The Best Vegetables To Grill This Season And Expert Tips For Cooking Them

Firing up the grill in summer is a nostalgia-inducing, delicious way to prepare a menu of hearty appetizers, succulent sides, and mouthwatering entrees. Beyond the standard spread of burgers, brats, chops, wings, and hot dogs, plenty of fruits and vegetables also taste incredible fresh off of the grates. Grilling lends the freshness of seasonal produce the palate-tantalizing flavors and soul-filling aromas associated with outdoor cooking.

Emma Hearst — renowned chef, author, and founder of Forts Ferry Farm in Latham, New York — spoke with Mashed about how to transform a cornucopia of veggies (corn, summer squash, bell peppers, and onions) into seared sensations that can be enjoyed alone or paired with other summertime staples. The sizzle of the vegetables hitting the grill marks the beginning of a sensory journey as their vibrant colors deepen and flavors intensify with each charred edge. In addition to enhancing fruits' and vegetables' natural sweetness, grilling imparts a smokiness that complements the sunny ambiance of summer. Hearst offers several ways to eat your way through the produce section as the days — and backyard grills — swelter.

Grilling corn creates a bright, juicy fare

There are many amazing ways to make corn on the grill, all of which offer a multi-sensory experience. The sight of golden kernels is visually appetizing. The smoky scent is irresistible. The taste is a perfect balance of sweet and savory. The texture is a delightful mix of juicy and crispy. The grill's direct heat caramelizes the sugars in the kernels, yielding a depth that boiling or steaming can't achieve.

"I love to give [the corn] a very quick blanch in the husk," Hearst explains, "peel the husk back but keep it intact, remove the silk, rub it down with a good butter and any seasoning, and then close it back up with the husk before throwing it on a hot grill." Blanching corn — submerging it in boiling water before cooling it in ice water — softens the kernels and reduces grilling time while keeping the husk on during grilling traps steam to enhance moisture and sweetness. "If the kernels are young and petite, a simple soak in water will do just fine so it doesn't get too dried out over the flame," says Hearst.

Classic buttered corn on the cob is always a favorite. For more adventurous palates, add a squeeze of lime, chili powder or Tajín, sour cream, mayonnaise, and a dusting of cotija cheese to make super simple elote. You can also carefully cut the kernels off of the cob to mix into salads, casseroles, salsas, or cornbread.

Grilled summer squash is a tender treasure

There are various types of summer squash, including zucchini, crookneck, tatume, and patty pan squash. Summer squash are harvested during the warm months and have tender, edible skins (as opposed to winter squash, which sport a tough rind and are harvested later in the year). The taste of grilled summer squash is mildly sweet with a hint of nuttiness, complemented by the smoky flavor from the grill. The texture is soft yet firm, providing a satisfying bite without being mushy.

According to Hearst, smaller squash are preferable since they have a firmer texture and less water, which prevents them from becoming too soft on the grill. "It is very important to not salt the squash too far before placing it on the grill as salt draws out moisture and prohibits any char." This is crucial for achieving those desirable grill marks and a slightly crispy exterior. "Always work with a very hot grill, don't get impatient and move them around too much, and don't use too much oil as you don't want the pieces to catch fire," she suggests.

Grilled summer squash seasoned with a no-fuss blend of olive oil, salt, and pepper makes a fantastic side dish. It can also be incorporated into pasta dishes or grain bowls for a near-instant fiber boost. Pair grilled summer squash with fresh herbs, feta cheese, and a squeeze of lemon juice for a refreshing salad.

Bell peppers simply taste better grilled

Roasting bell peppers over the grill amplifies their naturally grassy, bitter flavor, while the scalding grates impart a delightful woodsy dimension. The grill's intense heat caramelizes the peppers' sugars, resulting in a rich, sweet taste with a lovely smokiness. This method also preserves the peppers' firm, tender character. Bell peppers' famously bright hues — most notably red, orange, yellow, and green — become even more striking after grilling. The charred spots make them a feast for both the eyes and the palate.

"Peppers are another one that you want to use a higher heat for so they don't turn to mush," Hearst notes. For an extra layer of flavor, she recommends grilling varieties like Jimmy Nardello or sweet bell peppers and tossing them in a mixture of butter, garlic, and fresh basil immediately after they come off of the grill for a savory, herbaceous bite. Grilled bell peppers can be enjoyed within an easy veggie medley, as a topping for meat and fish, tossed onto pizzas and pastas, or folded into salads, sandwiches, and wraps.

Grilled onions are an aromatic masterpiece

Last but not least, Hearst highly recommends grilling onions — the humble, potent, incredibly fragrant and versatile allium. "Onions are a special vegetable that can be treated fast or slow and also one of my favorites to work with on the grill," she explains. She tells Mashed that one of her favorite recipes calls for cured onions that are slowly cooked in their skins for anywhere between 40 minutes and 1 hour. Once you remove the onions from the grill, all you have to do is slip their skins off, give them a rough chop, and toss them in a generous fusion of salt, pepper, and cold butter.

Caramelizing onions over the gridiron results in a beautiful golden-brown color, an umami-forward flavor with a delicate sweetness, and (of course) an enticing odor that permeates the air. Grilled onions make a fantastic topping for juicy steaks, luscious burgers, savory sandwiches, and heartwarming soups like the ever-beloved French onion. They can also be served as a barbecue side dish or used as a base for dips, salsas, and relishes.