Look on the bright side: What with global warming sending our poor, precious planet into a hellbound death spiral, and summer’s newly blistering temperatures turning your kitchen into Satan’s sauna, this is the perfect opportunity to spend a little more time outside at the grill. So grab your tongs and let’s grill us some vegetables.
The grilling of vegetables is not an impenetrable mystery like the true identity of Jack the Ripper or the whereabouts of D.B. Cooper. All we’re doing is applying heat, just like in the kitchen. The principles are the same. Once you come to terms with that, the main thing to think about – and you’ve got to think about this with meat, too – is whether your vegetables will work better with direct heat or indirect heat.
Grills, particularly charcoal grills, tend to be very, very hot. That’s why they’re perfect for relatively thin items, because the interior cooks quickly before the surface gets overly charred. If an item is very thick, on the other hand, when the outside is perfect, the inside will still be raw.
For larger pieces of vegetables, indirect heat in a covered grill works just like your oven.
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A couple more general things: First, grill marks. If your vegetables are cut into long, thin, oblong planks (as opposed to rounds), lay them on the grill at a 45-degree angle to the grate. After grill marks develop (gently lift an edge to peek), rotate 90 degrees to create a great-looking cross-hatched pattern. After you flip the vegetables, no need to rotate because that’s the side that will be down when they’re served.
Second, make sure to oil your grate or your vegetables to keep them from sticking. If you use an oil-based marinade, that'll probably be enough.
Now, let’s take a look at a few vegetables:
Eggplant. One of my favorites for grilling. Peel them or not, then cut into circular cross sections or lengthwise planks. Brush the slices with oil or drop them into a tasty marinade for just a bit. Eggplant is a vegetative sponge and will soak up whatever marinade you’re using. If it soaks up too much, it'll get soggy and nasty. Just go for a couple of minutes, and it'll be lovely.
Summer squash. Zucchini, yellow squash, golden zucchini. Cut 1/2-inch slices on the bias or lengthwise, marinate for up to 20 minutes, then grill 2 to 3 minutes per side. You could toss them with a little marinade or spice rub before or after you grill.
Long, skinny green things. Asparagus. Green beans. Green onions. All work well on the grill. Marinate them if you want, or, if you’re in a hurry, just throw them onto the grill directly over the heat. Make sure those long skinny green things are at a 90-degree angle to the grate so they don’t slip through.
Cauliflower. Cut 1/2-inch “steaks” lengthwise through the core – you can get two or three per head – then marinate and grill over medium heat 10 to 12 minutes per side. Or, break the head into florets (or use the extra florets from cutting out the steaks), toss with a marinade and wrap in aluminum foil. Grill until done, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Or, my favorite, trim the core but leave the head intact, paint with melted butter and Parmesan or your favorite marinade, and wrap in aluminum foil. Grill, covered, using indirect heat, for 45 minutes to an hour. When you unwrap it, and it’s sitting there, slightly charred and steaming, you can tell your kids that it’s a barbecued human brain.
Corn on the cob. Pull husk most of the way down the ear and remove the silk. Return the husk and soak in cold water for 15 to 20 minutes. Place ears directly on the grate. Grill, covered, about 15 minutes, turning every 3 to 5 minutes as the husk starts to blacken. Let it cool a bit before removing the husk.
Onions, tomatoes and bell peppers. Cut in half and lay directly over the flame. Flip after a couple of minutes to get some char on the other side. Marinate or not, as you see fit.
Smallish vegetables. Mushrooms, cherry tomatoes or cut pieces of any of the above. Thread them onto soaked wooden skewers (to prevent burning), season or marinate, then grill until you get a little color, turning often.