BBQ has always been a meat-eater’s game. Let’s change that.

By Betty Gold
June 30, 2020
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Grilling is one of the most delicious (and low-maintenance) methods for preparing food, particularly in the summer. An optional dry rub or marinade followed by a quick sear is all it takes to make a mountain of juicy burgers, tender baby back ribs, or perfectly charred chicken breasts.

For far too long, however, we’ve only considered firing up the barbecue when we crave meat. A shame, seeing as the grill is the perfect way to bring out a fruit’s natural sweetness, or to give your fresh-grown veggies added complexity and depth. In the spirit of adopting a more plant-based diet this season (oh, and not excluding our vegetarian and vegan friends from every summer soiree), we asked six chefs about their favorite non-meat ingredients to grill. They also shared the best method for cooking each, so you can try them all at home tonight.

“I’m a huge fan of grilling cauliflower,” says Chef Seamus Mullen, Chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. “I like to blanch it for three to five minutes in well-salted boiling water, then let it air-dry while I prepare the grill. I drizzle the cauliflower with olive oil, season with sea salt and spices, and grill the whole head, getting it nice and charred on all sides. Lately, I’ve been really into Middle Eastern spices and I’ve been seasoning with harissa and za’atar and serving it with an herby, yogurt sauce and some fresh cilantro.”

“I’m a fan of veggie skewers,” says Chef Abbie Gellman. “Cube or cut thick slices of summer squash, onion, fennel, and so on. Be sure to cut veggies to similar sizes, so cooking time is relatively similar. Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper, or a vinaigrette dressing marinade.” Thread your skewer, alternating veggies and grill. This is super simple and works well on either an indoor grill pan or an outdoor grill. 

“I love stone fruits on the grill,” says Herve Guillard, director of education and lead chef, pastry and baking arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. “It’s an unusual way to prepare them that always surprises guests, and very easy to do.” Stone fruits retain their natural sweetness when grilled, which gets enhanced by the smokiness of the grilling process.

RELATED: The Go-to Guide for Grilling Fruit to Perfection

When sourcing your fruit, Guillard says to choose those that are slightly under-ripe so their flesh will hold up well while cooking. “My favorite stone fruits are white peaches, but this method works for any,” he says. Cut them in quarters lengthwise, remove the pit, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Get some nice grill marks, about two to three minutes on each side, but keep them lightly al-dente in the center.

Grilled stone fruits pair well with grilled pork chops, as a main component in a salad, or even as base for a salsa to serve with grilled fish. Of course, a drizzle of balsamic and vanilla ice cream will transform them into a wonderful impromptu dessert. “I especially love grilled stone fruit in salad with endive or dandelion greens, smoked Gouda, and miso dressing,” Guillard says.

“It’s quick, versatile, and stress-free grilling,” says Chef Palak Patel. “They’re also visually appealing and can replicate the way a piece of meat is served off the grill.” The grill chars the cauliflower, giving it a smoky and nutty flavor.

To grill cauliflower steak, start by cutting the cauliflower right down the center into 1- or 1 ½-inch steaks. Be sure to keep the stem intact so the steaks don’t fall apart on the grill. Any seasoning works for this preparation, but Patel recommends a lighter, oil-based dressing that you can then create a sauce from to accompany the steaks. Simply toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, with a hint of vinegar or citrus, and then cook until slightly charred on the grill for eight to 10 minutes (timing will depend on the grill and size of the steaks), turning over halfway until cooked through. Another option is to add a little brown sugar or any barbecue sauce to the marinade—the steaks will have beautiful caramelized grill marks. And in the summer months, using citrus and fresh herbs as a topping is a must.

“I make a chimichurri or roasted jalapeño, scallion, and herb salsa to top the steaks and then serve them on top of grains or lentils with a side of chopped salad,” Patel says. “It’s a perfect meal.”

The remaining smaller florets can be grated to make cauliflower rice, mashed cauliflower, or simply put them in a grill basket portioned for kids.

“One of my favorite summer side dishes is potato salad, and grilling the potatoes keeps the heat out of the kitchen and adds a delicious smoky char to the dish,” says Chef Rebekah Ziesmer from Conagra Brands. “I par-cook them in the microwave before cutting and tossing with some EVOO and salt. Then I throw them on the grill.” To keep this plant-based but still creamy, she tosses the freshly grilled potatoes in ranch dressing (she recommends Healthy Choice Ranch Power Dressing) mixed with a little Dijon mustard and fresh dill.

“My favorite plant-based ingredient to grill is green onions or spring onions, because you can use them in so many different ways,” says Frank Proto, director of culinary operations at the Institute of Culinary Education. “You can grill and eat them whole with romesco as they do in Spain, or you can cut them up and use them in a salad or a vinaigrette.” The best method, according to Proto, is to grill the whole thing. If the green ends are dry, just trim a little off the top and the root end. Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and then put on grill until a little charred and wilted. “I would serve whole with a romesco sauce or make a dressing, salsa, or chimichurri,” he says. “But it’s so versatile, you could really use it on anything.”