Get Fired Up! Tips for Grilling Sides – Fruits and Vegetables

Nothing says summer quite like the smell and sound of food sizzling on the grill.  In a previous blog, tips for grilling meat were shared.  While the king of the grill might be meat, the produce aisle is full of goodies that take on amazing flavors when grilled.  Grilling brings out the sweet, toasty, and caramelized flavors that other cooking techniques do not. Besides shining with flavor, there’s very little prep involved.

Here are a few pointers to perfect your vegetable and fruit grilling technique:

  • Wash, trim, and peel as necessary.
  • Make sure to clean the grill grates with a wet cloth or paper towel. If using a metal brush, besure that there are no bristles left behind. Bristles can attach to food and if consumed can cause choking or affect the digestive tract.
  • Prepare pieces that are consistent in size to ensure even cooking.
  • To prevent sticking and add flavor, brush or toss with 1-2 tablespoons oil per pound. Excessive oil will cause flare-ups.  Add any seasonings desired with the oil.
  • Use a perforated grilling basket or grilling mats to prevent items from falling through the grates.  I prefer the grilling mats, copper or non-stick PTEE (PFOA free).  Mats make grilling so easy and still allow foods to take on the grill flavors and coveted grill marks. They are easy to clean and keep the grill grates clean, too. 
  • Stainless steel kabob skewers are best for grilling because they don’t roll and they are easy to flip. Wood or bamboo skewers should be soaked in water for 30 minutes before using to keep them from burning.
  • When grilling a variety of vegetables, be sure to start with the ones that take the longest to cook and add the others incrementally, saving the quickest-cooking ones for last. Produce should be removed before it is soft as it will continue cooking once removed from grill.  On a medium hot grill it typically takes 10 minutes or less for most vegetables to cook.
  • Apply barbecue or other sweet sauce or coatings toward the end of cooking so it has time to glaze but not burn.

Guidelines for Grilling Individual Vegetables

Here are some great tips for grilling individual vegetables from Alexandra Grenci with Rutgers Cooperative Extension [1].

  • Asparagus: The ends of asparagus spears can be tough, so trim them off, then toss the spears in olive oil and salt/pepper and grill for 4-5 minutes over a medium-high grill, then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes.
  • Bell peppers: Remove the core and seeds, then slice each pepper into about four separate sections. Toss with olive oil and salt/pepper and grill over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill 4-5 minutes longer.
  • Cabbage: Cut the cabbage in half and then slice each half into thick 1-inch slices. Toss with olive oil and your favorite seasonings. You can skewer each big slice to keep it from falling apart. Grill over a medium-high grill for about 10 minutes, then turn and grill for another ten minutes.
  • Cauliflower: Cut the cauliflower into big florets, toss in olive oil and your favorite seasonings and then skewer. Grill over medium-high heat, turning often, for about 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and lightly charred.
  • Corn: Some people like to grill corn with the husks still on, but that’s just steaming the corn, really. By removing the husks and the silk and cooking the corn directly on the grill, the kernels get lightly blackened and caramelized, bringing out tons of sweet corn flavor. You should grill corn over a medium grill for 4-5 minutes, turning frequently.
  • Eggplant: Cut the eggplant into ½-inch slices. Brush them with oil or a simple balsamic vinaigrette, toss with your favorite spices. Grill over a medium-high grill for about 5 minutes, then flip and grill for 5 minutes longer.
  • Mushrooms: Toss white or brown button mushrooms with olive oil and Kosher salt. Then skewer and cook over a medium-high grill for 7-8 minutes, turning frequently. You can also grill a whole Portobello mushroom cap directly on the grill. Grill them smooth-side-down for 8-9 minutes.
  • Onions: Large, sweet onions like Vidalias are great for grilling, as are red onions. Just peel them, cut them into ½-inch slices, toss them in olive oil and your favorite seasonings and cook over a medium-high grill for 2-3 minutes, then turn and grill 2-3 minutes longer. A skewer can be handy to hold the onions together on the grill.
  • Tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes can be skewered and grilled whole, for 3-4 minutes over a medium-high grill. Be sure to turn them frequently so that they cook evenly. You can also grill plum tomatoes. Cut them in half the long way, remove the seeds and grill for four minutes, then turn and grill for four minutes longer.
  • Zucchini and yellow squash: Cut into ½-inch pieces lengthwise, toss in olive oil and salt /pepper and cook over medium-high grill for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes longer.

Guidelines for Grilling Fruit

  • Just about any fruit can go on the grill as long as it is fairly firm and not overripe. Peaches, melons, pineapple, pears, tomatoes, bananas, and figs are just some of the fresh fruits that will hold their shape over the coals.
  • Most fruit is fairly fragile, so cut fruit into large chunks, slices, and wheels to help it maintain its structure as it heats up and breaks down. Smaller fruits like grapes and blueberries can be prepared on a skewers.
  • Grilled fruit kabobs are a win at any picnic or barbecue.  Any combination of fruits can be used and they make a perfect appetizer or dessert.
  • In addition to a small amount of oil (neutral) or butter, fruits are best mixed or brushed with a bit of citrus juice (lemon juice prevents browning), maple syrup, or honey prior to grilling.  For additional flavor, try adding cinnamon, chili powder, smoked paprika or a curry blend.
  • Grill fruit over high heat for three minutes without moving or turning it to get the perfect sear (and coveted grill marks). Flip and cook for one to three minutes more.
  • Grill fruit flesh-side down.  If you place it skin side down, you’ll miss the caramelized texture and the heat won’t get through the rest of the fruit evenly.
  • Fruits contain a lot of water, which makes them very hot once they are cooked. Be sure to allow time for grilled fruits to cool down a little before serving.
  • Even though grilled fruit makes a great dessert, it is not just for dessert.  Grilled fruit can be used as a side dish, in fresh salsas, and as part of delicious appetizers.  Taste of Home [2] offers 39 amazing ways to grill fruit.

If you haven’t grilled fruits and vegetables, do give it a try. You will find them tasty, nutritious and a great way to enjoy those foods that are so good for you. Enjoy your grill even more by getting additional Get Fired Up! tips for grilling meat and baking.

This blog was reviewed by Anirudh Naig, Associate Professor in Hospitality Management & State Extension Specialist for Retail Food Safety at Iowa State University.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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