7 Mistakes to Avoid When Grilling Vegetables

updated Jul 14, 2020
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Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

In my humble opinion, grilling is the ultimate way to cook vegetables. It infuses them with a deep, smoky flavor that transforms them into something so delicious they can convert even the most die-hard meat-eaters into veggie-lovers. Throw some summer squash on the grill and watch it transform into a perfectly charred side dish bursting with flavor. Grill cauliflower and turn it into a show-stopping entrée worthy of a celebration. There’s just no other technique that infuse vegetables with such a deeply savory flavor.

But grilling vegetables is a lot easier said than done. Sometimes the outsides burn before the vegetables get tender, and sometimes they simply taste bland. So we rounded up seven of the most common mistakes people make when grilling vegetables to make sure you never end up with a bland grilled veggie again.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

1. You don’t pre-cook your hard vegetables.

Although you can grill just about any vegetable, some veggies are better suited to being grilled than others. Vegetables such as zucchini, onions, and bell peppers are prime choices that become tender without burning on the outside. Harder vegetables, such as potatoes and pumpkins, are a bit trickier to grill. These heartier varieties take longer to cook, meaning that the outsides might burn by the time the insides cook.

Try this tip: One way to get around this is to precook them so you don’t risk burning them. For most veggies this can be achieved by microwaving or boiling them until they’re about halfway cooked.

Credit: Faith Durand

2. You don’t season them enough.

Just like meat, veggies need proper seasoning in order to shine. Salt is fundamental, but beyond that you should be seasoning them just as aggressively as you would steak, chicken, and any other meat.

Try this tip: Try coating them in your favorite all-purpose seasoning, or better yet marinate them to give them even more flavor.

Make your own seasoning mix: All-Purpose Seasoning Blend

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. You coat them in sugary sauces.

Vegetables that are coated in sugary glazes (such as store-bought barbecue sauce, balsamic glaze, or sweet and sour sauce) have a tendency to over caramelize and burn when grilled.

Try this tip: Instead of using these high-sugar sauces as your marinade, stick to oil- or vinegar-based marinades that will infuse your veggies with flavor without burning.

Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

4. You don’t oil the grill grates.

Oiling your grill grates is the most beneficial thing you can do to prevent your vegetables from sticking.

Try this tip: Just dip a bunched-up paper towel in a few tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil and use tongs to drag it across the grill grates while they’re hot. This technique is better than tossing the vegetables themselves in oil, as doing so can cause flareups.

Learn more: The Easiest and Most Effective Way to Clean Your Grill Grates

Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

5. You try to grill small vegetables without a grill basket or skewers.

Small veggies that have a tendency to fall through the grates (such as asparagus and cauliflower florets) can be a bit tricky to cook properly.

Try these tips: For very small items (like chickpeas), a mesh grill basket is your friend. You place it directly on top of the grates and throw your foods right in it. For larger veggies that are still prone to falling through the grates (like Brussels sprouts) metal skewers can come in handy. Just thread the veggies directly onto them and there’s no need to worry about them falling.

Learn more: The Game-Changing Tool That Will Up Your Grilling Routine

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

6. You grill them over high heat the entire time.

Although it might be tempting, grilling vegetables over high heat the entire time risks burning them before they’re cooked through.

Try these tips: For most items, you’ll want to start them on high heat and turn down the flame to medium to finish cooking them. You can also make use of your grill’s hot spots and start your veggies on the hot side and shift them over to the cooler side. Both methods help you achieve a perfectly charred outside and tender inside.

Learn more: The Surprising Reason Why Anyone Who Owns a Grill Should Grill a Loaf of White Bread

Credit: Joe Lingeman

7. You overcook them.

Because grills cook your veggies so quickly, it’s easy to accidentally overcook them. Keep an eye on your veggies and remember that they will cook in a fraction of the time they take in the oven.

Try this tip: Cook your grilled vegetables for about half the time you’d cook them in the oven. If you’re nervous about under-cooking them, simply cut one in half and give it a try.

Ready to get grilling? Here are some of our favorite grilled veggie recipes.

What are your best tips for grilling vegetables? Let us known in the comments!