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Vegetarian BBQ: How to Grill In a Meat-Free Way

A plate of vegetarian bbq with delicious grill marks and a creamy sauce on the side
Fitness Editor
Julia is a qualified fitness trainer. She writes our articles about nutrition and fitness. She also makes free workout plans for our site.

Barbecued vegetables may get a bad rap, but they can be just as good—if not better—than your favorite grilled meats. Use our recipes and tips to turn your next summer party into a vegetarian BBQ.  

Grilling season has arrived and you’re going to need recipes that go beyond the basic burgers and fries. Keep reading to find out which types of vegetables are best for barbecuing and what you need to know to make your vegetarian BBQ an unforgettable culinary experience.

Which vegetables can be grilled?

Almost any vegetable is fair game on the grill, but cooking time and preparation will vary from one to the next. In general, remember that firmer vegetables will need more time over the coals than soft ones.

These vegetables can be cooked directly on the grill

Vegetables like peppers, zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, leeks, and onions can all be cooked directly on top of the grill because they’re especially resistant to high temperatures. But that’s not a free pass to cook them as long as you would a steak — they’ll usually be ready to go in much less time.

Tip for barbecuing peppers: cut them lengthwise into strips and place them on the grill with the skin on. Let them cook until lightly charred, then wait for them to cool down and remove the skin before eating. This process brings out their natural sweetness.

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower can also be cooked directly on the coals because of how sturdy they are. If you aren’t a fan of their notorious crunch, boil them for a bit before tossing them on the grill.

These are the vegetables you should pre-cook before barbecuing

White asparagus, corn on the cob, potatoes, and sweet potatoes taste best if you pre-cook them before barbecuing. Slice them thickly, pop them in boiling water or the oven until slightly tender, and finish them on the grill to get that iconic barbecue flavor.

Our tip: Think seasonally when choosing vegetables for your vegetarian BBQ. Find out what’s available in your area and at that time of the year. Fresh, regional, and seasonal veggies typically taste better and are more environmentally friendly to consume.

The Best Vegetables for Barbecuing — from Artichokes to Zucchini

These are some of our favorite veggies to grill from season to season.

  • Artichokes
  • White and green asparagus
  • Eggplant
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Cauliflower
  • Kohlrabi
  • Zucchini
  • Corn on the cob
  • Fennel
  • Onions
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks
  • Bell peppers

The Best Fruits for Barbecuing — from Apricot to Watermelon

Meat and veggies aren’t the only things you can grill — fruit deserves a spot on the coals, too!

Our tip: Fresh fruit is a great dessert option, especially in summer when things like peaches and berries are in season.

If you’re cooking watery, delicate fruits, wrap them in parchment paper before transferring to the grill to prevent their flavorful juices from leaking out. Pineapple, bananas, apples, pears, and other, similarly firm fruits can be placed directly on the grill without causing any problem. Try to place it in a spot where the fire isn’t blazing, because indirect heat is best for bringing out their natural sweetness.

Our tip: Fruit skewers are an excellent option for your next barbecue dessert. Marinate your ingredients in a mix of honey or maple syrup and fresh herbs or spices for the ultimate dining experience.

These are some of our favorite fruits to grill:

  • Apricots
  • Pineapple
  • Bananas
  • Lemons
  • Figs
  • Strawberries
  • Mangoes
  • Nectarines
  • Papaya
  • Watermelon
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Plums

Which oil is best for barbecuing vegetables?

In general, it’s best to use a neutral oil with a high smoke point for all of your barbecuing needs. Coconut, olive, and sunflower oils are all ideal for cooking veggies and fruit on the grill.

On the other hand, avoid barbecuing with oils that are sensitive to extreme temperatures. Cooking sesame, flaxseed, and peanut oils at high heats will mess with both their flavors and nutritional benefits. The more heat it’s exposed to, the more likely it’s healthy fatty acids will transform into unhealthy trans fatty acids. When in doubt, don’t cook these above 120 to 180 degrees.

Marinade Recipes

No grilled vegetable is complete without a great marinade. And the longer you marinate them, the more flavor they’ll have. Summer squash like eggplant in particular will benefit from a full day of marination. Just be sure to avoid using too much oil in a marinade, because the excess can drip through the grill and lead to the development of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

The Best Grilling Methods

Each grilling method comes with advantages and disadvantages and depends on the preparation you most enjoy. Prefer your veggies crispy? Then you’ll probably be better off cooking it straight on the coals. Like it better tender? Using parchment paper as a cooking surface will deliver the texture you’re looking for.

