Everything You Need To Know About Vegetarian Grilling

Although grilling typically conjures images of barbecued ribs, hamburgers, and steaks, vegetables are arguably one of the best food groups to grill because of their diverse flavors, natural sugars, and incredible textures. For those who are finally listening to your mother's advice to eat more fruits and veggies and have given up or reduced meat in their diets, don't throw away your grill just yet. It's time to strap on your ironic apron, grab a handful of veggies, and learn everything you need about vegetarian grilling.

Familiarizing yourself with the best grilled vegetable recipes can be a good start, but it's also important to understand some basic differences between cooking times and temperatures used to grill vegetables versus meats. Vegetables often take less time to grill and require a lower temperature because they are prone to burn. The best way to keep an eye on them is by leaving the grill open and turning them frequently with tongs. Meat-eaters look out; there's a new favorite way to grill this summer. It's time to grab your spatula, rubs, and sauces because the fire's hot, and there are veggies to be grilled.

It's all about the sauce

You wouldn't throw a plain piece of chicken on the grill and expect it to taste incredible, so why hold vegetables to that standard? Grill masters know that when it comes to grilling, there is plenty of technique involved, but it's really all about the seasonings. Don't be shy; dunk those veggies in marinades before grilling, rub them down with dry rubs, and douse them in sauces during the cooking process. Because vegetables have such delicious natural flavors on their own, sometimes all it takes is a little oil, salt, and pepper to bring it all together. Oil and tamari is another simple yet effective combination that doesn't take much work to prepare.

If you have the time, consider going all out and whipping up a marinade or sauce of your own. We recommend incorporating some form of sweetness (vegetables can be quite sweet, so don't go overboard here), some saltiness, some acidity like vinegar or citrus, and some spice like black pepper or chili powder. Incorporating additional flavors into your vegetarian dishes will blow away even your pickiest carnivorous guests. There's a reason that seasoning barbecued vegetables is a top tip for summer grilling.

Play with soy-based proteins

If you don't like tofu, you're doing it wrong. In fact, no two tofu dishes should ever taste the same, and quite rarely does tofu ever actually taste like tofu. This is because tofu is simply a vehicle for flavor. Many people write it off as bland when, in fact, tofu has the potential to be anything you want it to be. It's up to you to make it sing.

If you're at a loss when it comes to flavoring tofu, try marinading it in anything you'd season chicken with. If you typically use Italian dressing, give that a try. Barbecue sauce is another go-to that mimics familiar grill-out flavors. A little tamari, maple syrup, ginger, lime juice, and garlic can make a simple yet delicious Asian marinade. Press your tofu to reduce its moisture content, and then soak it in the marinade for at least 15 minutes before tossing it on the grill. Lather it up with sauce as it cooks, and enjoy that crispy exterior and juice interior. Just be sure to keep that grill nice and clean to prevent the tofu from sticking to it and falling apart.

If tofu is too mushy for you, try its textured cousin, tempeh. Tempeh contains fermented soybeans in a chewier form with an entirely different texture. Be sure to steam it before grilling to remove any bitterness.

Keep it simple with plant-based meats

If you're a big fan of a good old cheeseburger or hot dog on the Fourth of July, we don't think you should have to compromise just because you gave up or are trying to reduce your meat intake. Luckily for you, because of the increasing popularity of plant-based and vegan diets, there are plenty of plant-based burger brands to choose from. If you miss it, we can assure you they make it in vegetarian form. From Beyond Meat Italian Sausage to Impossible Burgers, your bases are sure to be covered.

Keep in mind that plant-based meats may taste and look like the real thing, but they often have cooking directions that differ from what you're used to. Follow the grilling directions on the box, and if you have any strict vegetarians or vegans in the crowd, keep the plant-based meats separate from the animal-based proteins.

Try a grill basket

While grilling asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and baby mushrooms may seem like an exciting challenge, it's not so fun when you're losing half your bounty to the fiery pits of despair when they inevitably fall through the grates. Grills were not necessarily designed for vegetables, especially the smaller veggies, so it's time to use some handy-dandy tools invented by those who understand the struggle.

A grill basket is an essential grill tool that every level of griller should have on hand. It's just what it sounds like, a metal basket with smaller grates than your average grill. The basket itself heats up like a grill and allows the flames to poke through and do their magic. It's a great way to keep smaller vegetables from plunging into the fire and can help you to easily toss and turn them to prevent charring. Keep in mind that these baskets heat up, so use tongs or mitts to remove the basket from the flames.

Make aluminum foil meals

Perhaps one of the easiest grilling methods is the aluminum foil packet. Toss your chopped vegetables of choice, tofu or beans, and marinade all together in a pouch made out of aluminum foil. Start by letting everything steam together, and halfway through the cooking process, open the pouch to allow some of the liquids to cook off. When you're done, you should be left with tender marinated vegetables swimming in your favorite reduced sauce. Dump the contents over cooked grains to absorb some extra sauce and flavors.

