How to Grill Vegetables: The Ultimate Guide

By Kristen Mccaffrey on

I really enjoy cooking any number of ways, but if I had to choose just one method to use for the rest of my life, I have to say, it might be the grill. Besides, should I ever find myself on a deserted island, there will be no ovens, microwaves, or stovetops, so I figure my grill game best be on point.

Everyone knows the grill is great for cooking meat. Just talking about the grill can conjure up the smell of smoky meat wafting over from your neighbor’s deck. Or it can make you start to plan for that first warm day of spring when you can fire up the grill and host a barbecue, adding an assortment of meats on the grill for your guests.

But what about vegetables? Have you thought about throwing those on the grill too? I mean, there’s usually plenty of space there on the grates between the chicken breasts and sausages, right?

Grilling vegetables not only rounds out your meal, adding nutrients and minerals and other good stuff to your diet, but is also super tasty. Plus, having your whole meal cooking in the same place means less of you running back and forth from the kitchen to the grill, and more of you outside, enjoying the day or socializing with friends or family.

Grilled eggplant with lemon on a plate with a wooden spoon.

Which Vegetables Are Good for Grilling?

When choosing a vegetable for grilling, it’s best to go for ones that have a lower water content. That’s not to say you can’t throw just about any vegetable on a grill, but you are going to want to choose vegetables that will stand up to the heat, the kind that won’t sog up your grill or shrivel to nothing but skins when they’re done (think large, whole tomatoes).

I’ve found that vegetables such as cherry or grape tomatoes, onions, corn on the cob, zucchini, almost any kind of pepper, eggplant, mushrooms, artichokes, and potatoes are just fabulous when grilled.

You can also grill or char some lettuces, such as romaine, endive, or radicchio (just be sure to choose firm lettuces). I also like to think outside the box when it comes to grilling vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and even Brussels sprouts are also excellent on the grill.

My suggestion is to hit up your local farmers market and pick what’s in season. I think it’s so much fun to go into a market not exactly knowing what you’re going to find, and then to leave with all sorts of yummy produce to throw on the grill later. To me, this is one of the best ways to come up with a warm-weather meal. Plus, it’s a great way to include the whole family on a little culinary adventure.

Grilled asparagus on a black plate with a white napkin.

Best Grilled Veggie Recipes

Here are some of our favorite grilled vegetable recipes:

How to Choose Vegetables for Grilling

When choosing which vegetables to grill, make sure they are colorful, firm, and crisp. You’ll want to avoid any that are limp, browning, bruised, eaten by insects, cut, moldy, or showing other signs of decay.

I think the fresher, the better, which is why I recommend going to farmers markets or a local store that you know sells fresh produce (plus, I always think it’s a good idea to support your nearby farmer).

Remember, just because a vegetable might look “ugly,” but it still meets all the tenants of freshness, doesn’t mean you should pass it up. In fact, why not make it a habit to look for the underdog vegetables and save them from the landfill. Perfect isn’t always best.

Grilled cauliflower with chimichurri sauce on a plate with a yellow napkin.

Methods for Grilling Vegetables

Grilling vegetables is easy. You can place thick-sliced vegetables right on the grill (though I would recommend spraying your grill with a non-stick grill spray) or placing them on top of foil to keep from getting too charred.

You can skewer up similar-sized pieces to make veggie kabobs or you can cook cut vegetables all together in a foil pouch right on the grill. Cooking them in a pouch helps retain their moisture and keeps them from sticking.

If you have one, a grill basket is also a good option. You put all your veggies into the basket, then put it right on top of the grill. The basket has holes so you can still grill without worrying about having some of your vegetables slip through the grates.

How Long Should You Grill Vegetables?

Grilling vegetables does not take very long at all. However, the denser the vegetable, the longer cooking time it will need. For example, heartier vegetables, such as bell peppers, can take up to 10 minutes. Squashes, eggplant, and mushrooms will take less time, around seven minutes, and thinner vegetables, such as asparagus and beans will take even less time, around four to five minutes.

If you want to see those cool grill marks on your bigger veggies, the key is to avoid turning them more than one time. You want to make sure they are good and done (and grill marked) on one side before flipping to the other side. Think one (flip) and done.

I tend to like my vegetables more on the crispier side, so I will tend to cook them till they are just heated through and a little tender. If you like them cooked more then they will need to stay on the grill longer. The more you grill them, the quicker you will learn how you prefer your grilled vegetables.

How to Grill Vegetables

Before you grill veggies, make sure you wash and pat them dry. From there, there are various ways in which to cut them, which I’ll go into below for each individual way of grilling.

If you don’t have time to run to the market or local produce stand, your grocery store will most likely come to your rescue, offering a variety of pre-cut vegetables in sizes great for the grill. I often see pre-kebabed vegetables as well, all skewered up, marinaded, and waiting for your dinner.

Grilled vegetable skewers with onions, peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes.