Grilling vegetables in aluminum foil

Though cooking vegetables in aluminum foil is a popular trend, it’s not the most sustainable or healthy option. That’s because some research suggests that tiny metal particles are released into your ingredients during the grilling process.

Grilling with parchment paper is a lot easier than it sounds. Simply place your food in the middle of a sheet, wrap it up tightly, and transfer to the barbecue. If you’re having trouble keeping it closed, use a bit of cooking twine to ensure it stays tightly shut.

Is it better to grill vegetables on a sheet pan or a stainless steel rack?

Sheet pans are as good for the grill as they are for the oven. They’re especially ideal for juicy vegetables that may otherwise leak all over their barbecue. Mix a variety of ingredients together — like tomatoes, onions, herbs, and feta — and let it cook until all the flavors meld together.

A stainless steel grilling rack is a better option for vegetables that are less juicy, like zucchini and eggplant. They’ll ensure you get those beautiful grill marks and that nothing falls through into the barbecue.

Is It Possible to Grill in the Oven or on the Stovetop?

If the weather isn’t ideal for grilling, or you simply don’t have a backyard or balcony, all’s not lost. It’s totally possible to grill inside with your oven or stovetop.

Before getting started, set your oven to a temperature of 200 degrees and use the broiler setting. Cut the veggies into slices of equal thickness and put the firmest ones in the oven first, because they usually need more time than soft vegetables to fully cook.

Alternatively, you can use a cast-iron grill pan directly on your stovetop to create an effect that’s similar to an actual barbecue. Once again, using a high heat is absolutely essential to obtaining the right results.

How long does it take to barbecue vegetables?

This all depends on the type of vegetable you’re cooking, the amount of time it needs to marinate, and how tender you’d like it to be. The firmer a vegetable is, the longer it will take to cook, though you can usually speed up the process by cutting it into thinner slices.

Delicate vegetables take an average of 5 minutes to cook, but can take up to 10 minutes depending on how you like them. Try to alternate between direct and indirect heat to avoid burning them. On the other hand, firmer vegetables take 15 to 20 minutes to cook and can benefit from direct heat.

Start by placing your vegetables in the middle of the grill, then gradually move them off to the side as they finish cooking. The golden rule of grilling is that direct heat increases cook time by about 50%. Try to keep the temperature at a steady 200 degrees for best results.

Barbecued Vegetable Recipes

The possibilities for a vegetarian or vegan grilling experience are limitless. Here are just a few vegetarian recipes to keep in mind for your next meat free barbecue adventure.

Vegetable Skewers

Meat free skewers are a great opportunity to grill a bunch of different vegetables at once. Use a mix of tomatoes and peppers to make a Mediterranean-style skewer. Or broccoli, mushrooms, potatoes, and chard with kebab spices. The possibilities are endless!

As you choose your ingredients, remember to pre-cook firm vegetables before grilling so that you can be as precise as possible.

Grilled Avocado

Grilled avocado is as delicious as it is simple. Just cut the fruit in half, remove the pit, sprinkle it with lemon juice, salt, and pepper and grill for five minutes. It’s a perfect side for grilled tomatoes and potatoes.

Grilled Cherry Tomatoes on a Baking Sheet

Slice cherry tomatoes into halves or quarters and place them on a baking sheet with the vegetables and herbs of your choice. Onions and eggplant are excellent complements to this juicy veggie. Sprinkle with olive oil, place on the grill, and stir regularly. In just a few minutes, your grilled salad will be ready.

Corn on the Cob

Corn on the cob is a barbecue classic for a reason. It tastes great with little preparation and doesn’t take long to cook. Leave the husks as you grill to protect the delicate kernels from the extreme heat.

Grilled Mushroom

Mushrooms can be grilled in just about any way. Try stuffing them with tomatoes or tofu, or simply season them with a bit of salt and pepper. Alternatively, wrap them in thin slices of freshly grilled eggplant for a dish with a creative flair.

Grilled Zucchini

No barbecue is complete without this summer squash! Since this summer veggie is over 90% water, it’s best to try to reduce some of that moisture before getting started. To do that, cut them in half, scoop out the juicy interior, and throw what remains onto the coals. The flavor will be irresistible!

Looking for even more ideas? Try our article on vegan grilling, or any of our mouthwatering recipes for the grill!

Vegetarian BBQ: Our Conclusion

  • It’s easy to host a vegetarian BBQ when almost any vegetable can be cooked on the grill.
  • Delicate vegetables take less time to cook than firm ones.
  • You can marinate vegetables or simply sprinkle them with salt and pepper and some spices.
  • Barbecued vegetables are more than just a side dish. When well seasoned and accompanied by a few dips and salads, a vegetarian BBQ can be a phenomenal culinary experience.
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