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How to grill vegetables: Expert tips for grilling asparagus, eggplant and beyond

Kebabs are great, but there is a vast vegetable-grilling world beyond them.
/ Source: TODAY

When you're trying to eat more vegetables, there's nothing quite like the smoky char of the grill to bring mushrooms, squash, eggplant and even avocado (yes, we know, it's a fruit) to life.

While many home grillers may be well-versed in the art of grilling kebabs or regulars like zucchini or asparagus, there are so many more vegetables that belong on the grill. To help broaden our horizons and nail down the basics, TODAY Food spoke to Ann Ziata, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education about her top grilling techniques.

How to prepare your veggies for the grill

Ziata marinates vegetables at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before putting them on the grill.

"Don't marinate for longer than that because over-marinating will make the vegetables mushy. Your marinade should be full of strong, bold flavors: Think fresh citrus juices, minced garlic or onion, soy sauce, chilies, fresh herbs and spices," she said.

Larger vegetables can go right on the grill grates when it's go time. But if you're prepping smaller items like cherry tomatoes or cremini mushrooms, slide them onto skewers after marinating to ensure they cook evenly without slipping through the cracks.

Al's Grilled Vegetable Skewers

Get cooking

Ready to fire up the grill? Follow Ziata's simple instructions:

  1. Heat the grill up to hot (medium to medium high heat is about 500 to 700 F).
  2. Lay the vegetables down flat across the grill grates. Don’t disturb them until sear marks form on the bottom, then rotate 45 to 90 degrees for a cross-hatch effect. Flip and repeat on the other side.
  3. Remove from the grill and get ready to serve.

"Grilling is all about the quick, smoky flavor and the gorgeous stripes," she said, adding that this method "will not fully cook more starchy vegetables like potatoes and carrots."

For these types of veggies, boil them briefly in water before tossing them on the grill.

"If you are grilling large cuts of eggplant, grill first, transfer to a plate and cover with a lid or foil until tender. It will self-steam itself to doneness," she said.

Veggies that really shine when grilled

Go for thick-cut: "I love grilling oversized vegetables that need to be served with a knife, like cauliflower planks, thick asparagus, plantain halves and wild mushrooms," Ziata said.

Grilled Asparagus

Add drama to salads and slaws: Ziata said some of the best ways to elevate typical dishes is to take something like romaine and grill it for a smoky Caesar salad. She also enjoys slicing a cabbage head into wedges, grilling it and then dicing it up in a dressing.

Avocados all the way: If you've yet to try grilled avocado, you're in for a treat. It's actually super simple to throw the buttery fruit on the grill and enjoy it by itself, on salads, toast or in guacamole. "For a smoky guacamole, throw your unpeeled, pitted avocado halves on the grill before mashing with lime, salt and cilantro," she said.

Don’t forget about fruit: "Swap tomatoes for grilled peaches and apricots for a bold take on a classic Caprese salad. Grilled lemon and lime wedges make great garnishes too," the chef instructor added.

Dress 'em up

Don't forget to add sauces to serve on the side or drizzle on top, especially if your grilled veggies are stars of the show.

"The strong, smoky flavors of grilled vegetables pair best with an assertive dressing like a shallot-mustard vinaigrette and a pickled garnish," Ziata said.

Fire it up with some more of our favorite grilled veggie recipes:

Loaded Grilled Cauliflower
Grilled Broccoli Caesar Salad
Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad