Grilled Vegetables: a Manifesto

One of Jim's Rants

by Jim Dixon

A spirited & opinionated rant about what not to do

Summer's almost here, and the backyard fires are burning. Now's a good time for my cranky annual manifesto about cooking vegetables over the flames:

Don’t put any oil on the vegetables before you grill them.

Despite what every single thing ever written about grilling vegetables says, do not “lightly brush,” “gently toss,” or in any other euphemistic way put any extra virgin olive oil on any vegetable before you cook it over a hot fire.

"Oiling vegetables doesn’t do them any good. It’s a mistake. Don’t do it."

The vegetables don’t need lubrication; they don’t stick to the grill without oil. Oil drips off, ignites, and the resulting flames send little particles of burnt oil back up to your food. Oiling vegetables doesn’t do them any good. It’s a mistake. Don’t do it.

Grill your vegetables dry, which means not dry like the desert but free of anything other than a little water that might be left from washing. Cook until done, which usually means with a little charring from that intense heat. Unleash your inner Francis Mallmann and bring the vegetables to the crispy edge of being burnt.

When the vegetables are done, put them on a plate, drizzle with extra virgin, sprinkle with flor de sal, and eat. I usually grill the vegetables first, when the fire is hot, so they’re often at ambient temperature when we eat them. A simple salsa verde of chopped fresh herbs (mint, parsley, marjoram), garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and capers is a nice addition to anything grilled, including vegetables. So is romesco. Eggplant and zucchini go from the grill to a platter, get drizzled with olive oil and vinegar, and are topped with some freshly chopped herbs so they can marinate a bit while other stuff is grilled.

Go light the fire.

A Rant About Gas Grills

"The first thing, if you have a gas grill, is get rid of it," says New Orleans chef and Real Good Food customer Donald Link (Cochon, Herbsaint, Peche, Butcher, and more). While gas grills let you cook outside and generate direct radiant like a real fire, they're a poor substitute for the real thing. If you want to cook with fire, get a Weber kettle (lots of used ones out there), a charcoal chimney, and some lump fuel (charcoal made from chunks of wood, not compressed briquets). Food cooked with fire tastes better.