How to Grill Vegetables

The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables over Live Fire


By Steven Raichlen

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The genius of Raichlen meets the magic of vegetables.

Celebrating all the ways to grill green, this mouthwatering, ground breaking cookbook from America’s master griller” (Esquire) shows how to bring live fire or wood smoke to every imaginable vegetable. How to fire-blister tomatoes, cedar-plank eggplant, hay-smoke lettuce, spit-roast brussels sprouts on the stalk, grill corn five ways—even cook whole onions caveman-style in the embers. And how to put it all together through 115 inspired recipes. Plus chapters on grilling breads, pizza, eggs, cheese, desserts and more. PS: While vegetables shine in every dish, this is not a strictly vegetarian cookbook—yes, there will be bacon.
“Raichlen’s done it again! I am so happy that he has turned his focus to the amazingly versatile yet underrated world of vegetables, creating some of the most exciting ways to use live fire. If you love to grill and want to learn something new, then this is the perfect book for you. Steven is truly the master of the grill!” –Jose Andres, Chef and Humanitarian
“Destined to join Steven Raichlen’s other books as a masterpiece. Just thumb through it, and you’ll understand that this is one of those rare must-have cookbooks–and one that planet Earth will welcome.” –Nancy Silverton, Chef and Owner of Mozza restaurants


Chapter 1

How to Grill Vegetables Like a Pro in 9 Easy Steps

Grilling plant and dairy foods draws on the same skill set used for grilling meat, seafood, or pretty much anything. You choose your grill, fuel, and tools, and fire them up. You master the basic grilling techniques, target temperatures, and how to recognize doneness. You practice good grill management and hygiene, of course, with safety at the top of your list. In short, you follow the advice covered extensively in many of my previous books, such as Project Fire, Project Smoke, and The Barbecue! Bible. So, here's a quick refresher, with a more in-depth look at what you need to grill vegetables, eggs, cheese, and so on.

Step 1:

Select Your Grill/Smoker

The first thing you need to grill vegetables, of course, is a grill. Your choice is almost unlimited these days: gas grill or charcoal, pellet grill or kamado, wood-burner or smoker, and more.

  • A charcoal grill (like a Weber kettle) offers the greatest versatility, enabling you to direct grill, indirect grill, smoke, spit-roast, or grill in the embers. Burns charcoal, obviously.
  • A gas grill offers the convenience of push-button ignition and turn-of-a-knob heat control. Perhaps that's why it's the grill of choice for 68 percent of American households. Look for a gas grill with at least 2 burners, preferably 3 to 6 (so you can shut 1 burner off for indirect grilling). Other desirable features include a rotisserie attachment (for spit-roasting) and a smoker box (for adding wood chips or chunks), although if the truth be told, it's difficult to produce a significant smoke flavor on a gas grill. Use for direct and indirect grilling and spit-roasting. Burns gas.
  • Hibachis and other grills without lids burn hot, but limit you to direct grilling—good for smaller, tender vegetables and satays and other small kebabs. The hibachi's small size eliminates large whole vegetables, like cabbage, onions, cauliflower, or winter squash. Great for entertaining (put it in the center of the table and let everyone grill their own food). Burns charcoal.
  • A wood-burning grill (like a KUDU or Argentinean- or Santa Maria–style grill) delivers the most smoke flavor (not to mention the mesmerizing flicker of a wood fire), but restricts you to direct grilling and ember-grilling (caveman grilling). Burns wood.
  • A rotisserie grill (like the Kalamazoo Gaucho) is great for spit-roasting large vegetables, like whole cabbages or stalks of brussels sprouts. Some have grates for direct grilling as well. Burns charcoal, wood, or gas.
  • A kamado grill/cooker, an ovoid ceramic (or sometimes metal) cooker (like the Big Green Egg, Akorn, and Kamado Joe). Works well for direct grilling, indirect grilling, smoking, and ember-grilling. Some models come with a rotisserie attachment. Burns charcoal (but a few models are gas-fired).
  • A drum grill (like the Pit Barrel Cooker) does a fine job with direct and indirect grilling and smoking, but it's a little awkward for ember-grilling (caveman grilling). Burns charcoal.
  • A pellet grill (like the Green Mountain Grill and Traeger) works well for indirect grilling and smoking. In general, it's less effective for high-heat direct grilling, but a few models, like the Memphis Wood Fire Grill (which has a removable burn chamber cover and perforated grill plate), do have direct grilling and searing capability. Note: When working with a pellet grill, you get the most smoke when you run it at lower temperatures (between 180°F and 275°F). Burns wood, or more precisely, compressed sawdust pellets.
  • This brings us to smokers, which come wood-fired (offset smokers, like the Horizon and Lang); charcoal-fired (water smokers, like the Napoleon and Weber Smokey Mountain); and gas and electric smokers like Masterbuilt and Bradley. (You can also smoke on a charcoal grill with a lid, or a kamado or pellet grill.) Most smoking is done at a low temperature (225°F to 250°F). Bradley sells a cold-smoking attachment, which lets you smoke delicate foods, like leaf lettuce, and melt-prone foods, such as cheese, without actually heating or cooking them.

