It is time to gather around the sizzling spectacle that is the outside grill! Charring is a culinary technique that involves partially burning vegetables or other foods to intensify their flavor. It adds a smoky flavor and enhances the vegetables’ overall visual appeal. This fiery rite of passage takes ordinary veggies to extraordinary.
Charred vegetables are incredibly versatile. You can consume charred vegetables in different ways or use them in various dishes. You can eat them on their own, serve them as a side dish, or use them in salads or as toppings for burgers or pizzas.
You can char vegetables on the grill with a bit of oil to achieve deliciously charred skin and nicely cooked veggies.
This article will discuss the benefits of charring vegetables and provide 6 tips for charring vegetables like a pro.
Benefits of Charring Vegetables
There are so many benefits to charring vegetables. Here are just a few of the reasons you should get grilling.
Develops a Unique Flavor Profile
Charring and grilling are both art forms we need to learn to embrace if we want to achieve more tantalizing flavors and new levels of deliciousness. Charring causes the vegetables to go through a chemical process referred to as caramelization. It even sounds delicious!
When exposed to high heat on the grill, the natural sugars in the vegetables burn, causing browning and a deep flavor. This adds a rich, sweet, and complex flavor to the vegetables.
Brings Some Smoke to the Vegetables
As soon as the vegetables come into contact with the grate of the hot grill, they release aromatic compounds that drip down into the heat. The aromatic compounds burn, releasing smoke that infuses into the vegetables. This further improves the flavor profile of the vegetables for a delightful and satisfying taste.
Improves the Texture of the Vegetables
The high heat causes the outer layer of the vegetables to crisp while the interior remains soft, tender, and juicy.
Preserves Natural Nutrients
Charring is one of the healthiest ways to cook vegetables, as it preserves nutrients. It is a quick-cooking technique that retains more nutrients compared to prolonged vegetable cooking techniques such as boiling and steaming.
Expert Tips for How to Char Vegetables on the Grill
Tip #1: Select the Best Vegetables for Charring
The first tip for charring vegetables on the grill like a pro is to choose fresh vegetables. Fresh vegetables have a higher water content. This ensures they do not dry out during the grilling process.
Fresh veggies are firm and hold their shape better—without becoming mushy or falling apart. In addition, they have vibrant colors that add a visual appeal to your charred vegetable platter. We also can’t forget that fresh vegetables have a higher nutrient content.
When buying vegetables for charring, inspect them closely to ensure they are at peak freshness and not on their last legs. Check for blemishes, bruises, and any signs of spoilage.
You should also make sure they are not overly ripe or too soft. So, don’t be afraid to give them a little squeeze. Overly ripe or soft vegetables tend to fall apart during grilling and can fall through the grates. This is sure to ruin your culinary experience.
Here is a list of vegetables best suited for charring on the grill:
- Bell pepper – red, yellow, or green
- Summer squash
- Onions, including red onions, shallots, and sweet onions
- Cherry tomatoes
- Brussels sprouts
Note that some vegetables are not suitable for charring. Steer clear of leafy greens, snow peas, cucumbers, microgreens, and sprouts when grilling. These veggies are soft, delicate, and too small and tend to burn quickly or get mushy when grilled.
Tip #2: Prepare the Vegetables for Optimal Results
The next step is to properly prepare your fresh vegetables. This involves washing, peeling, and cutting vegetables into appropriate sizes and shapes for grilling.
Wash them under cool running water to remove dirt, debris, and pesticides. You may gently scrub them to remove stuck dirt. Then pat them dry with a kitchen or paper towel. Trust me, this is a step you don’t want to skip.
If necessary, peel the vegetables. For example, you may want to peel squash. Keep in mind that most vegetables don’t actually need to be peeled. The outer skin adds texture and flavor.
Then, slice or cut the remaining vegetables into appropriate sizes and shapes. You want to achieve sizes that cook easily and evenly. The right size depends on the type of vegetables.
Here are some general guidelines for cutting or slicing different types of vegetables:
- Bell peppers: Cut into halves and remove the seeds and core.
- Zucchini: Cut into slices that are about ½ to ¼ inches thick.
- Squash: Cut into slices that are about ½ to ¼ inches thick.
