How to grill just about any vegetable – The Denver Post

The summer grilling season is upon us, and so are the vegetables. When it comes to cooking summer’s bounty, it is hard to surpass an open fire. Grilling maximizes a vegetable’s flavor, with minimal effort and a decided measure of showmanship. No one gathers around a stove to watch you boil or steam broccoli. But sear that broccoli over a hot fire on the grill, and you both become stars of the show.

The ultimate reason to grill vegetables is taste: Fire almost always makes them taste better. The high, dry heat of the grill caramelizes a vegetable’s sugars, intensifying its sweetness. Grilling imparts a subtle but inimitable smoke flavor, which adds complexity and soulfulness to a vegetable’s already vibrant taste.

But which vegetable and what is the best way to grill it? Here, the story becomes a bit more complicated — just a bit — because while virtually every vegetable can be grilled, not all should be cooked the same way.

The key to grilling virtually any vegetable is the mastery of two basic methods and a couple of easy, although specialized, techniques.

Direct Grilling

This is most of what the world means by grilling, and as the name suggests, it involves cooking your vegetables directly over a fire. Use this method for grilling soft, moist vegetables, like zucchini and mushrooms; leafy ones, like bok choy and kale; slender stalks, such as asparagus and broccolini; and sliced ones, from eggplant to onions. Keep the fire hot — 450 to 600 degrees — and the grilling time brief — 2 to 4 minutes per side.

To set up a charcoal grill for direct grilling, light your charcoal (I prefer lump) in a chimney starter, then rake the glowing coals across the bottom of your grill, mounded more thickly at the back (your hot or searing zone), more thinly in the center (your medium or cooking zone), leaving the front third of your grill coal free (your cool or safety zone, where you can dodge flare-ups and keep cooked vegetables warm for serving). This is called a tiered, or multizone, fire; you control the cooking by moving the vegetable toward or away from the hot zone.

On a gas grill, set one or two burners on high, one or two burners on medium, and leave one or two burners off for your safety zone. Adjust the top and bottom vents on a kamado-style cooker to obtain a temperature of 450 to 600 degrees. Owners of the pellet grill should follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Moist Vegetables

Armando Rafael, The New York Times

Mushrooms on a grill in New York, June 4, 2021. Two grilling methods are all you need to cook summer’s bounty, from broccoli to asparagus, cauliflower to tomatoes. Even leafy greens benefit from a brief turn on the grill. Food styled by Roscoe Betsill.

Avocados, bell peppers, corn, leeks, mushrooms, summer squash, tomatoes and zucchini.

Cut thicker vegetables, like avocados (botanically speaking, a fruit, but treated as a vegetable) and zucchini in half lengthwise; leave thinner vegetables whole. When grilling corn, remove the husk and silk (lest the corn steam, not grill). Brush with olive oil or melted butter, season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, and grill until darkly browned on all sides.

Leafy Greens

Kale, chard, bok choy and sturdy lettuces like iceberg and romaine.

Brush flat leaves with extra-virgin olive oil or sesame oil, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, dust with minced garlic or sesame seeds, and direct grill over medium-high heat until browned and crisp. Larger leafy vegetables, such as bok choy, Swiss chard and head lettuce, should be halved or quartered lengthwise, oiled, seasoned and charred over a hot fire. When grilling lettuce, work quickly: You want to singe the outside leaves while leaving the center cool and crisp.

Slender Vegetables

Asparagus, green beans, scallions, snap peas and okra.