Grilling Month is upon us! While you stock up on obscure sausages, ground beef and enough steel wool to make an electric sheep, we here at Food Republic want to remind you that grilling isn’t just for meat. It’s also an excellent way to squeeze every last ounce of flavor out of your vegetables. You just spent five months bundled up with roasted turnips and now it’s time to taste the smoky char of the noble flame on your veggies. All veg isn’t created equal, though. No, sir, there’s a pecking order to what works best on the iron grate of goodness and it’s time to make that order known. Get your cherrywood/propane/charcoal ready because it’s time for the Grilled Vegetable Power Rankings.
The undisputed champion of summer vegetable grilling. Col. Kernel is so popular that it’s a staple at street fairs all summer long. Do you see roasted zucchini stands popping up next to the zeppole? I don’t think so, sucker. When it comes to grilling (and government subsidies), corn is king.
2. Portobello Mushrooms
Anybody who tells you that portobellos are the steak of the vegetable world is stupid. They’re not. They’re the flat mushrooms of the vegetable world and they’re superb on the grill. Pbellos are flavorful, easy to marinate and a totally acceptable burger substitute. One of the biggest perks: unlike your neighborhood snitch, they won’t fall apart when subjected to a lengthy grilling.
We Americans are sorely lacking in the Eggplant Appreciation Department. The Middle East is way ahead of us with dishes that routinely incorporate smoky eggplant (baba ganoush ftw). Eggplant is excellent when roasted or fried, but it takes on a whole new level of charm when you throw it on the grill. Bonus points for being perfectly suited to grill marks. After some time on the grill, your eggplant may look like a prisoner but it’ll taste like sweet summer freedom.
Another poster child for summer. Winter squashes are fine, but everyone knows they become magical in the warmer months with a little grill action. That’s because the natural sweetness really comes through after a solid session on the grates. Pro tip: squeeze a little lemon juice on it first and you’ll wonder why you’ve been wasting your whole life eating lemonless zucchini.
The secret to onions is that they taste incredible no matter how you cook them. Caramelized in a skillet, roasted in the oven, slow-cooked – you really can’t go wrong. Grilled onions, however, exist in a category all their own. An integral part to any kabob/skewer/souvlaki situation, grilled onions set naked on a grill exist in the space between raw and cooked. They develop a sweet, mellow flavor, but still retain their raw crunch. It’s the best of both worlds, which makes grilled onions the Hannah Montana of vegetables.
6. Bell Peppers
Another spoke on the kabob wheel, peppers are excellent on the grill. They just aren’t all that useful once they’re, y’know, grilled. Once you get past the stick o’dinner, grilled veggie sandwich, or antipasti platter, there just aren’t that many other options. Perhaps you can track down that Piper fellow and become a supplier for his pepper pickling business.
If you’re putting whole broccoli on the grill, you’re dumb. It’s not flat enough for that. Broccolini, on the other hand, is perfect. If you want a lesson in simplicity, coat the stalks in olive oil and chili flakes and roast until their color intensifies. Just make sure to put them perpendicular to the grates – you don’t want them to get trapped down there.
Asparagus works beautifully on the grill and cooks much faster that other conventional methods. There are some standard pitfalls with grilled asparagus, though. Even though they’re similar to broccolini in shape, the green pencils don’t have the tree tops to stop them from rolling. Like a pack of rowdy junior high kids, you need to keep your eyes on these bad boys or you’re going to lose them (or you can wrap ’em up in foil, but then you won’t get a char).
9. Romaine Lettuce
Chefs think they’re very clever when they put grilled lettuce on the menu. The truth is, it’s not that hard to do and it adds a little mystery to an otherwise boring ingredient. Out of all lettuces, romaine seems to work best, so get some hearts on the flame and make a smoked Caesar dressing to go with it. Then you can pretend you’re eating in the ashes of Pompeii, you callous bastard. People died there, okay? It’s still fresh for me. [ed. note: Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., so don’t feel too bad.]
Why are you grilling carrots? Is that all you had around? Are you a carrot farmer or suffering from a beta carotene deficiency? That’s the only excuse for grilling carrots. It can be done, but come on. You’re better than that.
In theory, grilled tomatoes are a thing of beauty. Smoky, charred and tangy, grilled tomatoes should be a staple summer ingredient. Unfortunately, the tomato is not designed for the grill. Put the whole thing on there and it’ll explode. Cut it into slices and the liquid just spills out. Some vegetables (okay, okay, fruits) were designed for the grill. The tomato is not in that group. Perhaps it’s because they taste so good raw in the summertime? Yeah. Let’s go with that.
12. Green Beans
If you serve me grilled green beans, I will fight you. It’s a fool’s errand. They’re way too tiny to work on a grill. Even if you use one of those fancy grill pans, it just doesn’t make sense. Save your green beans for the saute pan and use broccolini instead. Your friends will all be much happier when they come over for your Memorial Day barbecue. Trust me.