On a skewer 

This is one of the more fun ways to grill up vegetables. Even though it can be a little bit of a pain to do the extra work of skewering, the presentation is well worth it. Plus, you can eat right off the skewer or add a few cubes of meat, fish, or even tofu in between the vegetables.

You can marinade first, then skewer later, or vice-versa. The order doesn’t really matter. Just be sure to soak your skewers in water first (if using wood or bamboo) so that they don’t burn on the grill. Place similar-sized cut chunks of veggies on skewers right on the grill, flip once halfway to desired doneness, and dive in!

One fun way to get the veggies and/or meats off the kabobs is to place the whole skewer in the middle of a piece of large pita bread, then squeeze both sides of the pita together and slide the bamboo or metal skewer out, leaving behind a perfect little pita sandwich. Try this approach with these hearty Maple Mustard Vegetable Tofu Kabobs using pita or even na’an.

In a grill pan or basket

I love the taste of summer veggies on the grill. I also love easy cooking and minimal clean up. Sometimes with grilling, though, you have to choose -- do I make a mess and have to clean the grill later, or do I use a grill basket or pan to keep the vegetables in one place so as to only have to clean (or throw in the dishwasher) the grill pan.

A grill pan or basket will be made specifically for the grill and will be made of metal with round or square, small holes in the bottom. These tools are great too because you don’t have to worry about any of your veggies slipping through the grates, but you still get that good, charred and smoky flavor.

Use similar-sized sliced or cubed vegetable pieces so that they all cook at the same time, like I do when I cook these Grilled Summer Vegetables just about every week.

In a foil pouch

This method is the most worry-free way to grill vegetables. Cut up all your vegetables, season them with a little olive oil, lemon juice, and Italian seasoning (or whatever spices you love), wrap them up in a little foil burrito and place on the grill until desired doneness.

Mix it up by placing vegetables and starches in the same pouch like in this recipe for Grilled Sweet Potatoes and Vegetable Foil Packets.

Grilled zucchini, onions, carrots, and asparagus on a wooden plate.

Right on the grill grates

Some vegetables are better right on the grates and require no additional preparations, tools, or pans. One such ingredient is the portabella (okay not exactly a veggie but close enough). Marinade the portabellas (like I did for these delicious Grilled Portabella Steaks with Avocado Herb Salsa) with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, cumin, and olive oil for ten minutes.

Place on the grill and cook for three to four minutes on each side, top with salsa, and enjoy. To double your grilling pleasure, throw on some Garlic Grilled Broccoli as a healthy side (just be sure to slice your broccoli into larger “steaks” to keep them from falling through the grill slats).

Storing Grilled Vegetables

If you’ve pre-cut your vegetables in preparation for grilling another time (or purchased them from the grocery), those vegetables will keep, covered, in your fridge for three to five days. If they start to look wilty, brown, or otherwise not great, it’s time to either use them immediately or pitch or compost and start over.

Pre-marinated vegetables will keep for about a day, then you should go ahead and grill them. Toss any marinades that have been in contact with raw meat (for instance, if you marinated vegetables and meats in the same bag or they shared the same platter pre-grill).

Are Grilled Vegetables Good for You?

It’s hard to think of a way that vegetables can really be bad for you. Unless, of course, you’re covering them in mountains of oil or throwing them in a deep fryer. Grilled vegetables are a great way to get more of those cancer-fighting, heart-disease lowering, free-radical eliminating, fiber-full foods into your diet.

Grilling is also one of the best ways to cook your vegetables, as boiling them can cause many of the nutrients to seep into the water, and frying them, well, just adds a lot of unnecessary fat.

When you grill your vegetables you can put them in a simple marinade beforehand, use a grill basket, skewer them, or put them in a foil pouch to be cooked all together. All of these ways help retain the natural compounds found in vegetables, which means more of that goodness gets to you.

Is It Better to Use a Gas or a Charcoal Grill for Grilling Vegetables?

Is a charcoal grill healthier than grilling over propane or vice-versa? Studies show that when grilling meat, more of the cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) drip onto the charcoals, thus creating more smoke that gets infused back into your meat when cooking with a charcoal grill. In propane grills, the PAH content is less simply because there are no coals to catch the drippings -- however there are still some of the chemicals present when cooking with propane.

How does this affect cooking vegetables? Well, I guess that depends on whether or not you’re cooking meat with your vegetables or your vegetables alone. These PAHs can drip onto the bottom of your grill and come back up in the smoke in either grill form. If you are grilling meat with your vegetables, then it’s best to choose lean cuts of meat or to trim the fat off your meat first before grilling.

As for grilling vegetables on their own, it doesn’t really matter which kind of grill you use because grilling vegetables doesn’t unleash the PAHs you find in meat. However, if you are used to grilling only meats, you might want to take some time to clean the bottom of your grill before adding vegetables -- just to be on the safe side.

One other factor to consider when grilling with charcoal versus gas is that smoky flavor you get from grilling with charcoal. If that’s a flavor you love, then charcoal it is!

Guide to learning how to grill vegetables including a platter of grilled veggies.
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