In the last part of the 20th century, grilling meant meat. Now, grilling encompasses everything from vegetables and fruits to tofu, tempeh, and various plant-based burgers, brats, and hot dogs.)
Continue reading for a complete beginner’s guide to vegan grilling. If you’re starting with nothing, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to get up and running!
The last thing you need before you grill—and this is truly a must-have—is a plan. Take time to think through how long each food you’re going to prepare takes to cook, what order you’d like different foods to be ready to serve, and which foods will need to be marinated, pressed, dried, or otherwise prepared in advance.
Experienced grilling enthusiasts can get very experimental! If you’re a beginner, however, we recommend you start with something fairly basic. Here is a little tour of the basics and how to grill them.
If you’re truly a beginner, we recommend you try only one sort of plant-based protein on your first outing. If you’re cooking for friends and family, maybe even have some packaged veggie burgers or plant-based hot dogs or brats on hand just in case.
If you’re going to attempt grilling tofu or tempeh, be sure to read all instructions the day before so you can take care of any of the necessary prep. You’ll usually want to marinate both tofu and tempeh, and that can take time.
The list of vegetables that taste extraordinary on the grill is long: corn-on-the-cob, portobello mushroom caps, zucchini, asparagus, carrots, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, and even romaine lettuce.
You can grill vegetables individually or skewer them for kebabs. If you make them into kebabs, just be careful to group vegetables that need to be cooked all at the same heat for the same time. You don’t want a kebab where some of the vegetables are burned and others are undercooked.
There’s nothing like good, grilled fruit. The heat brings out the sweetness in the fruit and effectively turns the water in it into caramel. Later in this post, there’s a section on grilling mango-pineapple-watermelon kebabs. If you have any doubts about grilling fruit now, you’re about to lose them.
Our most important tip is this: if you’re a beginner, find a grilling mentor. This should not be difficult as enthusiasts of every sort are usually very eager to share their knowledge with others. It’s also pretty easy to spot a grilling enthusiast, as they can usually be overheard talking about grilling in even the unlikeliest setting.
Tofu is an example of food you can’t just cut into steaks and grill.
Use only extra firm tofu, and cut it into slabs a little more than ½ inch thick. What you’ve got now is some watery tofu without much flavor that isn’t very suitable for grilling.
Now you’ve got to press as much water out of it as possible for two reasons:
If you forget to get your tofu marinating overnight, marinating tofu for just 30 minutes at room temperature works just fine.
Tofu is just one example of a food that requires some prep before grilling. As part of that “sit down and really think this through” planning session you’re going to give yourself, look at all of the recipes and basic instructions at least 24 hours in advance. This’ll allow you to start prepping anything that needs a long time to get ready, and you have time to shop for anything you’re missing.
Maybe you’ve heard it said that somebody “really knows their way around a grill.” It’s a figure of speech, of course, but it’s also literal. There will be areas on the grill that are very hot and other areas that are not as hot.
The more you grill, the better you’ll understand what areas are hotter than others. You’ll also learn what foods can be grilled at hot temps and what foods need to cook more slowly.
Generally speaking, foods that are thinner and less substantial (onions) can be cooked quickly at high heat, while foods that are thicker and more substantial (big portobello mushroom caps) need to cook for a longer time at a lower heat.
Have no fear. Most recipes will offer specific instructions as to heat and cook time, but it’s up to you to learn where the hotspots on your grill are.
“Seasoning” usually means spices, but when you’re grilling, seasoning the grill means preparing the grates with cooking oil. Cooking some foods on the grill requires more seasoning of the grill than others, but no matter what you’re grilling, you need to get some oil on those grates.
Keep in mind how the oil may influence the flavors of the foods you’re grilling. If you’re grilling vegetables or plant-based proteins, a nice thick olive oil is great. If you’re grilling fruit, maybe go with something with minimal flavor, like sunflower or soybean oil.
As a beginner, you may want to really concentrate on getting a few things right rather than trying to do it all on day one. We understand that this tip doesn’t really put you on track to pulling off a perfectly timed meal for family and friends. But as a beginner, that might not be a reasonable thing to aim for anyway.
We recommend giving yourself the space to do a few things really well before you spring your new grilling skills on your loved ones.
We recommend that beginners start with something fairly easy, and you might as well go with some of your favorites.
You might be tempted to save time by buying these precut, but that could actually cause a problem if they’re all cut to very different sizes. Ideally, for a kebab, you want to be able to control the thicknesses of the foods you’re combining in a way that helps the cooking times to even out.
Watermelon and pineapple have a higher water content than mango. You’ll want your watermelon and pineapple chunks to be a little bigger than your mango chunks.
While all three of these fruits taste great as they are, you can also make a super caramelly dessert out of them by brushing them with a cinnamon and brown sugar mixture. Then just grill them on a well seasoned (oiled) grill at medium heat for about three minutes per side.
Ideally, you would use a cleaner part of the grill or brush the grill thoroughly if you’ve already grilled something savory. And, to keep your sweet tooth happily satiated, top your fruit with our Maple Caramel Sauce.
Also, be sure to use metal skewers instead of wooden skewers, which can burn or break!
Whether you wish to make them into kebabs or just grill them side-by-side, just start with your favorites, find a recipe that sounds good to you, and go for it. Consider making at least one of the vegetables something that requires preparation before grilling, just so you get into the habit of thinking ahead any time you think about grilling! Remember to pair your veggies with our Five-Minute Peanut Sauce!
Why not throw in something foolproof? Especially if you’re brand new to grilling, it might be best to have a few packaged vegan burgers, hot dogs and/or brats on hand. They couldn’t be easier, and vegans tend to be super happy to see them come off the grill!
Every veteran griller was a beginner once. If this is your year to get a grill—or even to ask an established griller if you can help out—you’ve now got a sense of the basics. Remember to ask a lot of questions. Grillers have lots of tips and tricks, and they’re more than willing to share what they know! Take a look at some of our vegan recipes to get some cooking inspiration!