This technique is all about setting and forgetting, giving you extra time to mingle with your guests or family while the flames do the rest. Consider pairing chopped onions, eggplant, and broccoli with teriyaki sauce. Try mixing garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms with a lemon-herbed vinaigrette. Good old peppers and onions taste delicious with an enchilada sauce over a bed of rice. Combine your favorite flavors and run with it; you are the grillmaster, after all.

Grill sandwiches

They don't call it a grilled cheese sandwich for nothing. Imagine your favorite vegetarian sandwich, but instead of baked, pan-fried, or toasted, it's coming to you hot off the grill. Almost any hot sandwich can be toasted on the grill, and vegetarian sandwiches tend to lead the charge when it comes to grill-worthy flavors. Consider utilizing that grill for both the fixings and the bread, including red peppers, onions, eggplant slices, tofu, or portobello mushrooms directly on the grill with your favorite sauce or marinade.

Once you've loaded up on roasted vegetable fillings, consider layering on the spreads, sauces, and cheeses. Cheese is a must when grilling sandwiches because the heat melts it down to a warm bubbly mess of flavor. Choose a hearty bread, and be sure to use butter, olive oil, aioli, or mayonnaise to coat the outside before placing it onto the grill. Keep a close eye on your creation to prevent burning, and use a large metal spatula to ensure both sides are crispy and delicious.

Don't forget about dessert

Although a vegetarian diet might seem limiting to the outside eye, those who have given up meat know that it opened a whole new world of food variety. Vegetarian grilling may seem limited to vegetables and plant-based proteins, but the truth is that the best food group to grill is actually quite unexpected. Fruit is one of the very best foods to grill because it is jam-packed with natural sugars just waiting to be caramelized on those fiery grates. There are plenty of tips and tricks to follow for grilling fruit, but the truth is that it's actually quite simple.

Whether you're grilling fruit as a side dish or dessert, be sure to leave it cut in large chunks. This may mean whole cross-sections of pineapple or halves of peaches. Grilled citrus fruits make for a beautiful and flavorful garnish, while plantains can hold their own as the star of a meal. It's always a safe bet to use honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup to play up on the sticky-sweet flavors of grilled fruit. Or, get creative and contrast the fruit's natural sugars with cayenne pepper or chili powder.

Skewer up some kabobs

Welcome to the wonders of vegetarian kabobs. This method helps to ensure that your chopped and smaller vegetables don't fall through the grates of the grill, and everyone can agree that kabobs are just more fun to eat. Soak wooden skewers in salty water for at least 15 minutes to ensure they are saturated and won't catch on fire. If they char a little on the ends, that's okay, but this simple step will prevent your kabobs from going up in flames or breaking apart. Next, skewer on your favorite cut vegetables and bite-sized vegetables like chopped onion, chopped peppers, chopped tofu, cherry tomatoes, and baby 'bella mushrooms.

Soak them or drizzle them with your favorite rubs or marinades, and heat up that grill. The reason you shouldn't grill vegetables entirely over high heat is that they are more prone to burning, so keep the heat on medium, and watch over the skewers closely. Turn them every now and again, and don't forget to lather on more sauce before they're done cooking.

Use plank grilling

Although plank grilling was a technique invented by Native Americans to cook fish over an open flame, it works brilliantly with vegetables, and even makes grilling cheese a reality. Although we won't get into everything you should know about grilling with wood planks, you should be equipped with the basics. Start by choosing a food-grade plank, soaking it, and oiling it. Then, heat the plank on the grill, add your vegetables or cheese, and let the hot surface of the wood infuse your bounty with woody aromatics.

Plank grilling is perfect for vegetables like asparagus that might fall through the slats of a grill or eggplant that is prone to sticking. Instead of falling apart on the grill, eggplant and other soft vegetables will caramelize on the plank. For those of you who dare to smoke cheese on a wooden plank, keep a close eye on it. Softer cheese will melt quickly, and the goal is to soften it and infuse it with flavor, not make an ooey-gooey puddle mess.

Throw greens on the grill

While it might seem a little counterintuitive to throw leafy greens on the grill, it's actually an elite grill master move. Greens that you might typically add to a stir-fry, like bok choy or Swiss chard, are fair game; just be sure to toss them in a little oil and seasoning and keep a close eye on them to prevent burning. Greens that you might not expect to hold up under heat, like romaine and endives, are actually quite delicious when seared on the grill. Heat the grill up nice and hot, cut your romaine head or endive in half, oil it up, and place it cut-side down on the hot slats. Let it cook just until the base becomes scalded, and then top with your favorite dressing.