Step 2:

Find Your Fuel

Depending on the grill or smoker you choose, you'll burn gas, charcoal, or wood. Wood is my favorite fuel for grilling because it produces both heat and a smoke flavor.

  • Gas takes the form of propane (sold in 18-pound cylinders) or natural gas (piped in by your local utility company). I always keep an extra propane cylinder on hand; there's nothing worse than running out of gas halfway through a grill session. Note: If using natural gas, make sure your grill has burners specifically designed for it.
  • Charcoal comes in two forms: briquette and lump—the former taking the familiar form of compact black pillows composed of coal dust, wood scraps, binders, sand, and other additives that enable it to burn at a hot, consistent temperature for 45 minutes or more. Most briquettes contain petroleum binders and borax, which burn off when the coals are lit, but which purists may not want directly under their food. Royal Oak and Original Natural Charcoal make eco-friendly briquettes using natural starch binders with nary a petroleum product in the mix.

    The charcoal I use is lump, consisting of charred hardwood and nothing more. Recent years have seen the rise of single wood variety charcoals, like quebracho from South America, maple from Quebec, and mesquite from the American Southwest. Each burns differently—for example, mesquite burns the hottest, shooting out sparks you will find exciting or disconcerting, depending on your temperament. Quebracho charcoal burns hot and consistently, as do maple, oak, and hickory. (Note: The flavors produced by the various charcoals are pretty similar.) When buying lump charcoal, look for uniform-size pieces and bags with minimal pulverized charcoal dust at the bottom. Oh, and avoid "lump" charcoal with sharp corners and straight edges: It probably came from leftover flooring or the furniture industry.

    Charcoal briquettes (left) and natural lump charcoal (right)

  • Wood should be hardwood—either from a fruit tree, like apple or cherry; a nut tree, like hickory or pecan; or other hardwoods, like alder or mesquite. Use split logs that have been seasoned (dried) in a kiln or the open air. While you're at it, load up on kindling and small logs to help you get your fire going.

    Split hardwood logs ready to meet flame

Step 3:

Gather Your Gear

Here's the basic tool set any griller needs:

  • A chimney starter for lighting a charcoal grill.
  • A smoker box for generating wood smoke (primarily used on gas grills). This is a metal box or cylinder with holes in the top or sides or wire mesh. Fill it with wood chips, pellets, or sawdust (depending on the model) and light it following the manufacturer's instructions.
  • A long-handled, stiff wire brush or wooden grill scraper for cleaning the grate. Note: When buying a wire brush, look for one with bristles firmly anchored in a twisted wire armature or twisted into a steel wool–like cluster, not inserted directly into a wood or plastic head. This reduces the rare but documented risk of a stray metal bristle winding up in your food.
  • Long-handled, spring-loaded tongs for handling the food.
  • An offset grill spatula with a thin blade for moving small, fragile, or stick-prone foods.
  • Leather or Kevlar gloves for handling hot grates.
  • Insulated rubber food gloves for handling large hot foods, like spit-roasted cauliflower.
  • A slender metal skewer for testing doneness (unlike when grilling meats or seafood, you don't really need an instant-read thermometer for vegetables).
  • Wooden toothpicks for testing doneness and pinning together small vegetables, such as asparagus stalks, onion wedges, and garlic cloves.
  • A variety of bamboo skewers for making kebabs (ideally, this will include some flat bamboo skewers, which reduce slippage).
  • Flat metal skewers, the traditional skewer for grilling vegetables in the Middle East and Mediterranean. The metal conducts the heat from the fire to the center of the vegetable, so it cooks both from the outside in and the inside out.
  • A large supply of disposable aluminum foil drip pans (9 × 13 inch). Use them for marinating; transferring food to and from the grill (you don't have to worry about cross-contamination with most vegetables); pan-grilling and pan-smoking; as drip pans under the food; and so on. You can't have too many of these.

