10 Winter Vegetables Grilled to Perfection

grilled vegetables
Grilling winter vegetables preserves their nutritional benefits and lends them a smoky, rich flavor. See pictures of extreme grilling.

Got the winter blues? Bring a bit of summer color and flavor into the cold months of the year by firing up the grill to prepare your favorite winter vegetables. Grilling fans will find a surprisingly wide variety of choices, ranging from colorful squash to classic favorites like broccoli and brussels sprouts. While it can be hard to get excited about the same old vegetables, you can add a new twist to these dishes by cooking them over an open flame. Grilling not only brings out the natural flavors of these veggies, but it also adds a rich, smoky flavor that can't be found in boiled or microwaved dishes. If it's too cold to grill outside, you can even grill indoors on the stove to add some variety to your meals.

When grilling vegetables, keep heat levels high and cook for short periods to keep veggies crisp. Soak vegetables in cold water before cooking to minimize burning or searing, and use baskets or griddles to keep food from falling through the grill [source: Darsa]. Add oils and seasonings to lend flavor, or leave vegetables undressed so you can simply enjoy their natural taste.


In the winter, look for hearty root vegetables that can withstand colder temperatures. Choose plants you can grow yourself that can be harvested year-round, or check to see what's in season at your local farmers' market. Read on to learn how to grill some classic winter favorites.

10: Carrots

Want to add a splash of color to your winter meals? Consider carrots, which can be grown year-round in most climate zones. Carrots are packed with nutrients like vitamin A and beta-carotene, and can be used to complement almost any type of dish. Choose baby carrots for everyday family meals, or select full-sized carrots to create a more elegant presentation at business dinners and holiday gatherings.

You can grill carrots indoors or out. When cooking indoors, try boiling the carrots until they are just beginning to soften, then grill them over medium heat for three to five minutes [source: Darsa]. Outdoors, simply wash and peel the carrots before placing them on the grill. Depending on the level of firmness desired, the carrots will take between 15 and 20 minutes to cook. You may need to use a griddle or grill basket to keep your veggies from falling through the grill.


Carrots taste great when grilled with red wine vinegar and orange zest [source: Darsa]. For a sweeter flavor, try using butter and nutmeg or cinnamon. Consider serving your grilled carrots with sliced apples or dried cranberries to add even more fiber and nutrients, along with a bit of natural sweetness.

9: Beets

Take a break from heavy holiday desserts by grilling these naturally sweet beets.

If your only experience with beets is with the canned or boiled varieties, you won't believe how great grilled beets can taste. Loaded with fiber and vitamins, beets are known for their distinctive flavor and rich red coloring. They have a natural sweetness but are surprisingly low in calories, making them the perfect side dish or dessert for those counting calories [source: Shulman].

When grilling beets, look for fresh varieties at grocery stores or farmers' markets. Peel the beet and slice it into sections about 1/4-inch thick. Brush the tops of each slice with olive oil, then grill until the beets are tender when pierced with a fork. Add salt and pepper to offset the beets' natural sweetness, or leave them plain and serve after dinner as a low-fat treat.


8: Broccoli

Broccoli is a classic vegetable that can be enjoyed year-round in most areas. It's full of fiber and vitamins, low in calories and fat-free. Best of all, grilling helps to preserve the nutrients in broccoli, which are often lost during the boiling process. It can also help to add a rich, smoky flavor while keeping broccoli firm and crisp.

You can grill broccoli indoors or out. When cooking indoors, try tossing the broccoli in olive oil and grilling for 10 minutes per side. Outdoors, you can place a full broccoli crown face down on the grill, or cook broccoli spears or florets in a grill basket. Brush the head of the broccoli with olive oil or butter, and flavor with salt and pepper. Serve with melted cheddar for a richer taste, or sprinkle with parmesan cheese. For those on a low-sodium diet, try using lemon to flavor grilled broccoli [source: EatingWell].


7: Leeks

Grilled leeks taste great with olive oil and red pepper flakes.

Leeks have a small, bulbous base with a long, leafy stem. They're similar to onions, but have a milder flavor that may appeal to diners who don't like the strong taste of traditional onions. Though leeks are often used as a garnish or for flavoring, they can also be grilled and served as a vegetable dish. Leeks are easy to grow and can be harvested throughout the year in all but the coldest climates.

To prepare leeks, start by cutting off the green leafy tops. Some people may use these tops for flavoring soups or other dishes, but they're generally too tough to eat on their own. Slice the tender white stem of the leek in half, and grill for 11 to 13 minutes on each side [source: Good Housekeeping].


