(Image Credit: Matt Russell/Kitchn; Food & Prop Stylist: Emily Ezekiel/Kitchn)

Grill More, Mostly Plants: A Modern Cook’s Summer Grilling Manifesto

I’ve been in and around the kitchen my entire life — both personally and professionally — but my confidence quickly wanes in front of the grill. That’s because my family’s cookouts, like most across America, have always been centered around meat. As a vegetarian uninterested in flipping burgers, I never learned how to grill.

But this year, I realized my gateway to the grill — and to the vibrant, healthful summer eating I crave — had been in front of me all along. Plants are by far the best things to grill, and are by far at their most delicious when cooked over fire. By making the shift from pork chops to produce, I was surprised by how relaxed and confident I, a total newbie, felt at the grill. If you’re new to grilling, too, vegetables are the ticket — and there’s never been a better time to dive in.

(Image Credit: Jessica Pages/Kitchn)

If you want to eat more vegetables, in more delicious ways, learn to grill.

Over the past few years, vegetables have seized the star position on our plates. Vegan and vegetarian restaurants are surging in popularity, frequented by plant-based eaters and carnivores alike. The Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and very little meat, was named the best way to get healthy in 2019. Half of all new cookbooks seem to have a vegetable-driven hook. 

The grill is the very best place to reflect that shift — and it’s not hard to do so. In mere minutes, the grill adds the same smoky flavor and enviable, restaurant-quality grill marks that it does to burgers, brats, drumsticks, and pork chops to slabs of cauliflower, skewered Brussels sprouts, hunks of radicchio, and asparagus spears. Cherry tomatoes sizzle and blister until just about to burst, releasing candy-sweet juices as soon as you bite in. Artichokes became nutty-tasting, with crunchy potato-chip-like edges — delicious paired with garlicky lemon butter.

It happens fast, too. Thick slabs of eggplant become silky and tender in under 10 minutes. Broccoli spears, radishes, sweet bell peppers, planks of summer squash, mushroom caps, and skewered Brussels sprouts (best served as tacos) are done just as fast. In under five minutes, you’ll be munching on crisp-tender asparagus, charred scallions, and sweet cherry tomatoes. Cleanup is a breeze — after all, you don’t dirty any pots or pans or baking sheets.

Grilled Gnocchi with Summer Squash and Burst Tomatoes
(Image Credit: Shelly Westerhausen)

For the first time in my life, I’ve joined my dad at the grill. He’s enjoyed showing me the ropes, and I was happy to introduce him to a whole new type of cookout fare. Together, we’ve churned out grilled gnocchi tossed with grilled ribbons of summer squash and bursting tomatoes, an open-faced bánh mì sandwich piled high with spicy grilled cauliflower, and grilled radicchio paired with hunks of caramelized halloumi, dressed in the most irresistible grilled lemon and whole-grain mustard dressing.

Anna Jones' Grilled Caesar Salad with Crispy Chickpeas and Tahini Dressing
(Image Credit: Matt Russell/Kitchn; Food & Prop Stylist: Emily Ezekiel/Kitchn)

Want to fire up your vegetables? Start here.

There’s never been a better, easier time to re-imagine the grill. Start here, with our The Ultimate Guide to Grilling Vegetables, then check out all our new recipes below.

How are you grilling plant-first this summer? I’d love to hear all about your favorite ways to pair up veg and fire.