Don't let burgers and hot dogs have all the fun—here are the top tips for nailing the perfect produce char.

By Betty Gold
Updated May 27, 2020
Advertisement

Summer is synonymous with grill season. We’d be hard-pressed to find a more delicious way to sear burgers, pork chops, ribs, or chicken quarters, but don’t forget about all the non-meat ingredients that taste great with some grill marks and a little char.

Take vegetables, for instance. They express toastier, sweeter, more caramelized flavors after being barbecued. Best part is that there’s almost no work involved—all you need is a drizzle of oil and some salt and pepper to get lots of full, fresh flavor from your farmer’s market haul. They leave plenty of room for experimentation with simple sauces and marinades, too. Here's how to nail the technique for cooking vegetables on the grill.

Visit a farmers' market and ask questions.

We know the classic vegetables to use during summer—bell peppers, zucchini, onions, tomatoes—but there are many vegetables that get overlooked. Asparagus, portobello mushrooms, ramps, even rhubarb and fresh herbs. Go to your local farmers’ market and see what is offered to try something new, depending on what looks fresh that day.

Pick the right sauce for every vegetable.

A fresh chimichurri sauce is perfect over every vegetable in the summertime, and it’s easy to make. Finely chop cilantro and parsley, add chopped lemon peel, grated garlic, good olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the vegetables sit in the marinade for a few hours or overnight and then grill them up. It’s a great blend of fat, herbal, and acid.

Nail the perfect char.

When grilling over a wood fire, most people think the larger the fire, the better the flavor. However, cooking directly over a large flame will burn the outside without allowing the vegetables to fully cook. The key to great grilling is actually about the cinder. For a more consistent product, wait until the wood to burns down into red-hot coals, then start grilling the vegetables and don’t play with them too much. As the vegetable becomes charred, move it away from the direct heat and allow it to cook indirectly.

Move from direct to indirect heat.

No one likes mushy vegetables, and this is caused by a few different things: heat that isn’t intense enough, cooking too far away from the heat, or being cooked for too long. For starters, make sure you have red hot cinder under your grill. There are two types of grilling, direct and indirect heat so start the vegetables on direct heat over the cinder and then move them to the outside for indirect heat. Make sure to check the vegetables and pull them away from heat when they are just about done. Their internal heat will allow them to finish cooking without getting over-done.

Finish strong by seasoning your vegetables–or make them into a sauce.

You can finish any grilled vegetable with sea salt, lime juice, olive oil, and parsley. You can make sauces from grilled vegetables as well. For example, take Ají peppers, grill them over wood and blend them will agave, lime, and oil. It’s a perfect finishing sauce for fish, lighter meats, or even other grilled vegetables.