According to Michael Symon, you should start grilling cabbage, and we couldn't agree more. Symon explains that you can cut a head of cabbage into quarters and char it right on the grill. All of the little leafy folds hold sauces and spices nicely both before and after grilling, so be sure to load your grilled cabbage up with flavor.

Toss a pizza on the open flames

Although grilled pizza is not exclusive to vegetarians, it's yet another veggie-friendly way to keep your grill up and running all summer, even if you don't eat meat. Grilled pizza is an elite and unique way to bring your pizza party outside when the weather is nice. Pre-roast your veggies on the grill to soften them and give them a smokey, charred appearance. Toss that dough until it's thin enough to throw onto the grill, and be sure to cook both sides by flipping it part-way through the cooking process. Load on your sauces, cheeses, and grilled vegetables and toss that pie back in the grill, close the lid, and let the flames take care of the rest.

Grilled veggie pizza is a fun way to bring family and friends together and plays off of similar flavors as a wood-fired pizza. For those not lucky enough to own their own wood-fired pizza oven, this is just about as close as you're going to get to the real thing when it comes to homemade pizza.

Explore cauliflower steaks

Cauliflower steaks are the new ribeye. Well, maybe not for everyone. But they certainly have gained quite a bit of popularity and can be found on menus ranging from five-star restaurants to hippie cafes. Cauliflower steaks are like tofu in the sense that they take on the flavor of whatever sauce or rub is featured in the dish. Cauliflower absorbs sauce beautifully, making it the perfect vehicle for flavor.

Because cauliflower has a tendency to crumble, be sure to cut nice thick cauliflower steaks from cross sections of the head, or heck, just throw the entire head right onto the grill. Before it comes in contact with heat, marinade the cauliflower in sauce by soaking it and basting any liquids that run down the sides. Thick rubs need to be massaged into the nooks and crannies, so roll up your sleeves and get to work. Cauliflower steaks can be seared directly on the grill, but flip them before they get too soft. A little crunch helps it to keep its form and prevents the vegetable from getting too mushy.

Braise an eggplant steak

Eggplant is a common stand-in for animal-based proteins in recipes. This is because it's unique in flavor, holds marinades and sauces nicely, and has a hearty fullness. Eggplant can be cooked to be crispy, chewy, or even soft, so it's quite versatile in the hands of an experienced cook. When preparing eggplant, be sure to let it sweat to remove all the bitterness. Do this by slicing the vegetable and sprinkling it with salt. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then use a paper towel to absorb the water droplets that come to the surface.

To grill an eggplant steak, start by cutting it in half the long way and sweating it. Let it marinade in your favorite steak seasoning like A1, miso ginger, or a whisky chili rub. Once it's absorbed quite a bit of flavor, brush it with oil and let it cook directly on the hot grate of the grill. Flip it only once to ensure both sides are cooked, and be gentle so it doesn't break apart. Add more sauce as needed and enjoy.

Grill corn three ways

Corn and grills go together like summertime and ice cream cones. Luckily, when it comes to cooking corn on the grill, we have plenty of options to choose from. The simplest technique is to simply shuck your corn and place it directly on the hot grill. This will char the corn and give it a rustic open-flame appearance and smokey flavor. The second method is to soak corn in the husk in salty water for at least 20 minutes before placing the entire thing onto the hot grill. That's right, leave the husk on throughout the grilling process. Close the grill and let the vegetable steam in its own husk for at least 20 minutes. The husk will char, and that's okay. Take caution peeling away the hot husk to reveal perfectly tender corn on the cob.

Our last technique is becoming rather trendy in the foodie world. Corn ribs are made by slicing corn into quarters lengthwise. Rub them down with a chili or barbecue sauce, and toss them on the grill to cook. Each section will curl slightly, resembling a rib, and can be eaten with your hands. Simply grab onto the core section and eat the cooked kernels off of the outside. Often, corn ribs are enjoyed with a creamy dipping sauce.

Stuff your veggies

Stuffed vegetables are the ultimate meat replacer when it comes to fancy celebratory dinners and something you should consider for summertime grilling. Almost any vegetable can be stuffed, but our favorite go-tos are portobello mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, and squash. Simply create a stuffing using breading, grains, cheese, or other vegetables. Don't forget to load up on sauces, herbs, and spices. When in doubt, use your favorite thanksgiving stuffing recipe, or mix Spanish rice with shredded cheddar cheese. Stuff your veggie to the brim, and toss it on the grill. Both the filling and the vegetable will cook, creating an entree that even your die-hard carnivorous friends will be eyeing.

Barbecue legend Chris Lilly shares his favorite grilled vegetable recipe, and we have to say that it looks to die for. Let's be honest; any recipe that has us stuffing a portobello mushroom with tomatoes, garlic, and mozzarella cheese is a win in our book. Take inspiration from him, or experiment with flavor yourself. Either way, you can't go wrong with stuffed grilled veggies.