Now that the season of sun, pool parties, and outdoor everything is finally approaching, it’s time to whip out those heavy duty spatulas and dust off that grill. And no, we’re not just talking to the carnivores! In this golden age of faux-meat burgers and versatile produce, it’s easier than ever to host a plant-based grilling bonanza.
Before we get into what to grill, though, let’s talk prep and tips for speedier eating. When getting your ingredients together, cut up bigger produce like summer squash into smaller pieces and pre-cook thicker ones like potatoes and carrots. This’ll help lower cooking time and make sure that more surface area gets directly exposed to heat, amping up caramelization and char.
To avoid messy grates and torn up food, oil is your friend—but don’t go overboard. For most vegetables, just a thin coat is more than enough (and will save you from scary oil splatters). Lastly, once the food hits the grill, minimize flipping (once is ideal) for maximum flavor. Trust us, patience pays off.
Ready to plan your menu? We rounded up the best of plant-based burgers, grill-friendly vegetables, and surprising dishes that will elevate your vegetarian barbecue game.
It seems like every other person this year has been singing the praises of the famed Impossible Burger. But though they won’t be stocked in grocery stores until later this year, you can snag plant-based burgers and sausages from Beyond Meat, another recently emerged powerhouse.
If you’d rather stick with old-school legumes, black bean burgers and lentil burgers are delicious bets, and there are plenty of tasty frozen options out there. For something a little different than the usual plain bean-y taste, our friend Trader Joe’s has things covered with Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burgers. Other great vegetarian patties include Amy’s California Veggie Burger, made with walnuts and mushrooms, and the Field Roast FieldBurger.
If you have the time, though, it’s totally worth the extra flavor and texture to make your own patties. With recipes ranging from herby, falafel-inspired burgers to sweeter beet-based ones, you’ll also be able to tweak ingredients to suit your palate. For future impromptu dinner parties throughout the summer, make extra batches and freeze.
Since plant-based burgers don’t have the natural fats in beef or pork ones, they tend to dry out more quickly on the grill. To avoid this, brush both sides of the patty with oil before popping them on the grate. For an extra juicy and flavorful burger, leave them to marinate for a few minutes beforehand in whatever sauce tickles your fancy—olive oil with fresh herbs, perhaps, or a combo of soy sauce and garlic (caveat: this is best done only with the really firm variety of patties, which are the only ones truly well suited to grilling anyway).
Of course, the world of summer sandwiches goes way beyond burgers. Though it’s not technically grilling, some people would argue that an outdoor barbecue is incomplete without pulled pork. A few years ago, jackfruit took the plant-based world by storm when people realized that the shredded texture makes it a perfect vegetarian substitute. To make your own pulled jackfruit, buy it canned (in brine or water) and simmer it in your favorite barbecue sauce, either in a smoker or via slow cooker. Because it’s a lot sweeter than pork, jackfruit is an especially great canvas for spicier, tangier sauces.
Plenty of produce and plant-based protein also hold their own in sandwiches with little to no prep. Texture is important—think hearty vegetables that’ll hold up to high heat, like cauliflower steaks and portobello mushrooms. Firm tofu is also a fabulous non-produce option that works with a ton of different flavors. For a vegetarian bahn mi, marinate it in soy sauce, lemongrass, and garlic before grilling, then layer it on a crusty baguette with pickled carrots and daikon. You can marinate cauliflower and mushrooms before grilling, too.
If you eat dairy, the non-melty halloumi, also known as the “grilling cheese,” is also great both for sandwiches and salads.
Honestly, there aren’t that many vegetables or fruits that can’t be beautifully transformed via grilling, and simply eaten on their own. The few exceptions are those with high water content, like cucumbers and iceberg lettuce, that tend to dry out and get leathery.
Exact cooking times depend on the size of the vegetables (plus your own preferences), but there are some benchmarks that can be useful to keep in mind. Leafy vegetables and skinny ones like asparagus or scallions need the lightest touch, around three minutes per side. Stuff like squash and eggplant, if cut into rounds or slices, need between four to six. Bell peppers and shishitos also fall within this range. The vegetables that need at least eight minutes tend to be denser ones that normally take longer to cook, like corn, cauliflower, and artichokes, or produce that becomes more flavorful when cooked down, like mushrooms and tomatoes.
Grill baskets are great for smaller vegetables and for keeping the grate clean. If you don’t have a grill basket, make your own by crimping up a piece of aluminum foil, or just grab a cast iron skillet. For a fun, colorful option, get a pack of skewers and string together your own vegetable kebabs. Just make sure to group produce by similar cooking times so that you don’t end up with half-charred or half-raw skewers.
Even though vegetables are delicious with nothing more than oil, salt, and pepper, adding a marinade or herby sauce is a really simple way to bring out even more flavor. Transform corn on the cob with mayo, cotija cheese, and lime in popular Mexican street-food-style, or take inspiration from Taiwan by grilling it with a mixture of soy paste, garlic, and chili sauce. For bright, herby dipping sauces, whip up a spicy zhug or chimichurri, or try out aioli for a creamier option.
Grilled salad might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s actually a great way to bring out the natural sweetness in your favorite leafy greens. Shake up your Caesar salad by grilling wedges of romaine for a few minutes on each side before drizzling with homemade dressing. Or try grilling radicchio, a process that also helps temper its natural bitterness, and top with balsamic and a salty cheese like pecorino.
Don’t just limit to yourself to vegetables and meatless patties. Think of grills as your outdoor summer oven. That can mean grilled pizza, which is as easy as plopping a sturdy dough directly onto the grates and adding your favorite vegetables (or even fruit, if that’s your thing!).
Paella is another option for an impressive yet intimate meal that can be tweaked to fit most every dietary request. Have each of your guests bring an ingredient, layer everything into a paella pan, and let the whole thing simmer away on the grill as you relax.
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