Some recipes specify charring bell peppers to make it easy to remove their skins and purée them. But we char them just to enjoy the charred flavor.
Charring is a step beyond simple grilling. If you haven’t discovered the joy of charring vegetables on the grill—or haven’t ventured beyond corn, mushrooms and potatoes—let us whet your appetite.
Charring creates contrasting flavor and textures, caramelized sweetness, and toasty, smoky notes. When the skin gets blackened and blistery, the the flavor is intensified. The skins soften while the flesh stays crisp.
You don’t need a grill (ideally, with wood chips) to char vegetables. You can also do it:
On the stove top, in a dry cast iron pan
Under the broiler in your oven
All you need are raw vegetables tossed in olive oil, a sprinkling of kosher salt or coarse sea salt, and the heat source. Grilling tips are below.
WHAT VEGETABLES ARE BEST FOR GRILLING
Some of our favorite things to char—in addition to corn, mushrooms and potatoes:
Asparagus: Trim the tough ends, toss the spears in olive oil and salt and grill for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat. Then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes.
A delicious platter of grilled veggies, from HappilyUnprocessed.com, with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, yellow squash and bell peppers. Here’s their recipe for Balsamic Grilled Vegetables.
Baby potatoes: Potatoes, dense and hard, need to be pre-cooked. Leave the skins on and place the potatoes in a pot. Cover with one inch of salted cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Toss in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and skewer (for a gourmet touch, skewer on soaked rosemary twigs) and grill for 3 to 4 minutes total, turning occasionally.
Bell peppers, Hatch or other chiles: Remove the core and seeds, then slice the each pepper in half (or in quarters for large bells). Toss with olive oil and salt and grill over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill 4-5 minutes longer.
Cabbage or lettuce: Cut the head in half and slice each half into 1-inch-thick slices; skewer to keep the leaves together. Toss with olive oil and salt. Grill over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes, then turn and grill for another 10 minutes. (If cabbage and lettuce seem like strange grilling veggies, try them—they’re delicious!)
Cauliflower: Use large florets only; save the smaller bits for other uses. Toss in olive oil, salt and skewer. Grill over medium-high heat, turning frequently for about 10 minutes, until lightly charred.
Corn: Remove the husks; otherwise, you just steam the corn. Oil and salt them, then grill over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, turning frequently.
Eggplant: Cut into 1/2-inch slices, place on a wire rack and sprinkle liberally with salt. Leave for 30 minutes, then rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels (this process removes the bitterness). Toss with oil (you can add some balsamic, too), salt and cook over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes.
Green onions/scallions: Toss in oil and salt and grill on medium-high for about two minutes, until distinct grill marks appear. Then turn and cook for 1 minute more.
Mixed grilled vegetables. Photo courtesy McCormick.
Mushrooms: Toss whole mushrooms with olive oil and salt; then skewer and cook over medium-high heat for 7-8 minutes, turning frequently. Grill whole portobello mushroom caps directly on the grill. Toss in oil (we also use some balsamic), salt and grill for four minutes; then turn and grill another four minutes.
Onions: Sweet and red onions are best. Peel, cut into ½-inch slices, toss in olive oil and kosher salt and grill over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Then turn and grill 2-3 minutes longer. A skewer will hold the onion layers together.
Tomatoes: Skewer cherry tomatoes and grill over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, turning frequently. Cut plum or other tomatoes in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and grill for four minutes over medium-high heat. Then turn and grill for four more minutes.
Zucchini or yellow squash: Cut into ½-inch pieces lengthwise, toss in olive oil, salt and cook over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes.
We also love grilled romaine, especially in a grilled Caesar salad.
Heat. Most vegetables need a medium-high heat. With a gas grill, this is 400°F to 425°F. With a charcoal grill, think “4 by 5”: You should be able to hold your hand four to five inches above the grill for for four to five seconds. For delicate vegetables, use medium heat—350°F or hold your hand four to five inches above the grill for six or seven seconds.
Skewers. When grilling smaller vegetables that might fall through the grate, use skewers. They also make it easy to turn the vegetables. We use stainless steel skewers; but if you’re using bamboo, remember to soak them for 30 minutes.
USING THE BROILER TO CHAR VEGETABLES
Set the broiler to HIGH. If the broiler is inside your oven, place the oven rack to within 4-5 inches of the broiler flame.
Since there are no grates to fall through, you don’t need to skewer.
Toss with olive oil and salt and spread the the vegetables on a sheet pan. Softer vegetables will cook faster than harder, denser ones like onions, so keep the individual vegetables together so you can remove them as they finish cooking.
Broil for five minutes, then turn and stir. Leave the oven/broiler door open during broiling to vent the steam.
Continue to broil and turn every five minutes. The vegetables will gradually start to char on the outside. All vegetables will be ready in 20-25 minutes, depending on how crunchy or soft you like them.
NO OVEN OR BROILER?
Use your toaster oven on the highest setting. It isn’t exactly the same, but the results are still delicious. Lightly brush the veggies with olive oil, or drizzle mushrooms with balsamic vinegar.