The Secret to Even Better Grilled Vegetables? Marinate Them.

updated Jul 27, 2020
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Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

Everybody knows that grilling is the ultimate way to cook vegetables. It transforms simple summer veggies into something smoky, charred, and spectacular. Humble tomatoes turn into perfectly blistered beauties bursting with concentrated tomato flavor, and broccoli gets crispy, blackened, and delicious. There’s just no other cooking technique that compares to it.

And while simply throwing vegetables on the grill with nothing more than salt and pepper can result in a fairly delicious dinner, there’s one technique that can make them even better. A simple, hands-off trick that makes grilled vegetables more flavorful and tender, and can even save you some time. The technique I’m talking about? Marinating vegetables just like you would a cut of meat. Here’s how to do it.

Why Marinate Your Veggies?

Marinating vegetables is the easiest way to infuse them with a ton of flavor. It packs them with big, bold flavor you just can’t get any other way. The vegetables actually absorb some of the marinade, helping to season them from the inside out. All you have to do is toss your vegetables in your favorite marinade and let them sit. That’s it. (We recommend tossing them in a zip-top baggie to make things easier.)

And as a bonus, marinating veggies can actually save you some time. Because marinades already contain seasoning and oil, all you have to do is toss them on the grill; no additional oil needed. They can go straight from marinade to grill without having to re-season. Not only will they taste great, but it’ll save you time. A win-win.

Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

What Type of Marinade Should I Use?

Using the right marinade can actually help your vegetables brown and char while being grilled. How? Because the sugar content in the marinade (whether that’s from honey, maple syrup, or fruit juice) caramelizes and lends the vegetables that signature charred flavor. But you have to be careful when choosing your marinade, as using one that’s too sugary can cause your vegetables to burn.

Marinades such as store-bought barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and balsamic glaze tend to burn if thrown on the grill, causing excessive charring that can make your veggies taste bitter. Instead use marinades that are more oil-based rather than thick and saucy. A simple combination of olive oil, lemon juice, and seasoning works just fine, or try a homemade or bottled vinaigrette. If you do want to add sweetness to your marinade, a few tablespoons of honey, maple syrup, or sugar will be just fine and shouldn’t cause any issues.

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

How Long Should I Marinate My Veggies?

As for how long to marinate your veggies? Soft vegetables (such as mushrooms and tomatoes) only need about 10 to 15 minutes, while heartier vegetables (such as cauliflower or potatoes) can go much longer — even overnight. You want your vegetables to absorb the marinade’s flavor, but you don’t want them to get soggy, so keep an eye on the more delicate vegetables to make sure they don’t fall apart.

Read more: 30 Delicious Marinade Recipes