No grill required: Your guide to barbecuing vegetables

Barbecued vegetables are great, and pit mater Steve Raichlen says you can even skip the grill. (WTOP/Mike Jakaitis)

The summer is upon us, and grills and smokers all over the DMV are heating up as well. For the series “Fired Up with Jake and John,” WTOP’s Mike Jakaitis and John Domen talk with some of the region’s best pit masters about their methods, with the goal of helping you level up your barbecue game.

All summer long, we have talked meat, meat, meat, and more meat.

This week, we are doing a 180 and appealing to vegans and others who love their veggies. Cooking vegetables on the stove is as exciting as spreading mulch in the yard. But add a little fire and some smoke and I’m all in. Farmer’s markets are stocked with fresh corn, peppers, zucchini and many other delicious vegetables right now, and they come out great on the grill or in the smoker.

Steven Raichlen has been a grill master for a long time. He is the author of many books on barbecue, including “How to Grill” and “The Barbecue Bible.” He’s written chapter and verse about ribs, brisket, steaks and chicken, but he flipped the script in his latest book, “How to Grill Vegetables: The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables over Live Fire.”

“I think every vegetable tastes better over live fire,” he said.

Raichlen grills a lot of his vegetables using the same method he uses to grill a big juicy steak: “It’s the oldest, the most primal, the most primitive style of grilling,” he said.

It’s called caveman style: The vegetables are grilled directly on the charcoal embers. Nope – no grill grate.

“I do eggplants caveman style; bell peppers are amazing. Salsa ingredients — your tomatoes, your peppers, your onions.”

Even corn on the cob “Just lay it right on the embers [without foil]. You get a smoke flavor; it’s off-the-charts delicious.”

A lot of us – not including my podcast partner John Domen – love potatoes. Raichlen said they’re excellent on the grill, and there are many ways to grill them. If you’re grilling potatoes for the first time he suggests a simple method: “Brush it with melted butter, olive oil — or why not even bacon fat — salt and pepper and indirect grill it.”

(Sorry, vegans; I couldn’t resist the temptation to mention meat.)

You can even grill peas! Raichlen warns it can be very time consuming to grill such a little vegetable, but he did it on his PBS show “Project Fire” a couple of years ago.

“I wanted to put peas in the paella, so somebody in our field kitchen actually skewered individual peas on very slender bamboo skewers.”

Vegetables already have a lot of great natural flavor, he said, but he’s gotten a lot of seasoning inspiration from other cultures where vegetables are a primary food source, such as Armenia, Southeast Asia and South America. He also has a piece of advice when adding herbs to vegetables: “Take an extra bunch and toss it on the coals; you’ll be cooking in this wonderful fragrant herb smoke.”

And Raichlen said vegetables are a great way for first-time grillers to get their feet wet — because it’s really hard to mess up.

“We are in the realm of foods you can burn and it still tastes great,” he said; “You can burn a bell pepper; you can burn an eggplant, and it will taste all that much better.”

You know, Meatless Mondays may become a thing in our household.


Listen and subscribe to the “Fired Up with Jake and John” podcast on Podcast One.


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