Just about the time many cooks in the northern part of the country are wrapping up their grills and storing them away for the winter, the South reaches the sweet spot of grill season. Finally, it’s getting cool enough outside to enjoy spending a little extra time over the fire, making it more feasible to put the whole meal, including vegetables and dessert, on the grill.
Almost all vegetables and fruits can be grilled. Slices of larger vegetables such as eggplant, cauliflower or zucchini can be placed directly on the grill, where they absorb the smoky flavor while getting appetizing grill marks. Smaller vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes or mushrooms, cook better in a grill pan.
Grill pans are perforated, with holes that let the smoke waft up into contact with the food. It’s easy to improvise a grill pan by poking holes in an aluminum pie pan or cookie sheet. Whether placing food in a grill pan or directly on the grill, it’s important to use enough oil to prevent sticking.
Since fruits and vegetables don’t have the fat content of meat, they need an ample coating of oil to ease their release from the grill. Cookbook author Paula Disbrowe recommends a double coating of oil, first wiping the hot grill with an oiled paper towel, scraping down the grated, and then piling again. Cooking sprays such as Pam also make a high-heat grilling version that can be sprayed on a cool grill, or even directly on food.
Disbrowe offers suggestions for grilling a wide variety of vegetables, even avocados. “Like roasting, a grill enhances the vegetable’s natural sweetness and creates salty, crunchy browned bits that add an entirely different layer of appeal,” she writes in her new cookbook, “Food52 Any Night Grilling: 60 Ways To Fire Up Dinner.”
While Disbrowe covers a virtual farmers market of produce in her recipes, she occasionally plays favorites. “When charred by the heat of a grill, brassicas like broccoli, particularly big, meaty stalks, offer a satisfying range of flavors and textures that warrant top billing,” she writes. “I prefer to grill large spears of broccoli because they’re easier to wrangle and fun to eat with a knife and fork, but you can use broccolini or large florets of Romanesco broccoli instead.
To Disbrowe, grilling steaks doesn’t necessarily mean meat. Cauliflower cut in inch-thick “steaks” can be topped with bread crumbs and capers, or resting on a pool of sauce. “I love how they play off spicy green harissa made with blistered tomatillos, serranos, and lots of aromatic herbs,” she enthuses. For an easier weeknight meal, opening a jar of green salsa can substitute for making the harissa.
On a cool evening, the glowing coals left after dinner is cooked are ready for roasting a few marshmallows for dessert, but baking apples on the grill may be the ultimate in fall grilling. Fresh fall apples can cook while everyone eats dinner, making the perfect smoky finish to a grilled meal.