Now Is the Perfect Time to Start Grilling Your Vegetables—Here’s Why
The thought of grilling may evoke memories of a summertime backyard, a big group of friends, and that first smell of smoldering charcoal. The truth, though, is that grilling season never ends—especially when it comes to vegetables.
Why Grill in the Winter?
There are so many reasons. This year, given all the inside time of the pandemic, you may want to get safely outdoors for short stretches whenever you can. Spending 15 minutes grilling provides a break from the news cycle and screens, a brief recharge. Sure, it might take a winter coat and more bundling, but what you get for your efforts is a brief escape and the magic of cooking outside. Even in winter, standing in the chilly open air, hearing hot vegetables crackle and smelling grill smoke touches something.
The early weeks and months of a new year mark a great time for grilling vegetables. Following the indulgence and marathon cooking of the holidays, grilled vegetables unlock both the time-saving cooking methods and the nutritional boost many of us want (and need) this month.
But ripe purple eggplant? Zucchini and artichokes? Fresh local corn? So many of the grilling staples are long gone come the cold months. No matter.
Best Winter Veggies to Grill
"For vegetables, my golden rule is to shop seasonal," says Kevin Kolman, head grill master at Weber Grills. "In the winter, root vegetables and cruciferous veggies are at their peak ripeness. Beets, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and squash are perfect for the grill. And grilling or roasting vegetables on the grill is easy."
Grilling the unexpected can lead to surprising meals. You can grill spiced onions. You can grill potatoes for salad. The char and meaty sweetness of thickly sliced sweet potatoes can anchor a hearty plate. So can steak-like cuts of cauliflower jolted by the right sauce.
How to Grill Vegetables
An easy method adaptable to many big vegetables is to slice them into broad, thin lengths (think whole top-to-bottom planks) and toss with olive oil, salt, and chopped garlic or garlic powder. Simply grill over direct heat for four or so minutes on each side, or until the texture is right for you.
You can take a similar approach to smaller vegetables, like mushrooms. Skip the slicing and put pieces into a grilling pan or onto a skewer. Either move keeps smaller vegetables from toppling through the grill grates.
Once you're finished grilling your vegetables using this method, layer on flavor with a homemade or store-bought sauce or condiment. Pesto. Romanesco. Vinaigrette. Sliver preserved lemon if you have some on hand and drape them on top. Sprinkle crushed toasted nuts for texture. Set grilled vegetables on a bed of yogurt or labneh, or lace them with a quick zigzag of balsamic crema. Most grilled vegetables have a whole lot of range and can benefit from some imagination.
Remember, too, that winter is citrus season. Grilled lemons can be incredible, especially as counterpoints to braised meats, roasts, and grilled vegetables that pick up some char.
Tips for Grilling in Cold Weather
When grilling outside in cooler temperatures, modify your method. "One of my top hacks is to be sure to preheat your grill in the wintertime," Kolman says. "Give it a good 15 to 20 minutes to reach its target temperature before you start to use it. Proteins and vegetables are more than 70 percent water. If your grill is not up to temp (that also means don't keep opening and closing the lid), you will lose that incredible moisture because you will have to cook the food longer."
Finally, be sure to cover your food once done and hurry it inside, so it stays piping hot.
It's also a good idea to take a close friend or family member outside with you—that way you can talk about old summers and other happenings, even though they may seem far off from where we stand now. Grilling, to be sure, is about more than cooking food on a grill. For so many reasons, you should consider cooking your next dinner outside in a coat and hat, the goodness of casually grilled vegetables being just one.