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Grilled Vegetables on the BBQ:  Easy-Breezy Ways to Char Veggies

We get it, you love meat. A lot. Trust me, I do just as well.  We’re the same.

As much as the carnivore trend may be going strong right now, any sustainable dietary plans will have you eat greens and veggies. Good news is, there’s a way to still enjoy yourself as you rekindle with vegetables and still feel manly about yourself. All you need to do is throw them on the BBQ and let the fire do the work.

Charred vegetables are very different from stir-fried or steamed veggies. Be it for salads, sides or even salsas, the added flavor from the crisped up skin and ends unlock the true potential of any vegetable and brings a fun new twist to some classics.

Charring Up Vegetables

To some people, it may be hard at first to understand the difference between charred and burnt. From an aesthetic standpoint, both will show blackened sections on the food, resulting from a prolonged exposition to very high temperatures. Tastewise, we’re talking about 2 very different things.

Burnt food is bitter. This happens as a result of protein and sugars being carbonized. The heat basically changes the chemical composition of the food to a point where there is nothing left to taste. Charred food, on the other hand, is in that sweet spot between being caramelized and burnt. In other words, it is in that stage where the exposed area starts blackening without reaching the point of burning natural oils and flavors. Charring takes practice as ingredients all have different burning points and will react differently to open flames and extreme temperatures.

The intent with the charring process is to find that perfect balance between the bitterness from the burnt sections and the natural sweetness of the food for a stark contrast. In short, it’s all about ratios. Naturally, sweet vegetables will perform better with this cooking method, but you still can get away with it with a lot of different ingredients.

Bell Peppers

Red bell peppers are the obvious choice when it comes to charring veggies. The bright color of the pepper makes it easy to work with as it’s visually appealing and easy to monitor the charring process.

Charred bell peppers do wonders in chili recipes and salsas, but you can also peel the skin once blackened to use the flesh as the primary ingredient in dips, sauces or even homemade hummus.

Before you cook them, however, make sure to chop them in big squares so they don’t fall through the grates. Then, once they’re on the grill, let their edges burn a little, and if you feel like you’ve let the bell peppers cook for a bit too long, you can always remove some of the burnt skin. It should be fairly easy to use the skin bitterness as a way to enhance the bell pepper flavors and experience this fairly classic vegetable in a new way.

Corn

Corn is an underrated vegetable when it comes to BBQ menus. Some of it has to do with the fact that there are just so many ways to cook it that it’s almost overwhelming. To make things perfectly clear, you can cook it directly on the grill with or without the corn husk and the result will be great.

For the more festive and summer-themed salads, charred corn is an essential ingredient. The easiest way to get good results is to let them sit in water, husk on, for 30 minutes, and then to grill them over medium-high heat for 20 minutes, doing 5 minutes on each side. The steam building up in the husk will get you a very flavorful, yet juicy, corn on the cob. You can eat it like this if you want, but you can also let it cool down a little bit, then crank your grill to its highest temperature and throw it back on the grill, husk off, for 1 to 2 minutes. The intent here is to char up the corn to boost the sweetness and balance it out with the bitterness from the burnt kernels.

If you’re looking for some ideas, charred corn salsa is one of my favorite sides for some Tacos Al Pastor or any healthy-eating August backyard parties.

Asparagus

Asparaguses aren’t known to be naturally sweet. Yet, for some reason, it just works if you char them. They need some preparation and help to get good results, but when they are done to perfection, man, that’s the good stuff.

When I say “preparation” though, what I really mean is just to splash some grapeseed oil on them, to give them a quick toss with a salty/garlicky rub, and… you’re good to go! 

The key with charred asparagus is not to burn the stick, but the tips. The asparagus stick section is dense in fiber and will tend to drive too much bitterness when burnt. The tip is flaky and makes for the perfect texture when charred. It will carry just enough flavor to give a new dimension to the vegetable. Grilled asparagus can be a new addition to your BBQ salads, eaten as is or mixed with almonds, sea salt, and Parmesan flakes.

Eating vegetables should be something we look forward to, as much as eating a nice piece of steak. It doesn’t have to be dreadful and the vegetables don’t need to be bland, so long as you understand what’s missing to enjoy them and work off that.

Charring up vegetables is a fun method to play with to help with the preparation of the vegetables, and it will also allow you to better pace yourself when you’re running your BBQ. It teaches you to play with open flames and not go into panic mode whenever you think something’s burning. 

A little char is never a bad thing, and soon enough the thing you were trying to avoid will be the thing you’ll look forward to in a great meal.

Have a great BBQ!

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