There are a number of ways to season grilled leeks depending on your tastes. Try seasoning with basil and white wine vinegar, or garlic and butter to enhance the natural flavor of the leeks. For a bolder taste, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with red pepper flakes [source: Brown].

6: Artichokes

For an exotic and delicious alternative to everyday vegetable dishes, try serving grilled artichokes at your next family gathering. While many people have tried artichokes in some form, serving them grilled will provide an entirely new taste experience for your guests. Artichokes are rich in fiber and vitamin C, and offer a unique flavor that works well with many types of dishes.

Start by trimming the top and bottom stems, then slice the artichoke down the center. Remove the tough fibrous center, known as the choke. Coat the cut side of the artichoke with vinegar or lemon to prevent browning or discoloration during cooking. Brush with butter or olive oil, and grill for 10 to 20 minutes per side, laying each section directly onto the grill surface. Artichokes should be slightly firm but not tough, so alter your cooking time as needed to adjust the texture. Serve with melted butter or lemon wedges to complement the artichoke's natural flavor [source: Grilling Tips.com].


5: Brussels Sprouts

brussels sprouts
No one will turn up a nose at grilled brussels sprouts flavored with butter and bacon bits.

For many people, it can be hard to get excited about brussels sprouts. Many of us are used to soggy, boiled sprouts that taste bland at best and may smell even worse. To enjoy the natural flavor of brussels sprouts, try grilling rather than boiling them. Grilling helps to maintain flavors and nutrients that are lost during boiling, and it brings out a rich, smoky smell that few would associate with this vegetable.

When grilling indoors, toss brussels sprouts in butter or olive oil, then cook over medium heat for about five minutes per side. For outdoor cooking, try spearing the sprouts onto metal or wooden skewers. This will hold them in place as you grill, and help you to cook more evenly. Try seasoning with lemon or dry mustard to add flavor without adding fat [source: Brown]. Sprinkle brussels sprouts with Parmesan cheese or garlic for a bolder taste [source: Mordo]. For the ultimate indulgence, wrap Brussels sprouts, chopped bacon and butter into aluminum foil before grilling.


4: Cauliflower

While cauliflower is a nutritious winter vegetable, it can also be used to create delicious dishes that serve as a healthy alternative to starchy sides. Cauliflower is low in carbohydrates, but it can have a texture similar to potatoes when grilled or roasted. You'll be able to enjoy a flavorful dish that's rich in fiber, folate and vitamin C without the added calories or carbs of potatoes.

Chopped cauliflower can be grilled indoors or out. Place a full crown of cauliflower face down on the grill surface, or cook chopped cauliflower in the grill basket or griddle. Grill for about five minutes over medium to high heat. You'll maintain crispness while bringing out rich flavors that are often lost with more traditional cooking methods. Season with garlic and butter for a classic taste, or use bolder flavors like paprika and cumin [source: Burt]. Cauliflower tastes great when sprinkled with grated cheeses or served with melted cheddar. You can also use rich seasoning blends like Italian spices or herbs to complement your main course.


3: Zucchini

grilled zucchini in a garden salad
Try tossing grilled zucchini with a garden salad.

Many of us are used to zucchini and squash blends and may have never enjoyed zucchini on its own. While these two winter vegetables have a similar texture when cooked, they actually taste quite different. Zucchini has a mild flavor that is very distinctive. It's available in both yellow and green varieties and is similar in appearance to a cucumber. Zucchini is full of folate and vitamin A, and is hearty enough to grow year-round.

Grilled zucchini can be used to create delicious and attractive side dishes, especially when a blend of yellow and green varieties are used. Wash and peel your zucchini before grilling. Cut large sections into cubes, or slice thinner zucchini in half for more thorough cooking. Brush with olive oil, then wrap in foil before placing on the grill. Allow the zucchini to cook for 20 minutes, then test with a fork to examine the texture. If it can be easily pierced with a fork, it's tender enough to eat [source: Peaslee]. Add salt or pepper to season, or serve with traditional yogurt- or garlic-based dips.


2: Chestnuts

We've all heard the classic holiday carols about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but few of us have actually tried grilling chestnuts ourselves. If you've never had a grilled or roasted chestnut, you'll be surprised by their rich flavor and meaty, firm texture. While chestnuts may look like nuts or seeds, they're technically vegetables and have a starchy quality similar to rice or potatoes. They're also low in fat and high in fiber and nutrients. Not only do chestnuts taste great, but they also produce a sweet and smoky smell when cooked.

