The most consistently bad things to come off of backyard grills are the vegetables. Anyone can cook a hot dog over coals—getting your carrots and onions and squash to feel luxurious is a different matter. Here are a few tips on how.
Skip the Skewers and Tinfoil
These are the most prevalent ways to grill vegetables. They’re also, in most home cooks’ hands, the worst. The problem of multi-veggie skewers is that their parts cook unevenly: the onions never quite done, the squash gone soggy. Packaging your vegetables in tinfoil and tossing it on the grill is even worse. You’re just unevenly steaming them at that point.
Instead of slicing onions into nice little circles, halve them with the skin on and burn the hell out of the sliced side. Once it's good and charred, cook with the skin against the grill. Peel and eat. The flesh will end up sweet and smoky, with the charred side adding a nice bitter complement. It works with other vegetables too: Cook your zucchini whole over high heat, char the skin, and then slice before you serve.
Corn cobs or mushrooms you can toss right on the grill and get a pretty even cook. But if you want to work with more robust vegetables—broccoli, rapini, cauliflower, carrots, beets—you’re way better off blanching or roasting them before tossing them on the grill. The broccoli and cauliflower and beets you can cut into big, meaty slabs and finish on the grill, getting exactly as much char as you like. The carrots and rapini you can toss on whole.
Brining vegetables as you would a Thanksgiving turkey is deeply undervalued. Mix about 1 percent salt with water, some herbs and spices (bay leaf, black pepper, coriander, mustard seed, thyme), and a little sugar and vinegar, and soak sturdy vegetables—cauliflower, kohlrabi, celery root—overnight before you cook them. (If you're precooking, this can also be your cooking liquid.)