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Steven Raichlen leads you veggie by veggie to the grill.

Tips and techniques for stellar grilled fish.

Plus, recipes for
Grilled Okra and Grilled Zucchini with Greek Spices.




Cooking Class

How to Grill Vegetables
by Steven Raichlen

When I was growing up, no one knew from grilled vegetables. My, how times have changed! These days, grilled portabellos give hamburgers a run for their money and you can hardly go to a restaurant without being offered some sort of grilled vegetables. I say it's about time, because grilling is the best way I know to cook vegetables. The high dry heat caramelizes the plant sugars, making grilled vegetables exceptionally sweet and smoky. And unlike sautéing or deep-frying, there's no unwanted fat.

Almost any vegetable is a candidate for grilling, from asparagus to zucchini. Vegetables with a high water content do especially well on the grill, like peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, fennel, summer squash, okra, tomatoes, and corn on the cob. In fact, the only vegetables that are difficult to grill are the hard, dense tubers, like beets, potatoes, and turnips. These are best cooked by roasting in the embers.

Gearing Up

Large vegetables, like corn and peppers, can be grilled directly on the grate. You may want to invest in a vegetable grill or vegetable basket to grill smaller vegetables or vegetable pieces. The former is a flat metal plate lined with holes that allow the fire and smoke to reach the vegetables arranged on top. The latter is a hinged flat wire basket in which you place mushrooms, snow peas, cherry tomatoes, and other small vegetables. The beauty of the grill basket is that you turn it, not dozens of bite-size vegetables. Both devices keep the pieces from falling into the fire.

You should also invest in an assortment of different size bamboo skewers (for skewering pearl onions, for example, and veggie kebabs), as well as a pair of long handled grill tongs for turning whole vegetables.

To Build A Fire

Vegetables generally taste best grilled over high heat. (The rule of thumb is the wetter the vegetable, the higher the heat.) Gas grills sometimes have trouble achieving a high heat, so preheat them longer than you normally would to achieve the proper temperature. When working with charcoal, build a 3-zone fire: the coals piled in a double layer on one side of the grill, in a single layer in the center of the grill, with no coals on the other side. This lets you sear over the high heat of the double layer, cook over the moderate heat of the single layer, and keep your vegetables warm over the coal free zone.

Most vegetables benefit from a light smoke flavor. Toss a handful of soaked oak or hickory chips on the coals when working with charcoal, or wrap in foil, poke holes in the top, and set the resulting smoker pouch on one of the burners under the grate. Preheat the grill until you see smoke.


Boost Flavor with Oils and Spices

The best grilled vegetables I ever tasted were at the restaurant Inakaya in Tokyo, where the grill master brushed them with sesame oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and grilled them over a fire. That's it. A light brushing of oil can do wonders for grilled vegetables, but use a flavorful oil, like extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil, or hazelnut oil. Bland oils, like canola, simply aren't worth the calories.

The salt should be sea salt (it contains flavorful minerals); the pepper should be freshly ground; and you should consider some sort of dried herb — oregano or basil — or even an herb blend, like herbes de provence.

Learn to Burn

Even if you're a klutz when it comes to grilling, you should consider vegetables. Bell peppers and eggplant taste great when the skins are charred as black as cinders — a practice followed by grill jockeys in the Mediterranean and Near East. You simply peel away the burnt skin, exposing the gorgeous, sweet, smoky, delicate flesh inside. The secret to great Middle East baba ganooj (eggplant dip) is to completely char the eggplants on a charcoal fire.

Try Steven Raichlen's Recipes:

Grilled Okra
Grilled Zucchini with Greek Spices

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  • To grill slender vegetables, like asparagus and scallions, lay them side-by-side and skewer crosswise in two places. You'll wind up with what looks like a raft. This makes it easy to turn, say, 5 asparagus stalks at one time, and it keeps them from falling through the spaces between the bars of the grate.
  • To grill tiny vegetables, like garlic cloves, skewer several together on toothpicks. Garlic is delicious grilled, but you may need to wrap it loosely in foil to keep the cloves from burning.
  • To grill fragile vegetables, like onion rings or wedges, pin them together with toothpicks. This keeps them from falling apart on the grill. Remember to remove the toothpicks before serving.
  • To grill soft, wet vegetables, like plum or cherry tomatoes, thread them onto 2 prong skewers (available at grill shops). Alternatively, use two parallel bamboo skewers. This keeps the vegetables from slipping when you go to turn them.
  • To grill corn, pull back the husks (the motion is rather like that of peeling a banana), and then tie them with string. (The husk makes a nice handle.) Grilling without the husk allows the fire and smoke to flavor the kernels directly. Lightly brush the ears with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

About Steven Raichlen

Steven Raichlen is the author of 20 books, including the IACP/ Julia Child Award-winning Barbecue Bible and the new Barbecue Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades (both published by Workman) and the High-Flavor, Low-Fat Cooking series, which won two James Beard Awards. He recently created a Barbecue University at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. You can reach him at his web site:

He has appeared numerous times on national television, including The Today Show and Good Morning America as well as CNN and The Discovery Channel. Raichlen lives in Coconut Grove, Florida, with his wife Barbara.



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