The Great Vegetarian Grilling Post

When my husband, son and I quit eating meat, we assumed we’d never barbecue again. Veggie dogs don’t really taste much different from a grill than from the stove top. Really, why bother? Then I picked up The Vegetarian Grill by Andrea Chessman, and fell in love with grilling vegetarian food. There are so many possibilities. I wrote a review of the book for VegPeople, and I still consider this to be the Joy of Cooking of grilling vegetarian cuisine.
It’s too hot to grill much here in the summer, but in the spring and fall you’ll find me cooking out nearly every Saturday evening. I’ll even grill when it’s raining. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.
A grill pan is absolutely essential when grilling vegetables. This is a pan with small holes that will keep your food from falling through the grate, but allow smoke to reach it. These come in multiple sizes and shapes. The most versatile for home cooking, if your grill is big enough, is the jelly-roll-sized pan, 13 x 16 inches. This is the the biggest pan size that will fit in a typical automatic dishwasher. If you have a smaller grill, or you’re grilling at a park or friend’s place, the pizza-pan size is a great option. Finally, if you’re going to get a second grill pan, consider a wok or a sauté pan, below. It lets you toss around small-cut vegetables without throwing them all over the patio. About the only vegetable I don’t cook on a grill pan is corn-on-the-cob.
I don’t like using lighter fluid, nor do I like that quick-light briquettes are impregnated with VOCs, so I’ve switched to lump charcoal, lit in a chimney. Three half-sheets of newspaper in the bottom of the chimney are usually perfect to light the coals, although sometimes if it’s windy, I’ll need to stuff in three more and relight. Lump charcoal comes out of the bag in varying sizes, meaning slightly inconsistent results, so if it’s critical that I have lots of heat, I’ll start two chimneys.
Some of your kitchen equipment might not be ideal for grilling, especially if it can break or melt. Thus, I’ve collected a set of metal utensils. Corelle plates fit the non-breakable, non-meltable criteria. So do the metal ones you often find sold near camping equipment, like these.
I’ve only cooked on one grill, a PK that my grandfather gave my parents, subsequently passed down to me. So, I can’t really say much about what makes a good grill. I do know that I prefer grilling over charcoal, though, and not gas. That smokey flavor is so good!
What to grill
You can grill nearly any vegetable, so this is only a partial list. Corn on the cob is one of the easiest vegetables. I like to remove the husks and silk and cook the ears directly on the grill grate for 15-20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so. Artichokes are terrific grilled, but they take a little advanced preparation. Steam them on your stovetop until they’re at least half-cooked (about 25-30 minutes for the biggest ones), then slice in half and remove the fuzzy choke. Grill with the sliced side down about 20 minutes, preferably with indirect heat. Grilled onion and pepper slices are a great addition to nearly any meal and can be stir-cooked over a very hot fire. Finally, marinated eggplant, mushrooms, squash and zucchini are all amazing. Anytime I grill some of these, I try to cook extra for another meal.
Tofu, seitan and various commercial meat substitutes grill well. Both tofu and seitan will pick up lots of flavor from marinades and develop a terrific, chewy texture. Boxed veggie burgers and dogs and the like are somewhat boring, I think, but they were a lifesaver when we were having our kitchen remodeled.

Marinating, the ultimate technique
Marinating adds flavor to grilled food two ways. Tofu, seitan, mushrooms and eggplant will soak up tons of flavor from the marinade. Also, the smokey flavor in grilled food comes from fat dripping on the coals. Since vegetables aren’t going to do this naturally, they depend on residual oil from the drained marinade to create the smoke. That’s why I nearly always include a good portion of oil in a marinade (I prefer olive oil, but canola is a good, less-expensive option). Most of the oil will be drained off, but just enough remains to keep the food from sticking and to create delicious smoke. Even if the vegetables won’t soak up any flavor directly (peppers and onions, for example), I’ll toss them in the marinade briefly.
Here are a couple of versatile marinade recipes.

Marinade 1:

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
Marinates 2 – 3 pounds of vegetables.
Marinade 2:
3/4 cup white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon salt

Marinates 2 – 3 pounds of vegetables.

Go forth and grill, y’all!
The sandwich you see at the top of this post was made of marinated and grilled eggplant, zucchini and portobello mushrooms, on a homemade herbed ciabatta bun with sliced roma tomato and pesto.

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4 Responses

  1. You are my official authority on grilling! I love grilling. Last year we had an inground pool installed and I grilled almost every single day. I even grilled our pizzas on Friday. So much fun and so yummy.

  2. Awesome! Grilled pizza sounds great. This weekend I’m grilling seitan adobo tacos, marinated squash and zucchini, and corn on the cob.

  3. That sounds soo good. How did they turn out? I would love to know what you did so I can make it, too!!

  4. I’m making the tacos tonight. I’ll be sure to post about them in the new recipes club thread.

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