You can grill chestnuts indoors or out. No matter where you cook them, you must puncture the shell of each chestnut with a sharp knife before cooking. Otherwise, they may burst and cause injury or burns. When grilling indoors, use a chestnut pan, which has holes in the bottom for fast cooking. Lay the chestnuts in a single layer and toss them in your pan like you would with popcorn. Keep the heat on a medium setting and cook for five to 10 minutes. Outdoors, the chestnuts can be placed in a grill basket and cooked for around 20 minutes. Keep the basket away from the flames, and remove the chestnuts from the heat when the shells begin to blacken. Serve immediately so that the shells can be peeled more easily [source: Fante's]. While chestnuts are naturally sweet, they can be flavored with syrup or nutmeg to enhance this sweetness. You can also sprinkle them with salt to slightly offset the sweetness as desired.


1: Squash

There is plenty of variety in the squash and gourd family. Brighten a drab winter day by grilling acorn or spaghetti squash.

With so many different types available, squash is the ultimate winter vegetable for grilling. You'll find varieties ranging from acorn to butternut, as well as more exotic spaghetti or pumpkin squash. Whether served alone or in a blend, squash can be used to add rich colors to your winter meal. They're also packed with vitamins, potassium and fiber to keep your family healthy. While many of these nutrients are lost when squash is boiled, grilling helps to preserve these nutrients and may also help to maintain the squash's natural flavor [source: Hilario-Caguiat].

Before grilling, cut squash into cubes or slices. You can wrap these pieces in foil or place them in a vegetable basket before grilling. Smaller pieces can be sliced in half and placed facedown on the grill. Remove the seeds, then add a bit of olive oil during cooking to prevent the squash from drying out. Cook over medium heat, and check the squash frequently as it cooks. Expect grilling to take 20 to 40 minutes, depending on your preferred texture [source: Cooks Illustrated]. Try seasoning squash with salt and pepper, sage or thyme. To enhance the squash's natural flavor, sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Brown, Alton. "Grilled Brussels Sprouts." Food Network. 2008. (Nov. 19, 2009).http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/grilled-brussels-sprouts-recipe/index.html
  • Brown, Linda. "12 Delicious Organic Winter Vegetables and How to Cook Them." iVillage UK. (Nov. 19, 2009).http://www.ivillage.co.uk/food/whoscooking/articles/1,10103,165631_166166-3,00.html#squash
  • Burt, Kate. "Kale and Hearty: Warming Winter Vegetable Recipes." The Independent. Dec. 23, 2008. (Nov. 19, 2009).http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/kale-and-hearty-warming-winter-vegetable-recipes-1027701.html
  • Cook's Illustrated. "Great Grilled Vegetables." (Nov. 19, 2009).http://www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document/howto/MJ01_ISGrillvegetables.pdf
  • Darsa, Diedra. "Even in Winter, Grilled Vegetables." Garden Compass. January/February 2008. (Nov. 18, 2009).http://static.hpba.org/fileadmin/Article_Archive/Even_in_Winter_Grilled_Vegetables.pdf
  • Eating Well Editors. "Roasted Broccoli with Lemon." Recipe.com. (Nov. 19, 2009).http://www.recipe.com/roasted-broccoli-with-lemon/
  • Fante's. "How to Roast Chestnuts." Fante's Kitchen Wares Shop. (Nov. 19, 2009).http://www.fantes.com/chestnuts.html
  • "A Guide to Grilling Vegetables." Good Housekeeping.com. (Nov. 18, 2009).http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food/cooking/grilling-vegetables-guide
  • Grilling Tips.com. "Grilling Fruits and Vegetables." (Nov. 19, 2009). http://grillingtips.com/grilling-tips/t-158-857/grilling-fruits-and-vegetables.asp
  • Hilario-Caguiat, Rhonda. "Winter's Best Fruit's and Vegetables." Reader's Digest. (Nov. 19, 2009).http://www.rd.com/living-healthy/fruit-and-vegetable-recipes/article21976.html
  • Mordo, Jessica. "Seasonal Foods: 5 Best Winter Vegetables." Eatdrinkbetter. Dec. 12, 2008. (Nov. 19, 2009).http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2008/12/12/seasonal-eats-5-best-winter-vegetables/
  • Nutritiondata.com. "Roasted European Chestnuts." (Nov. 19, 2009). http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3143/4?mbid=NDNL
  • Peaslee, Jay. "Grilled Zucchini and Squash." Allrecipes.com. (Nov. 18, 2009). http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Grilled-Zucchini-and-Squash/Detail.aspx
  • Shulman, Martha Rose. "Beets: The New Spinach." The New York Times. Aug. 4, 2008. (Nov. 19, 2009).http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/04/health/nutrition/04recipehealth.html