How to Grill Eggplant So It Is Firm

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Grill eggplant slices until they are no longer spongy, but before the flesh becomes mushy.
Grill eggplant slices until they are no longer spongy, but before the flesh becomes mushy. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Eggplant plays a starring role in dishes throughout the world, particularly in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. The vegetable ranges in size and color, from long and skinny to short and stout, from deep black-purple to mottled cream and plum. Eggplant prepared on a grill receives a smoky, charred flavor to enhance the smooth texture. While the inside should become soft, you must purge the eggplant of the moisture and air pockets so the slices stay firm rather than mushy.

Things You'll Need

  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • Paper towels
  • Plate
  • Salt
  • Spatula
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Basting brush
  • Oil
  • Spices, optional

Slice the eggplant crosswise into slices that are 3/4- to 1-inch thick. The thicker slices are easier to handle on a grill rack and help the eggplant stay firm. Lay the slices on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb moisture.

Sprinkle both sides of each slice with salt to draw out the moisture and remove the bitter flavor in the juices. Rub the salt around to evenly coat the exposed flesh. Allow at least 30 minutes for the salt to absorb the moisture, flipping the slices over after about 15 minutes to expose both sides to air.

Press the eggplant flat, using your hands or a spatula, to push out the air pockets just as you would squeeze out air from within a sponge.

Rinse the salt from each slice and pat dry with clean paper towels.

Pre-heat the grill to medium or medium-high heat, using either a propane gas or charcoal grill. When using charcoal, pile the charcoal and allow the flames to die out. Spread the charcoal evenly across the grill when the insides are bright red, but the outside begins to turn an ashy gray color. Spray the grill racks with non-stick cooking spray, set them in place on the grill and wait for the racks to become hot before cooking.

Brush a light coating of oil on both sides of the eggplant slices and season as you wish. The process of purging the slices of air and moisture will prevent the eggplant from absorbing too much oil.

Place the eggplant slices on the grill racks so the pieces don't touch each other. Grill them in multiple batches if you have a large amount of eggplant that can't easily fit on the grill.

Grill the first side of the eggplant for about 6 to 8 minutes, or it develops a brown or charred color. You may leave the grill open to monitor the slices the entire time or close the lid while cooking. When cooking with charcoal, closing the lid keeps the flavoring smoke around the vegetable slices.

Flip the eggplant slices over and grill for another 6 to 8 minutes. Check the center of the slice for firmness, using the back side of a spoon, after two minutes. Simply push the back of a spoon in the center of the eggplant to see whether it remains springy. Remove the eggplant from the grill when the center softens, but before it becomes so mushy that the spoon squishes the flesh onto the grill grate. The skin should be wrinkled and slightly softened, but still firm enough to stay in place around the eggplant flesh.

Tips & Warnings

  • Cook eggplant thoroughly for the best flavor and texture. Cooking times vary greatly depending on the thickness of the slices, the amount of moisture removed, the heat of the grill and even the type of the grill. After flipping to the second side, monitor the eggplant slices closely so you can remove them immediately before they become overcooked.

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