In addition, you'll need some specialized tools for vegetable grilling, including:

  • Vegetable grilling grid. This looks like a sheet pan perforated with holes or slits to let through the smoke and fire. It's useful for grilling small vegetables, like green beans or okra, and chopped or sliced vegetables, like mushrooms, peppers, or broccoli florets.
  • Wire mesh grill basket. Useful for grilling small vegetables, like snow peas and green beans. Place it on the grate for direct grilling. For even more flavor, position the basket directly on the hot charcoal or wood embers.
  • Grill wok. A round or square wok-like metal bowl with holes or slits designed for "stir-grilling." The perforations allow the fire and smoke to reach the vegetables.
  • Plancha. I consider this heavy cast-iron griddle indispensable for vegetable grilling. Excellent for searing squash and eggplant slices and grilling small vegetables, like okra. A plancha also enables you to toast bread or fry eggs for grilled breakfasts or sandwiches. You'll also need a metal scraper, like a clean paint or putty scraper, for cleaning the plancha.
  • A frying thermometer for frying vegetables prior to smoking or grilling (used infrequently but handy nonetheless!).
  • Egg spoon. Popularized in America by Alice Waters (and more recently, by Project Fire on public television), this cool tool enables you to fry an egg in a deep pool of olive oil (for maximum crispness) in your fireplace or over a campfire. Burning logs = wood smoke, which flavors the eggs as it cooks them. The Alice Waters hand-forged version can be found at; less expensive models can also be found online through

Step 4:

Master the Basic Grilling and Smoking Techniques

There are five basic grilling and smoking techniques (six if you count smoke-roasting separately), plus several specialized grilling techniques (see here). Master them and you can grill virtually anything that grows in a garden or field or comes from a dairy—and beyond.

Direct grilling. This is what most of Planet Barbecue does when it grills. In a nutshell, you cook foods quickly and directly over a hot fire. Direct grilling (generally over high heat) works great for high-moisture vegetables such as asparagus and zucchini; tender vegetables, like eggplants and mushrooms; small vegetables, such as okra and snow peas; and tofu, bread, and cheese. You can also direct grill denser vegetables, like artichokes and sweet potatoes, but work over a moderate fire.

Indirect grilling. In this method, you grill large or dense vegetables next to rather than directly over the fire. On a charcoal grill, rake the coals into two mounds at opposite sides of the grill and do your cooking in the center. On a 2-burner gas grill, light one side and indirect grill on the other. On a gas grill with 3 or more burners, light the outside or front and rear burners and do your grilling in the center. Note: Indirect grilling is always done with the grill lid closed.

Indirect grilling

Smoke-roasting. A variation on indirect grilling, this is a technique used often in Raichlendia generally and in this book specifically. To smoke-roast on a charcoal grill, set up your grill for indirect grilling (see above) and add wood chunks or chips to the coals. On a gas grill, place the wood in the smoker box (if your grill has one) or under the grate directly over the burners. Or use an auxiliary smoker box or smoker pouch (see box—where you'll also find more on wood quantities for smoke-roasting).

