You’re on Sunday at a BBQ. You take a bite of something that’s both salty, sweet, and savory. And then you drink a tall, cold beer. This is not how you eat New York Strips hot off the grill. Instead, we’re referring to vegetables.
Vegetables have a moment in the summer sun, whether they are stuffed charred peppers or grilled eggplants. We know what you thinking. I’ve been grilling vegetables all my life. We do, too. But, we think it’s high time that you started treating those vegetables like meat.
It is possible to make a vegetable taste great and barbecue it with the same care you would for a steak or chicken. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry if you don’t know where to start. These chefs are using these techniques to create vegetable-centric dishes with a unique flavor without sacrificing the taste of a summer cookout. The best tips and tricks of the top chefs can easily be adapted for home cooking. This means you can grill the best vegetables of your choice right in your backyard.
We have a chat with Steven Raichlen of Orchard Grocer, Joya-Carlton of the new NYC vegan restaurant, and Norberto Piattoni from Metta in Brooklyn. We discuss how they make veggies taste meaty and smokey and how home chefs can follow their lead.
Let’s just say that it comes down to three basic techniques: smoking, grilling, and seasoning.
A dry rub, or marinating, works magic on meat. The same applies to vegetables. Chef Carlton has a few secrets for making vegetables, such as carrots and jackfruit, meaty.
“We use a rub composed of ingredients like brown sugar, salt, and juniper berries for our carrot lox,” Carlton explains. “This rub is very similar to what you would use when seasoning pastrami.” It also helps to get rid of some of the vegetable’s natural moisture making it easier and more enjoyable to cold smoke.
The chef marinates her pulled BBQ Jackfruit cousins in her signature barbecue sauce. “The longer it sits in the sauce the better it tastes.” When the jackfruit has been cooked, it will pull apart like pork. She says that jackfruit does not need to be slow-cooked as there are no fibers like meat.
The signature sauce is a vegan blackstrap barbecue sauce with pomegranate & ginger. (Get the recipe); it’s a great accompaniment to both meat-centric and vegetable dishes. According to Carlton, this sauce is great with eggplants, mushrooms, and zucchini. Carlton says that he applies more sauce after a grilled dish has been grilled.
Metta is also known for its vegetables, such as cauliflower, beets, and cabbage. Piattoni describes, “We roast whole cauliflower heads like you would slow-roast a large piece. The cauliflower is coated in a rub made of sweet, spiced, paprikas, garlic, onion powders, and salt. It then marinates overnight before being smoked by a smoker.
Pro tip – Spice rubs and sauces that seem “made for” meat may actually be vegetables’ best friend. For example, our three-ingredient dry rub.
The promise of long summer nights means only one thing to many: grilling season. The taste of charred steaks hot-off-the–coals is irresistible. What if this fire-fresh food craving isn’t for barbecue chicken or baby back ribs? How about fat-grilled asparagus and smoky-sweet corn?
This is not surprising. Metta is only one of many NYC restaurants catering to this demand for meaty grilled vegetables. Piattoni explains: “For our beet dishes, the beets have been boiled and seared on the plancha, (griddle), the same way that you would for a piece of steak. This gives them a charred outside, which adds an additional layer to the dish.”
Raichlen (TV host and author) has shared some tips on how to grill your vegetables at home.
Grilling vegetables is not the same for all types of vegetables, he reminds me. Different vegetables need different grilling styles.
“Direct grilling is recommended for high-water-content vegetables, like onions, mushrooms, and peppers. Use indirect grilling to cook dense vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets.
He advises that you “skewer your thin vegetables” when making kebabs. For thin vegetables, such as asparagus, snap peas, and Okra, it is advisable to skewer multiple pieces crosswise, so that they don’t slip through the grate.
Raichlen recommends creating three heat zones on the grill to prevent food burning. “If food starts to catch on fire or you need to keep it warm while it cooks, just moves it over into the cool zone. For the third section of your grill, pile a thick layer with coals. Place a single layer in the middle. For a gas barbecue, turn the left or back burner on high, the middle burner on medium, or the right or front burner completely off.
Piattoni claims, “You won’t taste fire unless the fire is used.” This holds true for both meat-centric as well as vegetable-centric dishes. There are many methods to bring out the smoky flavor of fire in your favorite produce. “You can char vegetables and bread on the stovetop, but watch your fingers,” he continues. “Or, you can mix charred bread in other sauces or sprinkle some spicy paprika on it.”
Although smokiness may be achieved with charcoal or a smoker, Carlton suggests a way to “catch that smoky flavor” even without a grill.
“First, open the windows!” She continues. You will then need to double-line your Dutch oven (one with an aluminum lid) with aluminum foil. Then add two tablespoons of Brown Sugar, two tablespoons of Rice, and one cup of Whole-Leaf Tea. Put the smoking ingredients on a lightly oiled cooking rack. Place the vegetables and tofu on this rack. Turn the heat on high until you start to see small smoke clouds. Reduce the heat down to medium-low. Cover [the rack] with a foil-lined wok cover. Smoke for 15 min, then turn off the heat.
“This works great in apartments. It can be a little intimidating at first because of the amount of smoke but the flavor and aroma are amazing!
The freshness and meatiness of vegetables can enhance your summer barbecue dishes, no matter how you prepare them. Carnivores, trust us: Zucchini peppers, onions, and corn can be a lighthouse to the best steaks or burgers.
This month, we take you Beyond BBQ into deep, dark, and delicious ‘cue-world corners, from Seoul through South Carolina. We will be looking at the best pits tips and rigs. Maybe even a vegetable.