Nothing beats high heat for enhancing the flavor of vegetables. I learned this years ago in my first cooking job at Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, where all the ovens and grills are wood-fired and the produce is sourced from local farms. It was that happy confluence—fresh veggies meeting sizzling heat—that forever influenced how I prepare vegetables: hot and fast. The best place to do so? On the grill. That fiery heat caramelizes veggies in a flash, which really amps up their sweetness. As a grilling devotée, I’m delighted to share my passion with you. I ask but one thing in return: that you get to know your grill. Every grill is unique, with its own cool spots and hot spots. When you use your grill often, you’ll get to know all its quirks, along with the best ways to work with them.
Getting to know your grill will also help you to get top results from my recipes. Even though I developed the recipes that follow with great care, it’s likely that you’ll need to adjust the cooking temperatures and times, the two variables that can wreak havoc on a recipe. Gas grills are common, so I wrote these recipes with gas grills in mind. They’ll also work on charcoal grills, though the cooking times will be different. A gas grill functions best when covered, allowing the hot air to circulate around the food as it does in a convection oven and making up for the fact that gas burners don’t emit as intense a heat as a charcoal fire.
Grilling requires attention. When you’re grilling vegetables, as opposed to meat, it’s OK to peek under the cover often to see how the veggies are cooking. To help determine doneness, look for sensory clues, like browning, aroma, and textural changes. Know, too, that you’ll probably have to move veggies around to equalize their time spent on hot and cool spots. My list of grilling equipment is short: tongs and a small metal spatula for moving the food, sturdy sheet pans for transporting it to and from the grill, and perhaps a grill basket or topper to cook vegetables in small pieces. On this subject, I think less is more. My hope is that you’ll use these recipes, tips, and inspirations to build your own grilled-vegetable repertoire.
My tips for grilling different types of vegetables are guidelines. With time, you’ll come up with your own grilling hacks, like my discovery that turkey lacers make great skewers for onion slices.
How to Grill Mushrooms
Large ones should be grilled stem side up directly on the grate or on a grill topper or basket (heated with the grill) over medium-high heat until the cap is nicely browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook on the stem side for 3 to 5 minutes more. If large portobellos brown before cooking through, remove from the grill, stack on a piece of foil, wrap the foil up, and let steam in the packet until tender.
How to Grill Onions
When I grill onions, I cut them into thick slices (about 1/2 inch), and skewer the slices with a turkey lacer. That way, I can move the onions around on the grill—like a steak—without them falling apart. (Metal or soaked wooden skewers can work; cut thicker slices if using them.) Grill over medium-high heat until grill marks develop, 4 to 6 minutes. Flip the onions over and repeat. As with mushrooms, if an onion slice is browned before it’s cooked through, let it steam in a foil packet until tender.
How to Grill Leeks
To grill leeks, cut them in half lengthwise (after trimming the dark-green ends), and rinse well under warm water. Heat the grill to
medium high, including a grill topper if you like. Brush generously with oil, and put cut side up on the grill grate or grill topper.
Grill until the bottoms are browned and the leek is starting to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn and grill another 2 to 4 minutes, until the cut side is browned.
How to Grill Peppers
Whole bell and chile peppers blacken quickly in a covered gas grill, and the method is (mostly) hands off. Roast peppers while the grill is heating. Put whole peppers on the grill grate, cover the grill, and come back with your tongs 4 to 5 minutes later. Give the pepper a quarter turn once one side is blackened, and continue to check and turn in 3-minute intervals until the pepper is mostly blackened. Remove from the grill, and place in a paper bag or in a bowl covered tightly with plastic wrap. Sweat for about 10 minutes, then peel off the skin when cool enough to handle. Prepare as directed. If handling chile peppers, be sure to wear rubber gloves to protect your hands.
How to Grill Zucchini
Among the most popular vegetables for the grill, zucchini and other summer squash contain lots of water, so they’re best cut into slices rather than chunks. Sliced zucchini get more direct contact with the heat, so they brown better and cook off more moisture. The trick is twofold: Cut the slices relatively thin for the quickest cooking (no more than about 1/8 inch). Also, cut them diagonally into long oval slices or lengthwise into planks so that they are less likely to slide through the grill grate. Generally speaking, zucchini slices behave well on the grill: By the time both sides are golden-brown, the interior is cooked through. If your grill grate is evenly hot, you can get some nice grill marks on zucchini slices by cooking them for 3 to 4 minutes, turning them 90 degrees (on the same side), and cooking them for 2 to 3 more minutes. By the time you get the grill marks on one side, you need to cook the other side for only 1 to 2 minutes.
How to Grill Potatoes
There are two methods for grilling potatoes. You can parcook halved baby or fingerling potatoesin simmering water until they’re almost tender (but not cooked through). Drain, dry, and cool them. Sprinkle with salt, and if you like, coat them lightly in a mixture of mayonnaise and mustard. Cook on a medium-hot grill cut side down until the bottoms are nicely browned, about 15 minutes. Turn and cook a couple of minutes more.
Alternatively, if you want to cook potatoes start to finish on the grill, use the foil-packet method. Cut potatoes into pieces (all about the same size), and toss them with oil, salt, and aromatics of your choice: herbs, some type of onion, or lemon slices, for instance. Wrap everything tightly in a foil package, and place directly on the hot grill grate, cooking for a total of about 40 minutes, flipping once.
How to Grill Tomatoes
Because tomatoes contain so much moisture, they’re difficult to grill directly, so a grill topper or basket is a great help. Choose dense-fleshed tomatoes like plum or small sandwich tomatoes. Halve them, poke out the seeds, and coat with oil. Put the grill topper on the grill, and heat on medium. If you have three burners, heat one to medium low. Arrange the tomatoes cut side
down on the grill topper, and cook until the cut surfaces are brown and the tomatoes can be flipped without sticking, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the tomatoes over, and continue cooking until the bottoms are browned and the tomatoes have released more moisture,
6 to 8 minutes more. Alternatively, once you flip the tomatoes, you can move them to the cooler area of the grill and continue to cook, covered, for as much as 15 to 25 minutes or longer to cook out more moisture. The longer you grill-roast tomatoes this way, the more concentrated their flavor will be.
How to Grill Eggplant
Sliced eggplant is perhaps the trickiest veg to grill, for two reasons: The skin is tough, and the slices tend to brown long before the flesh is fully cooked. Dealing with the first problem is easy. Before slicing, use the tines of a fork to score the skin of any globe eggplant or remove strips of skin with a peeler, leaving every 1/2 inch of skin on. Both methods break up or remove the skin but leave enough to hold the eggplant slices together.
To address the second problem, keep slices fairly thin (1/8 inch thick is perfect), and use the foil-packet trick (see Mushrooms above) to steam-finish them. To grill, brush slices generously with oil, and season with salt. Heat the grill to somewhere between medium and medium high. Arrange the eggplant slices on the hot (clean) grill grate or preferably on a grill topper, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on one side. (If cooking directly on a grill grate, test a few slices to see if they stick after 2 minutes; if they do, cook a little longer.) Turn 90 degrees and cook until the undersides are nicely browned and ideally have crosshatch grill marks. Turn the slices over and repeat. Once both sides are brown, remove the slices from the grill. If you can still see thick white flesh under the brown surface, use the foil-packet method. Slices that are somewhat collapsed and fully tender don’t need the steaming treatment.