Smoking. Lower the temperature (to around 250°F) and pump up the smoke, and you arrive at a technique practiced widely in the American barbecue belt: smoking (aka barbecuing). Indispensable for cooking Texas-style brisket and Kansas City–style ribs, smoking works well with wet vegetables, such as cut tomatoes or onions. It's also used to cook baked beans and dense vegetables, such as rutabagas and beets. To smoke on a charcoal kettle grill, use half or a third as much fuel as you normally would. (With a full chimney of charcoal, your grill will get too hot for true smoking.) Otherwise, use a smoker (as opposed to a grill)—see here.

Spit-roasting cauliflower on a charcoal grill

Spit-roasting. Some years ago, I was in Brazil, where I witnessed a singular way to grill onions: on a spit in a charcoal-burning rotisserie. (The same restaurant served spit-roasted pineapple for dessert.) A gentle reminder that, while most of us normally don't spit-roast fruits and vegetables, the rotisserie can be a highly effective cooker for produce. See the Rotisserie Brussels Sprouts with Turmeric Oil and Curry Leaves and the Volcano Pineapple.

Ember-grilling (aka caveman grilling). This is the most ancient way of grilling and one of my favorite ways to cook vegetables. There's nothing like direct contact with live embers to caramelize the natural plant sugars in onions or peppers, for example, imparting an intoxicating smoke flavor you just can't achieve otherwise. Sicilians grill artichokes in the embers (see here), and this is how people roast eggplant throughout the Middle East. To ember-grill, let a charcoal or wood fire burn down to glowing coals. Fan them with a folded newspaper to dislodge any loose ash, then lay the vegetables on the embers. (Generally speaking, the process is quick enough that you shouldn't need refueling, but if you do, light more coals in a chimney starter, or arrange fresh charcoal on the current bed of embers and wait for them to ignite.)

Step 5:

Master the Specialized Grilling And Smoking Techniques

Once you've mastered the basic grilling techniques (see here), add some specialized grilling techniques to your repertoire. The following are especially effective for veggies.

Charring a grilling plank

Plank grilling. Most of us know this method of grilling through the cedar planks used for cooking salmon. But plank grilling is excellent for cheese (see the Planked Brie with Fig Jam and Walnuts) and tomatoes and eggplant (see the Cedar-Planked Eggplant Parmigiana). It imparts a subtle smoke flavor and, in the case of cheese, prevents it from melting between the bars of the grate. Cedar is the plank most people use, but you can grill on any untreated hardwood plank, from alder to hickory. Choose a plank that is ¼ to ½ inch thick.

Plancha grilling. The plancha (heavy griddle) has become one of my favorite tools for grilling—great for slender foods, such as scallions or asparagus; flammable foods, like bacon-wrapped squash or onion rings (or pretty much anything wrapped in bacon); and of course, foods you might not normally grill, such as eggs and sandwiches. I'm partial to a cast-iron plancha: Once you season it properly, it acquires a nonstick surface. Sure, you could use it on your stove, but what I like about plancha cooking on a grill is that you can infuse the food with wood smoke by adding chunks or chips to the fire. Just cover the grill for a few minutes after you add the wood to hold in the smoke. (Don't have a plancha? Use a large cast-iron skillet.)

Salt-slab grilling. Grilling on pink salt slabs became fashionable a few years ago, and there's more to it than the obvious cool factor. A salt slab delivers a mild, even heat suited to delicate foods, and the salt imparts a subtle flavor to veggies (like winter squash—grill cut side down so the flesh absorbs some of the salt flavor), and even desserts. Fresh pineapple, for example, is awesome roasted on a salt slab.

Steam-grilling. Use this technique for grilling large dense vegetables, like cauliflower and rutabaga. Place the vegetable on a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil with 3 or 4 tablespoons of water. Tightly wrap it in foil, pleating the edges to make a hermetic seal. Direct grill or indirect grill at high heat so the water boils and steams and softens the vegetables. Then unwrap and discard the foil, and direct grill the veggie to create a dark flavorful crust.

