Grilling is a cooking method that brings out the best in a surprising number of foods. Unfortunately, not all of those foods, especially vegetables, are equally suited to the grill. Most are prone to falling through the grate once they're cut into serving-sized pieces, and some -- slender asparagus spears or snow peas, for example -- are troublesome even when left whole. Grill baskets provide a solution, making it possible to cook practically any vegetable on your grill.
A Quick Grill Basket Primer
Grill baskets come in a variety of forms. Some are actual baskets of metal mesh, fine enough to cook even julienned vegetables. Others are built on a looser grid pattern, with spaces up to 1/4 or 1/3 inch between the bars. A third type resembles baking sheets or woks but with numerous holes stamped into them to allow heat and smoke to enter. Most grill baskets have one or more handles, so it's easy to shake your vegetables as they cook on the grill. Long handles are generally hinged or removable, so they won't prevent you from closing the lid to your grill.
Grill baskets made of chromed or stainless steel are usually oiled lightly before each use, either with an oiled paper towel or a spray. If your basket already has a nonstick coating, that's not usually necessary. Set the basket on your grill for at least 10 minutes before you start cooking, so it has time to heat thoroughly. Starting with a hot pan is obvious in your own kitchen but somehow easy to overlook when you're grilling. Prepare the vegetables ahead of time and bring them out to your grill in bowls or containers, when it's time to cook.
High temperatures can damage some nonstick coatings, so keep the grill to a moderate heat -- below 400 degrees Fahrenheit -- during the warmup stage. If you normally set up your grill with a hot side and a cool side, place your basket over the cool side and close the lid to retain heat.
For the best grilled vegetables, follow a few basic rules.
- Toss the vegetables lightly with oil before you grill them, partly to minimize sticking and partly to speed browning. You can also season them at this stage with spices or herbs, or use a flavorful oil-based marinade.
- Start with the sturdiest vegetables, such as green beans, thick onion wedges and julienned root vegetables. Mushrooms should also go on early, because they'll take longer than you'd expect.
- Most vegetables, including sweet peppers, zucchini slices and asparagus spears, can be added once the early vegetables begin to color and soften.
- Very delicate vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes, shouldn't be added until late. They tend to burst and fall apart after cooking for more than just a few minutes.
Shake the vegetables frequently once they begin to brown. Like stirring a stir-fry, this promotes even cooking and browning. If you're adding a glaze to the vegetables, don't pour it on. It'll just slither off and burn on the flames below. Brush it on instead, or -- better yet -- pour the vegetables from the grill basket into a mixing bowl, toss them with the glaze and then use a slotted spoon to return them to your grill basket.
There's no right or wrong for doneness. The vegetables are ready when they're the way you like them, whether that's tender-crisp or completely soft. Ideally they should be lightly charred and caramelized, which draws out the vegetables' flavors. Usually, 10 to 15 minutes of grilling is about right.