extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Or dress the vegetables lightly with your favorite vinaigrette, or garnish with chopped fresh herbs like parsley, chives, basil, mint, or thyme.
A guide to cooking vegetables on a gas grill
If you grill over charcoal, build a two-zone fire so that you have hot and medium-low areas. Grill your vegetables uncovered over the hot coals to sear both sides (cooking times will dependon the heat of your fire). Move them to the cooler area and cover as directed to finish cooking.
The rules of the grill
1. Start grilling with all burners on high; if you need to move a vegetable to lower heat, just turn one burner down.
2. Oil and salt your vegetables thoroughly. They’ll cook more evenly. A little dripping oil might cause a quick flare-up on the grill; just lower the lid briefly to extinguish it.
3. Learn your grill’s personality. One grill’s “high” is another’s “medium.” Learn where the hot and cool spots are and move the vegetables around to cook evenly. For nice grill marks, give them a quarter turn.
4. Cook peppers, onions, and corn together. They don’t need to be turned frequently so you can keep the lid down longer. Grill zucchini and eggplant together; they need to be checked more frequently—every minute or so.
5. Don’t undercook vegetables. The great flavor of grilled vegetables comes from their juices caramelizing at high heat.