This summer (and July Fourth!) we encourage you to think beyond traditional cookout favorites and make room for more grill-able vegetables and fruits. Not only are they budget-friendly and abundant in the summer (find a farmers’ market near you), but adding perfectly charred produce to your plate tastes great and can benefit your health.
Diets based on minimally processed plant foods can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke, help control blood glucose (sugar) levels, prevent weight gain, lower cholesterol, and more! The protection fruits and vegetables provide is in part due to the high amount of fiber and the wide array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they contain. You need a total of at least four-and-a-half cups of vegetables and fruits (2 ½ cups vegetables plus 2 cups fruit) daily to see these health benefits. Let grilling—a quick and healthful cooking method—help get you there! While any fruit or vegetable is a healthy choice, some lend better to grilling than others. Use our tips to select the next stars of your cookout.
Pick your fruit
If you enjoy a fruit fresh, you’ll love it grilled even more! Cooking caramelizes natural fruit sugars, seriously enhancing sweetness. Firm and barely ripe fruits are ideal grilling candidates. Pineapple, watermelon, apples, peaches, and pears hold-up best, but others—oranges, lemons, and avocados—hold-up well too. Small or delicate fruits like strawberries, grapes, figs, dates, banana, mango, peaches, pears, nectarines, and plums are also grill friendly, just pay close attention to these. They are more likely to burn or shrink and fall through the grates. Try using a grill basket with small pieces of fruit to minimize this risk.
Pick your veggies
Fresh, frozen, and canned veggies are all nutritious choices, but fresh vegetables are plentiful during summer months. Apart from delicate leafy greens (i.e., arugula, microgreens, and spinach) almost any vegetable’s flavor can be enhanced on the grill. Try cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, squash, asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, and green beans.
Prepare your produce
At a minimum, you’ll need a fruit or vegetable, neutral oil that can withstand high-heat cooking (canola oil, olive oil, or avocado oil), and a brush or spray bottle to apply the oil. Lightly brushing or spraying your produce with oil adds flavor, promotes searing, and prevents drying and sticking. Consider steaming, microwaving, or blanching artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and winter squash until barely tender to reduce grilling time and risk of burning (fruit won’t need pre-cooked). From here, you’re ready to go!
Keep these tips in mind for success:
- Cut everything to a similar size and shape to keep cooking times consistent.
- Keep fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry, and fish.
- If your fruit is too ripe to eat as-is, it might not hold up on the grill.
- Larger pieces of produce are easier to flip and maneuver than smaller pieces.
- Keep bananas, avocados, and citrus fruits in their peel to maintain structure. Grill cut side down.
- Remove pits and seeds before grilling, if your fruit has them.
- Cut large tomatoes and heads of cauliflower and broccoli into “steaks.”
- Halve hearts of romaine lettuce or cabbage lengthwise (through the root) and grill cut side down.
First, clean grill grates with a grill brush. Plan to use moderate or indirect heat for all fruits and vegetables. Liberally oil the grill grates, then place your lightly oiled fruit or vegetable cut side down on the grates or in a basket. In general, produce needs about 3 to 5 minutes to cook, however, thicker pieces may need more time and thin pieces may require less time. Cook your produce until tender but not mushy when pierced with a sharp knife. Follow your recipe’s instructions for the best results.
- Pineapple, mango, and watermelon pair well with grilled meats.
- Avocados can be grilled and served sliced, stuffed, or turned into smoky guacamole.
- Serve grilled bananas for dessert with Greek yogurt, pistachios, and cinnamon.
- Serve grilled peaches, figs, and strawberries over vanilla Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Add grilled peaches, apples, figs, and strawberries to your next salad.
- Make a crowd-pleasing grilled lemon vinaigrette to accompany a grilled fruit or vegetable salad.
- Finish grilled veggies with lemon juice (try grilling the lemon first!) or an oil-based vinaigrette.
- Grill romaine or kale leaves for a grilled Caesar salad.
- Make a Meatless Monday broccoli or cauliflower steak.
- Grill mushroom caps for a main or side dish.
- Use a marinade on eggplant, zucchini, or summer squash and grill to perfection.