- Eggplant: Slice into round shapes or lengthwise. The pieces should be about ¼ inch thick.
- Corn: Remove husks and silk and cut the cobs into 2-3 inches long pieces.
- Onion: Cut into thick wedges.
- Mushrooms: Leave them whole or cut them into halves. You may also remove the stems.
- Asparagus: Trim off the rough edges of the spears. If they are too thick, you may half them lengthwise.
- Cherry tomatoes: Leave them whole.
- Cauliflower: Slice into thick steaks.
The last preparation step is oiling the vegetables before placing them onto the grill pan. The oil prevents the vegetables from sticking to the grill grate and enhances the caramelization process, flavor, and texture.
Use oils with a high smoking point because they can withstand high heat without burning your vegetables. Some great options include extra virgin olive oil, avocado, canola, and grape seed oils.
Tip #3: Don’t Forget the Seasoning!
Seasonings enhance the taste and depth of flavor of your vegetables. Some seasoning options that I think perfectly complement the smoky flavor of charred vegetables include:
- Fresh herbs
- Sea salt and black pepper
- Infused oil
- Garlic and ginger
- Citrus juices such as lemon and lime juice
- Store-bought mixed seasonings
Marinate your vegetables with your preferred seasoning for at least 30 minutes. More robust vegetables such as eggplant and squash can withstand marination longer.
Allowing the vegetables to sit in the marinade for some time enables the seasonings to infuse fully. The marinade provides a protective coating that enhances moisture retention. Lemon juice can also add moisture, resulting in tender and juicy grilled veggies.
Tip #4: Set the Grill Temperature and Keep It There
To achieve perfectly charred vegetables, you must carefully control the grilling temperature. You want the temperature to be high enough to achieve caramelization but not so high that the vegetables burn.
You can employ different techniques to ensure that you maintain the right temperatures. The first option is to use a grill thermometer to accurately monitor the temperature. If your grill has multiple burners, create different heating zones by turning some burners on and leaving others off.
Adjust the heat using the control knobs if you have a gas grill. In the case of a charcoal grill, adjust the airflow through the vents. Opening the vents allows more oxygen into the burner, which increases heat and vice versa.
Make sure you keep the grill lid closed most of the time. Opening it frequently results in temperature fluctuations and prolonged cooking time.
Tip #5: Choose the Right Grilling Technique
The right grilling technique enables you to achieve even charring and easy handling of the vegetables. Direct grilling is the most common technique for vegetables. It involves placing the vegetables directly onto preheated grill grates.
This technique works best for larger and firmer vegetables such as zucchini, squash, asparagus, bell peppers, corn, and eggplants.
However, for smaller vegetables, use skewers or a grilling basket. Both are versatile tools for handling delicate vegetables that can easily fall through the grates, such as mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.
If you use a grill basket, spread the vegetables out on the bottom surface in a single layer. On the other hand, if using skewers, soak the wooden sticks in water for at least 30 minutes beforehand to prevent them from burning. Then, thread the vegetables, leaving small spaces between the pieces.
Tip #6: Keep an Eye on the Timing
Time management is another crucial aspect of ensuring your vegetables are perfectly cooked. You do not want to remove them from the grill too soon, as they will be undercooked. You also don’t want to leave them too long as they will overcook or burn.
Different types of vegetables have varying cooking times and temperatures depending on their density and moisture content. Below are general guidelines for cooking time and temperatures for different vegetables:
- Bell peppers: 8-10 minutes at 400°F
- Zucchini: 6-8 minutes at 400°F
- Eggplant: 6-8 minutes at 400°F
- Asparagus: 4-6 minutes at 400°F
- Corn on the cob: 10-12 minutes at 350°F
- Mushrooms: 6-8 minutes at 400°F
- Onions: 8-10 minutes at 350°F
- Cherry tomatoes: 4-6 minutes at 400°F
- Potatoes: 12-15 minutes at 350°F
Monitor the vegetables closely. Check for visual cues for doneness, such as grill marks, browning, and charring. You may also check for doneness using a meat thermometer. Most vegetables will be done once they achieve an internal temperature of 145-165°F.
Char Vegetables FAQ
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