Expert Tips for Grilling Vegetables Perfectly—Plus 7 Recipes to Try

Make room on the grill for vegetables! They're colorful, nutritious, easy to cook, full of flavor, and—best of all—keep you out of a hot kitchen.

Grilled vegetables
Photo: Claudia Totir/Getty Images

There are only so many things you can do with burgers or chicken breasts but, once you learn about how to grill vegetables, the options for summer's bounty of produce are endless. "People often go to meat when they think about grilling, but I think vegetables are actually the most transformed by the grill," says Julia Taylor-Brown, former head of culinary at Spark Grills.

"By using a dry heat method like grilling," Taylor-Brown continued, "you intensify and concentrate the flavors of the vegetables by drawing out the water and caramelizing the outsides." Learn how to grill vegetables to make the most out of them, and then pick one of our grilled veggie recipes to try.

The Best Vegetables to Grill

"All vegetables can be amazing," insists Taylor-Brown, because charcoal helps vegetables get smoky and build even more flavor. "For me, the most transformed by the grill—either because the smoke pairs with the natural flavors so well or the sugars caramelize beautifully on the grill—are eggplant, asparagus, portobello mushrooms, carrots, broccolini, and thin-sliced potatoes—aka grilled French fries."

Honorable Mentions That Are a Bit Tricky

While pretty much any vegetable can be grilled, not all vegetables are created equally grill-worthy. Lettuce isn't that popular on the summer BBQ scene, but consider tossing halved romaine over a hot grill for a fun summer salad, or char halved tomatoes for a nice smoky flavor.

Denser vegetables, such as whole potatoes or winter squash (like pumpkins), are a bit trickier to grill. They take longer to cook, and risk burnt outsides and/or underdone insides. To avoid this, precook these hearty veggies—microwave or boil them—to halfway done.

If you're cooking with small mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, or other adorable but potentially burnable produce, consider using skewers so your vegetables can get that direct grill flavor without falling into the fiery pit. For even smaller vegetables like chickpeas, or hard ones like baby carrots, use a mesh grill basket.

Delicate broccoli and cauliflower florets tend to fall apart when set straight on the grates. Give them—as well as Brussels sprouts—the skewer or basket treatment, and keep in mind that they'll cook twice as fast on a grill than they do in an oven.

Cabbage doesn't usually come to mind when it comes to grilling, but perhaps it should. It works beautifully when sliced into steaks (as does cauliflower) or wedges.

Vegetables to Avoid

There are only a few vegetables that illicit a firm "no" on the grill. Cucumbers and celery are in that category. Their high fiber content and most of their nutrients dissipate when cooked—whether you're inside or outside. Beans and spinach are also problematic on a grill grate but can still be cooked outside on a cast-iron skillet.

How to Grill Vegetables

With your vegetables selected, gather your supplies and let's get grilling.

What You Need:

Step 1: Wash and Dry

Wash your vegetables and thoroughly pat dry. Moisture creates steam, so any water on the exterior of your vegetable makes it more mushy than crispy when grilled.

Step 2: Cut

Before picking up your knife, decide if you're grilling your veggie whole, halved, or sliced. "Success with grilled vegetables starts with how you cut them for the grill," says Taylor-Brown. "You want to think about exposing as much surface area as possible to get the benefits of the smoky flavor and heat."

A whole eggplant or squash gets crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, while a sliced vegetable gets crispier with more of that grill flavor. For large vegetables like cauliflower, slice them into steaks or florets unless you plan to grill them for a long time.

Step 3: Season and Rest

Season with salt, pepper, and other favorite seasonings, and then let the vegetables rest—from 10 minutes to an hour—for some salt to sweat out. Pat dry again, if necessary.

Step 4: Toss in Oil

Now's the time to toss your veg in cooking oil. Use a marinade if you'd like, but keep in mind that most flavors will burn off. When it comes to grilled veggies, dressing is more effective when added after cooking.

Step 5: Preheat

Heat a grill to medium or medium-high, and brush grates with oil.

Step 6: Cook

Place vegetables on the grates and check for doneness every few minutes, flipping when the grill grates have made a dark mark. Most vegetables cook in less than 15 minutes, flipped halfway through.

With vegetables, you're not looking for a specific temperature like with meat (there's no such thing as medium-rare corn on the cob), so keep an eye on the veg to prevent them from becoming too mushy. Taylor-Brown notes that cooking at too high a temperature is a common pitfall. Aim for the 500- to 600-degree range, though heartier vegetables (like carrots and beets) can tolerate higher.

Grilled Vegetable Recipes

Here are our favorite recipes that use grilled vegetables. Some are vegetarian, others involve grilling meat along with, and all make the best use of the summer grilling season.

01 of 07

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks With Romesco and Manchego

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks With Romesco and Manchego Recipe
Victor Protasio

Grilling vegetables may sound pedestrian, but you're a top chef when you plate up these flavorful grilled cauliflower steaks alongside a peppery arugula salad. Prep everything inside while the grill preheats and then grill up a veg to impress!

02 of 07

Grilled Mediterranean Salad

Grilled Mediterranean Salad Recipe
Jennifer Causey

A grilled pasta salad? Don't knock it 'til you try it. This one combines grilled zucchini, bell peppers, and onion with grilled halloumi cheese (yes, you can grill cheese), a balsamic vinaigrette, and campanelle pasta. 

03 of 07

Mexican Grilled Corn With Cilantro

Mexican Grilled Corn With Cilantro
Sang An

This Mexican-inspired recipe for grilled corn on the cob takes just minutes to make and is a total treat. If you have leftovers, chuck the cobs and use the roasted kernels as a salad topper or burrito filler.

04 of 07

Grilled Asparagus and Hot Honey Flatbreads

Grilled Asparagus and Hot Honey Flatbreads
Greg DuPree

Using store-bought naan as a "crust," this pizza-like dish is cooked entirely on the grill. It features a lemony ricotta "sauce" topped with grilled asparagus, peppery arugula, and crunchy pistachios. To finish, drizzle with equal parts honey and sriracha.

05 of 07

Grilled-Eggplant Salad

Grilled-Eggplant Salad
Andre Baranowski

Perhaps we should call this the "everything grilled salad." Alongside eggplant wedges on the grill are heads of romaine (cut lengthwise) and halved plum tomatoes. All the veggies are generously brushed with a soy-honey-ginger marinade to make this dish a flavorful side or a meal in itself.

06 of 07

Grilled Skirt Steak With Squash Ratatouille

Grilled Skirt Steak With Squash Ratatouille
Greg DuPree

This recipe pairs lightly charred squash, zucchini, eggplant, and onion with tender, juicy steak, all cooked on the grill. Ready in 30 minutes, this recipe serves as a useful blueprint for mixing and matching a host of other gilled veggies and proteins for a multitude of quick, easy summer suppers.

07 of 07

Grilled Eggplant and Smoked Mozzarella Melts

Grilled Eggplant and Smoked Mozzarella Melts
Charles Masters

This vegetarian dish comes together in less than 25 minutes. Described as a "delectable and elevated grilled cheese sandwich," it features eggplant and melted mozzarella atop grilled slices of country bread. Serve with a green salad for a healthful, refreshing summer meal.

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