Pan-grilling. I use this technique often for grilling firm root vegetables, like parsnips, carrots, and potatoes (whole if small, like fingerlings; cubed if large). Set up your grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium-high. Place the vegetables in an aluminum foil drip pan or in a cast-iron skillet with butter or olive oil and salt and pepper. Indirect grill until browned and crisp outside and cooked through, stirring every 10 or 15 minutes. The last 3 to 5 minutes, slide the pan directly over one of the grill's burners to sizzle and crisp the crust.

Foil grilling (hobo pack grilling). Campers call this configuration a hobo pack. I'd never really taken it seriously as a grilling method—until I met Pat Martin of Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint in Nashville. Pat wraps okra, onions, peppers, and Cajun spices (a few slices of kielbasa help, too) in aluminum foil and lets the resulting steam and searing work their magic (see the recipe).

Leaf grilling. Long before there were pots and pans, people wrapped food in leaves and grilled them in or next to the fire. (Think of this as the precursor of the tamale.) We still use this ancient technique today. For a great application of leaf grilling, wrap goat cheese, honey, and thyme in fresh or pickled grape leaves and direct grill or grill in the embers.

Hay- or straw-smoking. I first encountered this method in southern Italy, where smoldering hay or straw is used to smoke delicate melt-prone foods, like mozzarella. (Hay is a grass; straw is a stalk—the smoke flavor is pretty similar.) Light a bunch of hay or straw on one side of your grill (or place it at the bottom of your smoker). Position the food to be smoked as far away from it as possible. Cover the grill or smoker to hold in the smoke. This is a very quick process— 3 to 5 minutes will do it.

Vegetable skin–smoking.


  • "A prize"The Wall Street Journal

    “[How to Grill Vegetables] will help you bring summer flavor to your plant-based dishes."USA Today 

    "Home cooks looking for new ways to add flavor and fun to vegetables will be drawn to this collection; it will be especially beneficial to anyone who’s new to grilling and not sure where to start."Library Journal

    "Vegetarians (or anyone motivated to eat more plants) wanting a master class in inspired meatless barbecue should read How to Grill Vegetables" Shelf Awareness 

    “Steven Raichlen brings his magic to vegetables, and the results are as refreshing as they are delicious.” —Dan Barber, Chef and Co-owner, Blue Hill and Row 7 Seed Company
    “Raichlen’s done it again! I am so happy that he has turned his focus to the amazingly versatile yet  underrated world of vegetables, creating some of the most exciting ways to use live fire. IF YOU LOVE TO GRILL AND WANT TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW, THEN THIS IS THE PERFECT BOOK FOR YOU. Steven is truly the master of the grill!” —José Andrés, Chef and Humanitarian
    “DESTINED TO JOIN STEVEN RAICHLEN’S OTHER BOOKS AS A MASTERPIECE. Just thumb through it, and you’ll understand that this is one of those rare must-have cookbooks—and one that planet Earth will welcome.” —Nancy Silverton, Chef and Owner of Mozza restaurants

    "A solid case for bringing more vegetables into the fire- and smoked-stoked realm of the backyard grill"The Houston Chronicle 

    "Steven Raichlen’s How to Grill Vegetables is an instant classic that brims with imaginative treatments of fruits and veggies.... the perfect barbecue cookbook."Foreword Reviews 

    "[Raichlen's] creativity manifests itself in all manner of novel creations... Raichlen provides a wealth of conveniently presented and highly useful information about equipment, ingredients, and techniques to guide both novice and experienced grill-tenders... This is a very useful addition to contemporary consumer cookbook collections." Booklist, starred review 


On Sale
May 11, 2021
Page Count
336 pages


Steven Raichlen

About the Author

Steven Raichlen is the author of the New York Times bestselling Barbecue! Bible® cookbook series, which includes the new Brisket Chronicles; Project Fire; Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades; Project Smoke; The Barbecue Bible; and How to Grill. Winners of 5 James Beard awards and 3 IACP awards, his books have been translated into 17 languages. His TV shows include the public television series Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire, Project Smoke; Primal Grill; and Barbecue University; the French language series Le Maitre du Grill, and the Italian series Steven Raichlen Grills Italy. Raichlen has written for the New York Times, Esquire, and all the food magazines; and is the founder and dean of Barbecue University. In 2015, he was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. His website is

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