This Smart Tip Will Give You the Best Grilled Vegetables of Summer

updated Jul 9, 2020
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The best cooking tips come when you’re least expecting it. This particular jolt of grilling inspiration hit thanks to an interview between Francis Lam and Ashley Christensen on The Splendid Table. The discussion went beyond typical two-zone fire talk or another manifesto of gas versus charcoal. Instead, they shared the most insightful approach to grilling vegetables that I’ve heard in years: Season vegetables after grilling. Here’s how Christensen — an award-winning professional chef — does it.

Credit: Patty Catalano

Salt Your Vegetables After Grilling for Better Browning and Flavor

Conventional thinking calls for seasoning vegetables in advance of grilling. The idea is that the salt can pull the excess water out of the vegetables, and given enough time that seasoned moisture can even be reabsorbed via a process of osmosis. This same process is the science behind brining and why you often see steaks and other large cuts of meat seasoned well in advance of cooking.

The problem with this idea is that excess moisture actually lingers on the surface of the vegetables when you’re ready to cook. This moist surface leaves the exterior vulnerable to steaming and inhibits browning. Christensen waits to season her vegetables until the pores of the vegetables are expanded and open from grilling, then as they cool to a tastable temperature, the seasonings are absorbed into the food.

Credit: Patty Catalano

How to Grill Vegetables Like a James Beard Award-Winning Chef

Prepare your vegetables for the grill as you usually would, but skip the salt. For zucchini that means cutting them lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick “steaks.” This makes them easier to maneuver on the grill than cross-cut coins, and exposes and expansive surface area for more direct contact with hot grill grates. Heat a charcoal or gas grill, then place the just-cut vegetables onto well-oiled grates. Do not oil or season the vegetables first. Grill until marked, smoky, and tender, then transfer them to a platter and season them while hot. I tried this at home and found that this technique gave the zucchini a sweeter flavor and a more toothsome (not mushy!) texture.

Get the recipe: Ashley Christensen’s Charred Summer Squash from The Splendid Table

Have you tried this technique?